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Jun 06

Guest Post – Troubleshooting Health Issues as a Carnivore

My name is Josh Blackburn. I’ve struggled with obesity since childhood, developed bipolar disorder in my early teens, and my gut health began to deteriorate after high school. Throughout my life I’ve employed a myriad of strategies to try and combat these issues, but battling them through exercise and caloric restriction left me fatter and sicker than before. It has been a tedious trek to arrive at carnivory and conquer these ailments. You can read more about my journey in more detail at my blog.

A Renewed Focus

Finding a carnivore diet shifted my focus from weight loss to health gains.  Removal of all plants from my diet had a profound impact on mood stability and remission from several chronic issues like severe allergies and asthma. But with respect to weight, I am a bit of a carnivore outlier; I steadily gained body fat throughout my first year of carnivory despite having plenty of body fat to lose. This encouraged me to experiment, a lot, within the carnivore framework:

Click to enlarge.

Troubled Waters

When I began a carnivore diet, I went into it with my old mindset of protein-intake and caloric restriction being the most important focuses. I quickly came to the realization that restricting calories would be unsustainable because of ravenous hunger. Because of this pivot, carnivore became the first dietary intervention where I allowed myself to eat ad libitum. My health was improving, but despite this I found myself growing hungrier and my body composition slowly worsening. It was perplexing; I was eating to need, exercising a lot, and working a very active job. My sleep began to suffer, and my appetite grew to uncontrollable portions; I began eating 5lb of meat daily for over 7 weeks during fall 2017 – with a max of 7.8lb in a day and 7.1lb in a sitting. This appetite climaxed with a major depressive episode that left me exhausted and bedridden.

WOBO

It wasn’t until stumbling on Week of Burgers Only (WOBO) through Mike Davis’ YouTube channel that I inadvertently began to up my fat and eat 78/22 ground beef. My appetite was arrested, my mood dramatically improved, and weight began to start coming off. I made WOBO my new baseline and allowed myself to experiment with different foods and macronutrient ratios.

Protein intake vs weight, click to enlarge.

My data made one thing clear, if I consumed over 30% protein by calorie my appetite would steadily grow, and my body composition and mood would worsen. By increasing my protein intake, I was also increasing my food volume and as a result this began to impact my digestion. I started to get constipated, inflamed and having re-occurrence of GI issues I thought were dealt with, which prompted me to try a lower volume, higher fat approach to carnivore.

Unexpected Changes

An example of Josh’s meals – beef tongue, and brisket fat.

To my surprise, this approach had the most profound impact over my body composition, skin, and mood. With respect to my bipolar, this was the most calm and blissful I’ve felt as far back as I can remember. It’s easy to fear that this may simply be a temporary or fleeting experience; But as far as I can tell, the disease is in full remission and has been consistently improving for over 14 months without any symptoms of bipolar disorder. Despite this, my gut issues were not resolving as I’d hoped, although they had improved. This prompted a much-needed investigation.

The Investigation Begins In Earnest

I started by getting bloodwork drawn on April 17, 2019, a little over a month after switching to higher fat on March 11th. I was a bit surprised at a few values that had drastically changed from 18 months prior. My LDL and HDL had significantly dropped, and my triglycerides had more than doubled.

Josh’s lipids over time.

In addition to this my ferritin had skyrocketed from 237 ng/mL in 2017 to 595 ng/mL. My c-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation, had also more than tripled. In contrast, some markers also improved. For example, my eosinophils, which were enormously out of range in 2012 and dismissed as allergies or asthma, had steadily come to a low. My high bilirubin, which was always hand-waved by doctors as Gilbert’s syndrome, had completely normalized on Carnivore. In addition to this, my reverse T3 had come down from 50 in 2013 to the low 20s since going carnivore and all symptoms of thyroid issues were gone.

Eosinophils, Bilirubin, and hs-CRP over time.

The Investigation Continues…

I spoke with Dave and Siobhan, who commented that if they had not known what I was eating during my prior bloodwork they would have assumed I had gone from a ketogenic diet to a non-ketogenic diet; yet, it was the exact opposite. They felt further follow up with a doctor might be helpful to figure out what was going on. I agreed, as there were evident issues with my gut and certain health concerns that needed to be ruled out. After consulting with a doctor, we decided that a gastrointestinal microbial assay (GI-MAP) was going to be the best first course of action.

Josh’s results indicated an intestinal infection.

My results indicated I had a clostridium difficile (C. diff) infection, which is a large intestine bacterial infection. This made sense to me as it causes inflammation and narrowing of the colon, and I have been dealing with GI distress, narrowing of stool, and passing blood for a very long time. I suspect this infection occurred right before my elevated eosinophils bloodwork in 2012. This was the last time I had taken antibiotics. It is also the first incidence I can recall of having massive GI distress that warranted the doctor visit. Since finding this out, I am currently treating it with antibiotics, as advised by my doctor, and will re-check my blood markers after treatment, in hopes that they will likewise reflect improved health.

Work In Progress

Through self-experimentation, I have found that removal of plants was the most important dietary intervention for my overall physical and mental health. A higher-fat, carnivorous diet further improved my overall health beyond just food elimination, including improving issues with my body composition, gut, mood, and skin, although I still have regular concern for my mental stability and remission of bipolar depression. However, despite those improvements, I am still reacting adversely to certain foods like eggs, dairy, liver, pork, and high protein. These are things I hope to eliminate from my list of ongoing issues in the future. Although some questions remain, and I am still a work in progress, this is the best I have felt in the last decade. I continue to thrive on a high fat (>80% calories) carnivore diet and have no immediate plans to change this.

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Lucie
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Lucie

What is the “Obliques” line on the graph protein vs weight?

Siobhan Huggins
Admin

Apologies for the delay on the response – I believe Josh already replied, but it’s the widest part of the waist.

Allan
Guest
Allan

that really goes to show how individual all of this really is…it truly is amazing what works for one can be catastrophic for another…keep doing what makes you fee best!

Deb
Guest
Deb

Does saturated fat cause inflammation? I was reading an article today that said,” It is well established that saturated fat contributes to inflammation in the liver so for this we’ll take that as a given. ” Should we?

dar
Guest
dar

No saturated fat does NOT cause inflammation: https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/51/15/1111

Siobhan Huggins
Admin

Regarding saturated fat:
The two types of “evidence” I’ve seen of this generally refers to one of two things.
1) It is referring to saturated fat in combination with a high carb diet (e.g. SAD + satfat), not low carb high fat. This can lead to/worsen fatty liver (especially in combo with overfeeding), but low carb appears to lead to resolution/improvement of fatty liver (as shown by Virta Health, where as far as I’m aware there’s no recommendation to avoid saturated fat). So in a low carb context this appears to be a non-issue.
2) It’s referring to saturated fat in the blood, which when referenced by the studies I’ve read is referring to saturated fat that we make during De Novo Lipogenesis (Which is upregulated from pathological insulin resistance) and does not refer to dietary saturated fat.

Of the people eating high saturated fat low carb diets (myself included) inflammation markers tend to be extremely low, so I’m guessing it’s a context thing.

LeeC
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LeeC

I believe it’s excess glucose in the face of hyper insulin that causes liver inflammation, or possibly toxins like alcohols and aldehydes from food preparation.. Food fried in vegetable and seed oils like french fries for example often re soaked in aldehydes because of FFA oxidation by the high heat of the oil. Poly unsaturated fats like the seed oils are poison. They were created as chemicals to lubricate machinery in the late 1800’s. They were NOT a major part part of the food chain until the campaign starting in the mid 1900’s began to promote seed fat and ban saturated fat. Saturated fat has always been apart of the human diet and in fact a mainstay of survival of human survival. What do you think is contained in the human milk babies eat? It sure as hell ain’t canola oil, except in countries (US and Canada) where mothers gorge on seed oil based on FDA recommendations. Seed oil and grains is what makes the SAD diet SAD Since seed oil introduction disease over the past century skyrocketed. The overarching diagnosis is called metabolic syndrome, which is caused by hyper insulinemia and the resultant anabolism insulin causes. It also likely caused by the leaky gut from a grain based diet. It turns out Egyptians who lived on wheat had metabolic syndrome several thousand years ago and suffered the same body habitus central obesity muscle wasting diabetes heart disease stroke etc. This is diagnosed through pathologic study of mummies and common staturary of fat people that look like we do today.

I realize this site is devoted to lipid blood markers in the face of low carb high fat diets. The slides are about the lipoprotein “transport networks>but what about the switches? It seems to me the main switch is between anabolism and catabolism and that is controlled hormonally through insulin vs glucagon and norepinephrine. If insulin is present it always wins. Insulin is present in a fed state with abundant glucose. One of the main features of insulin is turning glucose into fat. Glucagon switches on the burning of fat. So that is a switch point of anabolism/catabolism, the turning off of insulin and turning on of glucagon. Eating fat supplies abundant energy (9 cal/gm) and does not affect catabolism so eating fat supplies calories and allows fat cells to continue to shed fat, because there is no hyper insulinemia. Glucagon also turns on gluconeogenesis the de novo production of glucose in the liver from amino acids by one path and by glycerol by another. Glycerol is released by the catabolism of fat from fat cells and the production of glucose is quite adequate but not excessive. HbA1c is often around 4.5-5.5 when in catabolism on a carnivore diet for example. The glucose is stored as glycogen in the liver and muscle for use in anaerobic exercise or other times of stress. I’ve read some of the studies presented here and wish they included serial insulin measurements so one could track he status of anabolism/catabolism directly and its effect on lipoprotiens as opposed to just looking looking at 3 day lipid profiles or ketosis or glucose. all good stuff but a part is missing.

Dave
Admin

Great comments, LeeC.

Indeed, I’m very much interested in the insulin/glucagon axis in particular and it’s why it is included in every one of my tests. Likewise, I agree “insulin wins” as it is the one hormone that (necessarily) commands a lot of processes together (as I’m sure you know, while energy storage is the most prominently known, it takes part in many others, such as the immune response).

Moreover, we suggest ourselves one consider having insulin taken with even the most basic of labs (see CholesterolCode.com/labs)

Nate
Guest
Nate

Hey there I know this was posted a month ago and you probably hopefully are moving on already and perhaps already know everything I’m about to say but I just wanted to chime in as someone who’s been through C-Diff, recurrent, requiring multiple rounds of vancomycin, about 3 years ago. It is a terrible infection to get. Just a few pointers, first probiotics are your friends specifically florastor is relatively inexpensive and really helpful in managing the GI distress once the worst is over, but the best is Visbiome (previously called VsL#3 – crazy story in the name change, but short version avoid anything advertised as “VSL#3”). It is expensive, refrigerated, mail order only, but got me through some really dark days. I have only relied on florastor for the last 2 years and am weaning off of it now that my diet is mostly meat. The infection left me unable to eat eggs without becoming hungover for hours to days but I remain hopeful that I can eventually, slowly add them back. Watch out for heartburn pills such as proton pump inhibitors, they are known to increase the risk of CDiff. Also there is a type of sugar (“Trehalose”) classified as a natural flavor, so it does not get listed directly on labels, which is used widely in frozen dairy products (it lowers the freezing point of the food) and other processed foods which the rising use over the previous decade is very suspiciously linked to the rise in the dramatic increase in the incidence of CDiff in non hospitalized populations. Apparently this particular sugar is just perfect for the CDiff to grow and multiply. Of course in the future you will want to avoid all antibiotics unless it is a matter of life and limb. Understand that you will always be at risk of relapse as the CDiff exists dormantly as spores and only a thriving healthy gut will keep it at bay. Anyway best of luck, your body will likely need multiple years to recover but you are on the right track now that you know the source and you have the right diet too.

Eric Clark
Guest
Eric Clark

This is a remarkable testimony of perseverance and open-minded inquiry. We have a lot to learn by investigating ourselves, making changes and tracking it all with care. Well done!!