The top three issues I’ve observed being improved by a carnivore diet are joint pain, digestive health, and mental health. The likely reason for this is because these issues are among the most common ailments. Mental health disorders are often given a special place in the landscape of human disease, probably because of the emotional turmoil associated with them. However, mental health issues are just diseases, as diabetes and arthritis are. Given that, no one should get upset when someone suggests that nutrition may play a role in the development or mitigation of these diseases, but some people do. Why is it considered radical to suggest that a diet of processed seed oil, grains, and oxalates is linked to depression? I just don’t understand that reaction.
Examinations of depressed patients show that they often suffer from lower levels of carnitine than people who don’t suffer from depression. You might recall from earlier discussions that humans can produce carnitine, but when we eat meat, our levels of it tend to increase. It’s possible that the higher levels of carnitine are the reason so many people notice an improvement in mood after they’ve eaten a nice steak.
Low cholesterol levels also are associated with higher rates of depression, as well as violence and suicide. Hyperinsulinemia has been associated with some mental health disorders, and in my informal studies, we have seen that eating a carnivore diet is often very effective in improving insulin status. Gut issues and inflammation are other ailments that are highly associated with mental health status. Guess what—a carnivore diet helps in those areas as well.
In 1933, noted wilderness activist Robert Marshall wrote in his book Arctic Village that the people he lived with, who survived on caribou meat in the remote wilds of Northern Alaska, were the happiest civilization he had ever encountered. I had a patient who had spent eighteen years living off the land and surviving primarily on caribou meat in remote Alaska. There’s even a movie about her experience—The Year of the Caribou. She was eighty-three when I knew her, and she told me that the happiest she had ever been and the best health she had experienced was during that time in Alaska.
Vegan propagandists often claim meat is inflammatory, and to support their claims about inflammation, they sometimes cite a study that used an isolated situation in which meat was not the only variable. We have to remember that human physiology is an incredibly complex system, and you can’t take an isolated lab test or cell culture study and extrapolate it to the entire system.
The best way to see whether meat is inflammatory to the human body is to feed it, and nothing else, to humans for a prolonged period to find out what happens via both clinical and laboratory assessment. Contrary to what the vegans would like us to believe, as more and more people try out the carnivore diet, we have more evidence that meat is very much an anti-inflammatory diet.
Autoimmune diseases are strongly linked with gastrointestinal problems, and increased intestinal permeability may be one of the chief culprits. Some of the recent literature on this subject focuses on altering the microbiome—often by using probiotics—to affect the intestinal permeability. This technique has generally produced little success because the microbiome is incredibly responsive to diet, and if the diet isn’t altered, then the probiotic-induced shift in microbiome will likely be short-lived at best.
As I previously mentioned, some of the common food components that appear to cause gut permeability issues are plant oils, drugs and supplements, legumes, grains, dairy, and sweeteners. The carnivore diet pretty much excludes all these items, except occasional limited dairy for those who can tolerate it. It’s interesting to note that many people see a resolution of a variety of autoimmune conditions when they exclude those items from their diets.
Aside from the benefits that a carnivore diet has on autoimmune-related arthritis, it seems that a fairly high number of people also report improvement in the more common osteoarthritis. Conventional wisdom has been that osteoarthritis is a mechanical problem and a disease of “wear and tear.”
Recent studies indicate that pathophysiology of osteoarthritis has a much greater component of inflammation than previously thought, and perhaps it also has a relationship with gut permeability. A recent animal study has shown a link between carbohydrate consumption as a possible etiologic agent in osteoarthritis. So, I owe an apology to all the patients who I didn’t believe when they used to tell me that eating certain foods made their joints hurt.
Common conditions such as hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and obesity often get better on a carnivore diet. These same conditions sometimes improve on other low-carbohydrate and low-calorie diets. A decrease in vascular inflammation likely contributes to improved blood pressure; often, people who have high blood pressure see improvement within a few weeks of adjusting their diets.
Blood glucose stabilization typically occurs over several months. If we look at postprandial blood glucose readings of long-term carnivores, they tend to be very stable with no significant elevations, which is in contrast with what we see with most diabetics, who often have fairly wide swings in their blood glucose numbers. Likewise, overall insulin sensitivity seems to improve fairly consistently, based on observation of long-term carnivore dieters who have shared their data.