Does Meat Really Heal? Many anecdotal reports have been released claiming that the carnivore diet – which basically consists of eating a diet restricted to meat (usually red fatty meat)–has alleviated the symptoms of autoimmune disease, depression and caused weight loss and improved health. Despite these anecdotal, is there any scientific evidence to support these claims? In this article, we will examine some of the effects of this diet on some conditions.
- What is the effect of the carnivore diet on obesity?
When you are on the carnivore diet, your intake of processed carbohydrates and sugar is completely cut off. Thesesimple sugars are the leading cause of weight gain. In the absence of these carbohydrates, your body burns fat for fuelin a process known as ketosis. This results in weight loss and the eradication of obesity. Obesity is a leading cause of chronic illnesses such as T2DM, Cardiovascular diseases and Fatty Liver disease among others.
- What effect does the Carnivore Diet have on autoimmune diseases?
Studies have shown that excess intake of sugary foods and processed carbohydrates increases systemic levels of inflammation in the body, which can increase the risk for cancer and autoimmune diseases. Eliminating sugar intake through the meat diet can therefore theoretically decrease levels of inflammation in the body.
But does the meat diet directly decrease levels of inflammation in the body? The carnivore diet sends the body into a metabolic state called ‘ketosis,’burns fat for energy instead of using glucose. Compared to glucose metabolism which produces large amounts of free oxygen radicals, contributing to inflammation, ketotic metabolism has been shown to produce far fewer free radicals.
In fact studies have shown that ketosis decreases inflammationand reactive radicals in animal models of multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune condition that affects the brain. It also decreases markers of liver inflammation in people with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Since the ketogenic diet has also been shown to produce anti-inflammatory effects by directly inhibiting pro-inflammatory immune pathways in the body, it is assumed that the carnivore diet does the same, short of scientific tests being carried out. With this in mind, it can be concluded that the carnivore diet can in fact guard against inflammation and ameliorate symptoms of autoimmune disease.
- Does the Carnivore diet have any cancer fighting properties?
Not enough studies have been done on the carnivore diet but emerging evidence suggests that the ketogenic diet may decrease the risk of cancer through its anti-inflammatory properties. Because they basically act in the same way, the same can be deduced of the carnivore diet. Carcinogenesis (the development of cancer) has been related to hyperinsulinemia, hyperglycemia, and chronic inflammation. The ketogenic diet is hypothesized to decrease risk of cancer by decreasing levels of insulin and glucose in the body and also by decreasing systemic levels of inflammation.
Initially, it was thought that cancer cells use a lot of glucose for energy, thus starving them of glucose would stop their growth. Unfortunately, this theory was disproved because normal cells too need energy, and there is no way of starving the cancer cells and feeding the normal ones.
However, there is an indirect link between cancer risk and sugar. Eating lots of sugar over time can cause you to gain weight, and scientific evidence shows that being overweight or obese increases the risk of 13 different types of cancer. In fact, obesity is the single biggest preventable cause of cancer after smoking. The carnivore diet can thus reduce the risk of obesity and thereby reduce the risk of cancer.
In addition, a study published in 2019 suggested there could be something else going on. Researchers found that people who drank more sugary drinks had a slightly increased risk of cancer, regardless of body weight. The study took weight in to account, but there are still lots of answered questions. More studies will be needed to investigate this.
But what of the studies that show a correlation between red meat and cancer? There is one major flaw in the way these studies are interpreted. These studies are epidemiologic. This means that causal effects cannot be implied. In other words, just because there is a correlation between meat consumption and cancer does not mean that meat consumption itself causes cancer.
- The Carnivore Diet and cognitive functioning…
Although there is limited evidence on the neuroprotective effects of the carnivore diet specifically, there is much evidence on the neuroprotective of the ketogenic diet, which the carnivore diet closely resembles. Data suggests that the ketogenic diet has anti-inflammatory effects on the brain and holds neuro-protective benefits.
The ketogenic diet was initially designed to manage children suffering from seizures. Studies show that as many as half of patients that are started on the ketogenic diet have fewer seizures after starting the diet. In children with specific genetic epilepsies or epilepsy syndromes, studies have shown up to 90% of patients achieve seizure freedom on the ketogenic diet.
Because inflammation is thought to play an important role in epilepsy and seizures, the ketogenic diet, and therefore the carnivore diet may decrease seizure occurrence through its anti-inflammatory effects. The anti-inflammatory mechanisms of the ketogenic diet involve reduced mitochondrial production of pro-inflammatory molecules and reduced production of excess excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate, which can cause neuronal damage (a.k.a“glutamate excitotoxicity”).
Inflammation is thought to play a role in the development of other neurological diseases such as autism (increasingly associated with maternal inflammation), Alzheimer’s Disease, and Parkinson’s Disease, as well as cognitive dysfunction in people with diabetes and obesity. Thus, decreasing inflammation, potentially through the carnivore diet, may improve symptoms related to neurological dysfunction associated with inflammatory processes.
- What is the effect of the Carnivore diet on depression?
From anecdotal reports, the carnivore diet has shown neurological and psychological effects beyond the treatment of seizures and chronic pain. Several people on the carnivore diet report benefits such as increased alertness, energy, mood and concentration.
Moreover, inflammation can contribute to depression, and depression itself can promote inflammation. The ketogenic diet may improve mood and ameliorate depression symptoms through its anti-inflammatory properties.
- So, does meat heal?
It is clear that the carnivore diet has marked positive effects on the conditions we set out to explore. This is mainly due to its cutting off of sugars and carbohydrates. It can be said that getting on a carnivore diet is likely to bring about improved health outcomes.
It is important to note that there is not a ‘one-size-fit all’ when it comes to diet. Every individual has a different body, genetics, digestive system and immune system, which all of play a role in the body’s reaction to food. However, one “take home” is that everyone should cut down on sugar and processed carbohydrates because these are known to cause weight gain, pro-inflammatory states, and health problems.
- Neurogal (2018): Does Meat Really Heal? Show me the Evidence for the Carnivore Diet. Retrieved from https://neurogal.com/neuro-blog/2018/12/7/does-meat-really-heal-show-me-the-evidence-for-the-carnivore-diet
- Cancer Research UK (2017): Sugar and cancer – what you need to know. Retrieved from https://scienceblog.cancerresearchuk.org/2017/05/15/sugar-and-cancer-what-you-need-to-know/
- The BMJ (2019): Sugary drink consumption and risk of cancer: results from NutriNet-Santé prospective cohort. Retrieved from https://www.bmj.com/content/366/bmj.l2408