A few days back I somewhat reluctantly called out Nora Gedgaudas for what, in my judgement, is a resistance to various revelations that have come to pass over the last few years and been widely adopted in the general Paleoish community: Juxtaposition: Dallas & Melissa Hartwig vs. Nora Gedgaudas.
Since I’m very busy with a complex move (I’ll be splitting time between three places) I thought I’d just toss up some of my favorite smart comments on that post, comments that deserve to be on the front page for a while. Hope you enjoy them as much as I did. There’s an editing touch here & there, but nothing material to the message.
Tuck, you might do well to stop and think for a moment and look at the nutritional profile of wild game that wild carnivores actually eat: Bison, water buffalo, kudu, springbok, giraffes, impala, deer, ducks, fowl, etc., etc. They’re all TOO LEAN to support ketosis!
Mind you animals don’t eat the fatty parts and walk away. They and their families devour the entire lean and fresh animals—a relatively small amount of glycogen and huge quantities of protein. But, not nearly enough fat, period.
…Mentioning the fact that NK is proven useful for certain diseases addresses its therapeutic effect in special cases up to now, without any accounting of long-term physiological impact.
An extreme example of this issue : Arsenic is also very useful therapeutically. That doesn’t make it a desirable for broad, life-long use.
Specific therapeutic effects do not change the fact that long term NK does not have any analogue in nature nor any long history in civilization and has a small patient set of data—data which in fact show adverse effects in many cases (epileptic children studies).
So long term NK is by definition “a modern experiment.”
There’s nothing wrong with that, btw. Nothing.
It’s just that nature or evolution cannot be presented as evidence that long term NK is desirable for anyone. It may be, I surely don’t know, but the point is no one does. So, caveat emptor—given which, I’m all for n=1, especially if someone monitors well and shares info.
But when looking for science-based (and not opinion or anecdote-based) baseline
Anecdotes aren’t the worst thing in the world. A “science-based approach,” while necessary and useful in many ways, still has holes.
Two come to mind primarily:
- Most of the time we aim for a clinical study, the gold standard of science. But you can’t test everything you need to test in order to establish clinical proof of a dietary/lifestyle tenet. Life is simply too complex. Gary Taubes enumerated this frustrating complexity in Good Calories, Bad Calories when musing about the quandary of trying to design an effective and conclusive clinical study. For instance, if we reduce carbohydrates in a diet, do we increase calories in fat and/or protein? Which one? Or both? If both, then how much of each? And regardless of which we choose, what makes the difference in teh final result? The absolute reduction of carbohydrates? The decrease in carbohydrate relative to the other macronutrients? Or something else that we have not identified? With even one such study being prohibitively expensive, you could not test multiple studies in parallel either. The quagmire is endless.
- You can opt instead to use observational science to piece together “markers” of health. But this approach is not flawless, either. Selecting which markers to measure reincorporates the element of bias, which science is supposed to avoid (and as we know from Taubesian research et al, rarely does in practice). How do you decide what to measure? What if some indications contradict others? Are you going to conclude “good” or “bad” based on majority rule? If so, how do you know that certain combinations of these markers don’t result in different longevity of life and/or vibrancy of health than others? The danger here is a false sense of security, where you have this enterprise that you implicitly believe lacks bias, but in reality is full of it. Anecdotes, on the other hand, can be much more useful than we often give them credit for. Where experimental studies may give us a decent starting point, individual experiences can help fill in the gaps. Take Tom Naughton’s experience illustrated by the following comment, whereas he had previously been highly skeptical of “safe” or resistant starches:
I’ve heard from people who say their energy flagged on a very-low-carb diet, but they felt great when they added 100 grams or so of “safe starches” back into their diets as prescribed in Paul Jaminet’s Perfect Health Diet. I believe them.
Those anecdotes clued him in that there might just be something to this starch thing. Take Richard’s recent remarks in a discussion debunking the pursuit of a (fictional) sterile avoidance of bias in human life:
THESIS —> ANTITHESIS —> SYNTHESIS
The Synthesis then becomes the new Thesis, and the process repeats ad infinitum; not in circular fashion, but rather, a spiral fashion where each cycle represents more knowledge, better understanding, get’s a little closer to the truth. As such, I never have to worry much about someone’s bias. Let them be as biased as they like and then synthesize new understanding from competing bias. Someone’s comment on a post of mine might be 90% logical fallacy—or just mostly bullshit—but 5%, or 1% decent antithesis from which which a synthesis might emerge and in turn, a new, more complete thesis.
…Or, you can waste endless hours debating who’s right and who’s wrong; who’s biased and who’s impartial; who’s cognitively dissonant and who’s consonant. Or, you could be making progress recognizing that in all likelihood, you’re both right, both wrong; both biased; both living in some measure of dissonance and contradiction—in different proportions, contexts and perspectives—and there’s a synthesis dying to get out if you could both simply embrace intellectual honesty.
But nothing is settled, ever. I prefer it that way.
And not only is the journey (rather than the end goal) preferable—it is an inevitability of life. We’ll never know all the answers. Not even in a thousand years (presuming our descendants are still here).
To corral up all my rambling and return to your original point, I think we have good reason to combine anecdotes with “rigorous science.” Be especially careful of that latter concept…you have to bore deep holes of scrutiny and skepticism into every study that comes out before you can trust it as an oracle. Chances are, since it was designed by humans, it will contain the same flaws and biases that plague all of us humans. I’m not saying they’re worthless. Just don’t let them give you a false sense of security.
Well, he spent $300,000 and 10 years biohacking himself and he still can’t tolerate a side of french fries. This suggests that he has some extreme gut issues that even money can’t easily solve.
Meanwhile countless others are making more progress with about 0 in probiotics and prebiotics. So, at least he acknowledges that starch is working for many and I think that’s certainly better than turning a blind eye to it.
However, Dave couldn’t help patting himself on the back as he claimed that the collagen in his bulletproof coffee [see correction on that from Duck] ferments to butyrate at the same rate as RS. I’d love to see a citation for that. I don’t think that’s true.
I distinctly remember seeing a study about Cheetahs fermenting SCFAs from consuming collagen, skin and other grisly bits when digesting whole animals, but I was the one who uncovered that study a few months ago, and Table 3 clearly shows that hardly any butyrate is fermented from collagen:
And as best as I can tell, that’s the only study to look into the SCFAs fermented from animal fibers, and collagen does not appear to be a significant source of butyrate whatsoever.
I always have just the tiniest feeling of dread when I see this many pingbacks to our site from your blog. This one wasn’t so bad. Thanks, Richard.
[Laf — Ed]
Nora said: “To quote Bernstein, you can have an amino acid deficiency, you can have an essential fatty acid deficiency, but there is no such thing in any medical textbook on Earth as a carbohydrate deficiency. There is no such thing as a glucose deficiency….per se.
Well, I don’t know about you, but nobody in their right mind gets nutritional advice from “medical textbooks.” And those same medical textbooks also say some unkind words on dietary saturated fat.
The Joint Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations/World Health Organization Expert Consultation on Human Nutrition stated in 1998:
From: Carbohydrates in human nutrition (Report of a Joint FAO/WHO Expert Consultation, Rome, Italy, 14-18 April 1997). FAO food and nutrition paper 66. World Health Organization. 1998. ISBN 9251041148.
“One of the major developments in our understanding of the importance of carbohydrates for health in the past twenty years has been the discovery of resistant starch.”
Nora, Nora, Nora… The evidence for the role of carbohydrates and Resistant Starch in human health isn’t just there. It’s overwhelming.
Nora Gedgaudas: There’s too much credence being given to the whole “safe starch” idea, that I don’t necessarily consider safe at all. You know, nightshades are certainly not what I think of as safe.
Dave: I don’t do nightshades. […]
Nora Gedgaudas: And these are anything but paleo foods. These are very, very, very new foods to us…
Hard to believe that someone with “expertise” in “paleo” foods never heard of Tiger Nuts.
While Nora comes off as the Sarah Palin of paleo in that clip, their conversation highlights the wussification of paleo.
What Nora and Dave don’t seem to realize is that some of the very plant toxins they fear have also been shown to have health benefits. For instance, nightshade toxins have been shown in studies to exhibit the following properties…
- Antiallergic, Antipyretic, and Anti-inflammatory effects
- Blood sugar-lowering effects
- Antibiotic Activities against Pathogenic Bacteria, Viruses, Protozoa, and Fungi
- Destruction of Human Cancer Cells
For those who are curious, the paper documents all the known harmful effects and beneficial effects of nightshade toxins, and concludes by saying…
“Food and biomedical scientists, including nutritionists, pharmacologists, and microbiologists, are challenged to further define the beneficial effects of the glycoalkaloids against cancer, the immune system, cholesterol, and inflammation, as well as against pathogenic fungi, bacteria, viruses, and protozoa.”
Not so black and white, eh? How about so-called toxic saponins?
Nora and Dave are afraid of them too. But, would it surprise you that virtually all indigenous cultures make an effort to consume toxic saponins and tannins? They are nearly always found in bark and bush teas that are consumed by nearly every culture, including the Inuit. Take the Masai for instance. Turns out if you actually take the time to research their eating habits, you find that they eat toxic Acacia nilotica bark extract, with virtually every meat-heavy meal. The bark is rich in saponins and tannins. The saponins are believed to lower cholesterol and heart disease incidence (National Geographic, Oct 1995).
What about the Inuit? Labrador Tea was a major component of their diet. And guess what? It’s really freakin’ toxic. From: Wikipedia: Labrador Tea
[Labrador tea] has been a favorite beverage among Athabaskan and Inuit people for many years…Labrador tea has narcotic properties. Evidence suggests that excessive consumption of the plant may cause delirium or poisoning. Toxic terpenes of the essential oils cause symptoms of intoxication, such as slow pulse, lowering of blood pressure, lack of coordination, convulsions, paralysis, and death. It is apparently safe as a weak herbal tea, but should not be made too strong.
Oh, and Labrador tea has saponins and tannins too. Definitely not “bulletproof” tea. Are Nora and Dave are oblivious to this, or just willfully ignorant?
At any rate, hormesis from “toxic” plants appears to be a new frontier for health research. Tim shared this very cool article on nutritional toxicology that was published just a few days ago.
Warding off the diseases of aging is certainly a worthwhile pursuit. But evidence has mounted to suggest that antioxidant vitamin supplements, long assumed to improve health, are ineffectual. Fruits and vegetables are indeed healthful but not necessarily because they shield you from oxidative stress. In fact, they may improve health for quite the opposite reason: They stress you.
That stress comes courtesy of trace amounts of naturally occurring pesticides and anti-grazing compounds. You already know these substances as the hot flavors in spices, the mouth-puckering tannins in wines, or the stink of Brussels sprouts. They are the antibacterials, antifungals, and grazing deterrents of the plant world. In the right amount, these slightly noxious substances, which help plants survive, may leave you stronger.
Parallel studies, meanwhile, have undercut decades-old assumptions about the dangers of free radicals. Rather than killing us, these volatile molecules, in the right amount, may improve our health. Our quest to neutralize them with antioxidant supplements may be doing more harm than good.
If one truly makes an effort to research what indigenous cultures ate—and it almost certainly appears that Dave and Nora do not make that kind of effort—one will find that consistent consumption of plant toxins were a major component of their diets.
Given what we are learning about the microbiota, it appears that a healthy gut biome may be required to tolerate these toxins—as these toxins can often be metabolized by our gut bugs. I don’t doubt that Nora and Dave have their gut issues and perhaps can’t tolerate any plant toxins. I understand that toxins can be hard on the weak, modern gut. But, to profess to the world that all plant toxins are bad just isn’t supported by the scientific literature. Nor is it supported by the dietary habits of indigenous cultures. Not by a long shot.
The dose makes the poison. Don’t eat tons of plant toxins. But, avoid them at your own peril.
Alright, that should wrap it up for today. It is true that now, my role has shifted from blog writer to blog writer and publisher to a greater and greater extent. I think that makes a far better experience for you readers.