Saturday, April 14, 2012

Ancestral Health Update: Jack Kruse, Melissa McKewen, Richard Nikoley; Plus an Aside about Ray Peat

The online ancestral health community, a.k.a. the "paleosphere" has been quite heated lately. The issue? Jack Kruse and Melissa of Hunt, Gather, Love. Melissa lead the charge agaist Jack and has been backed by some of the most credible names around including Kurt Harris and Emily Deans. I don't have much to add to the discussion, but I would like to state my opinion.* 

I don't read Jack's blog regularly because, quite frankly, he is a low carb hack; and for that reason alone I assume that he is probably full of shit on most things, and anyone who looks at him as anything more than a fringe lunatic is fooling himself. But assuming that you are rational, you can still learn from the risky behavior of lunatics, and it is my current opinion that Richard is right that you can get away with training much colder than Ray Cronise recommends. The fact that Richard has done it for years and Tim Ferriss apparently does with some regularity is enough for me to feel safe trying it, though I will have to start very slow as I have serious Raynaud's that I'm up against. But eventually, I would like to get to 40 degrees or even polar bear swims, acknowledging that it is going to probably take me putting on 30 pounds of lean mass to be able to get away with something like that. We're talking big picture here, afterall, I do have 60 years to plan before I should expect to even think about dying of natural causes. John Durant hasn't come out with his opinion, but he does polar bear swims so I think we know where his head is at on that. 

So to recap, Jack Kruse, still a hack, but he's probably onto something with cold hormesis training. My armchair hypothesis is that cold hormesis training will turn out to be somewhat necessary for many, including myself, to obtain optimal health. I think that this is especially true for people of European descent, but applies for all humans as well.

So now I would like to loop in Ray Peat, fructose, and that hullabaloo, because there's been some drama on that subject as well beween Danny Roddy and Kurt Harris. To me Ray Peat seems fringe and everything that Kurt said makes me question him, but the one thing that I am leaning toward him being right about is that the thyroid is where it all starts, and that his recommendations actually work in fixing thyroid issues. So if you need to go on a thyroid protocol, you cannot deny that he has the answer in the real world. This is why I decided to pay Danny for coaching; I wanted to understand his interpretation of Ray's writing, since I have read him for a long time and know he's a reasonable guy. More than anything, I wanted a new dietary toy to play with and see if I get results. $95 one time isn't money; I raise $95 with 72o just to with the bonus.

My armchair theory about thyroid is that it is the first thing that breaks in disease, especially autoimmune disease. I think that there is probably a relationship between thyroid function and androgen profile, as well as thyroid function and gut health/permeability. I think that Dr. Harris' characterization of autoimmunity as an overactive immune system is wrong. The immune system is doing what it's supposed to do, attacking foreign proteins in the bloodstream. But the reason that these proteins are getting into the bloodstream in the first place might be related to thyroid. That is why body temperature is the canary in the coalmine.

To bring back cold hormesis: in order to keep warm, the body upregulates thyroid function, so I think that it is quite possible that cold hormesis could train the hypothalamus to kick up thyroid a notch, and then feeding it correctly (Ray Peat) gives it the nutritional support it needs to get there. I think thyroid dysfunction also disturbs sleep, but it is possible that the cause and effect is wrong there i.e. sleep causes thyroid dysfunction, in which case it would really just be about getting more darkness every night, at least 10 hours of pitch black most of the time. Keep in mind that Tim used cold hormesis as a sleep hacking technique. Or maybe it's a positive feedback loop that needs to be unwound on both fronts simultaneously.

Look, fructose is not toxic. Sorry, paleo, you're just wrong about this. There is a level where it can become problematic; everything operates on a J-Curve; but it's a lot higher than anyone in the paleosphere believes. For me that limit happens right around 1 pint of Haagen-Dazs ice cream plus roughly two quarts of Tropicana Original orange juice in the span of about 1-2 hours (that's a lot and pretty hard to do, though some soda consumption can approach those levels in some people). Stephan has it right in saying that the only issue with sugar is its high reward value. And for those keeping track, it is high reward because it was rare in the environment prior to agriculture, but when it was around, it was in fruit, which is very tasty and good for you. 

I can't believe that fucking hack Robert Lustig got a 60 minutes special. If someone is thin, you may or may not be able to trust his judgment when it comes to what to eat, but if he is fat, you absolutely cannot trust his judgment. If he is fat, he doesn't know how to fix himself, so why should any of us trust what he has to say about nutrition? It's a mean thing to say, but it has to be said by someone.

*I've done a 7+ hour each way road trip with Melissa when I went to the deer hunting class with her (big shout out to the Eating Paleo in NYC meetup Group). Needless to say, I rather like her. I generally trust her judgment in situations where I have yet to form my own opinion


  1. How has your experiment gone with lots of ice cream and orange juice? The study of the one guy who ate extremely low fat for several months always sits in my mind, but without a different low pufa diet (like higher in overall fat), I can't put too much stock in it.

    Regarding your Lustig point, that same logic can be applied to Peat. Have you listened to his interviews and read his articles/books? He is one of my favorite writers, but why would someone trust his ideas on thyroid/health if he himself is taken as the showcase example of his diet's results? He has all sorts of intolerances/allegies/etc: he can't eat an egg without orange juice, gets "winter sickness," hypothyroid symptoms just days after no supplementation, migraines from kefir, acne without 100,000IU vitamin A, and perhaps more I can't think of off the top of my head. He seems to *look* good for his age, but he has taken hormone supplements for *decades.*

    I hate to criticize him personally, as he his generous and humble, and I have read and re-read his writing more than anyone else, but the fanatical dedication and close-mindedness that he [accidentally I assume] attracts is pretty annoying.

    Regarding fructose, most people get too carried away with things. I don't know how he feels now, but Lustig has said that many people can get away with whatever they want. I myself have eaten ridiculous amounts of sugar/candy in the past and have remained very lean, despite no conscious effort (I play sports and do weightlifting). Fructose is probably facilitative, like smoking and lung cancer, but of course not the ultimate cause. The addictive aspects of fructose add to its harm because of further deleterious metabolic effects, independent of calorie number. Otherwise we would not see effortless weight loss after forcefeeding.

    Stephan currently has posts somewhat exonerating sucrose/fructose, which is strange, because now his reward hypothesis is down to linoleic corn oil "rewarding"?

    Stephan and his loyal followers of Deans, Harris, CarbSane, etc, always talk of things in "excess." To them, "Fruit/fructose is fine, but it's bad in excess." ...Oh, really?? I'm pretty sure there is something about the intrinsic negativity of "excess" that makes their statements pretty worthless, but that's common in nutrition circles.

    1. Oh, it's possible that Peat's health problems were relatively minor, and he just wanted to share his experiences.

  2. Hey John,

    I haven't read any of Peat's work, and for the moment I don't really care to. The guidelines that I have been following came from Danny Roddy's interpretation of Peat's work.

    As far as results so far, it's a little hard to say. My temperature seems to be creeping up, which is very positive, and my body temperature regulation has gotten better, but by no means am I anywhere near where I want to be.

    One thing that I have observed in myself is that increasing my breathing rate improves my cold tolerance more than anything else I have tried, an observation I stumbled upon totally by accident. This has led me to some more careful observation of my qualitative experience of life, with some interesting findings. I think that it is very likely that posture is king. There are probably a couple reasons for this, but I suspect that number one is really very simply about lung capacity. Sit up and breathe deep, and your body will have an ample amount of oxygen.

    As I stated above, I think that Lustig is a complete hack. Not sure if you caught the debate with Walter Willet and Stephan, but basically everything out of his mouth was garbage. His newest target is branch chain amino acids, really Bob?

    I don't buy any of the mechanisms that people are talking about with regard to excess fructose being toxic. Fructose is highly rewarding, and when combined with other foods will often form hyper-rewarding concoctions, but I'm pretty convinced that this is the only problem with it. Beyond that, it is a legitimate source of easily accessible fuel.

    To your other point, I am fairly confident that corn oil is rewarding. Try this heuristic on for size: we evolved in a world that had only whole foods, and our reward centers are designed to steer us toward healthy foods within that context. Though Peat might disagree, PUFA are generally considered to be essential fatty acids, and they are considered as such because we must get them from the diet, i.e. we cannot make them ourselves. So while we have a very strong taste for saturated fats and monounsaturated fats, in the context of our natural environment these are extremely common compared to PUFA, which are at very low levels in most ruminant meats. All of this is to say that despite tasting like shit, corn oil might be extremely psychologically rewarding because it is giving us unnaturally high doses of something that we never really evolved satiety mechanisms for and specifically evolved to seek out. Fructose is probably the same in this sense.

    Stephan's reward hypothesis isn't really "down to" anything. No individual substance by itself is particularly rewarding, especially not sugar. What he is talking about is a synergy of flavors, textures and smells that combine to somewhat "short circuit" reward mechanisms and give the brain the impression that a food is super healthful (in an evolutionary context) and should be consumed in as great an amount as possible while it's available. This is distinctly different from Lustig's view of fructose is a toxin.

  3. Hmm, I haven't been able find much of a correlation between macronutrients and temperature in myself, but low protein and/or low fat worsens my physical performance and muscle mass. I've noticed that liver pate, perhaps because of the vitamin A, makes me feel warm for a while.

    I didn't see the debate, but I doubt I'd be interested. I don't care much for big names like Willet and Lustig, even though I think Lustig has shared some useful ideas. Their focus and knowledge is usually too narrow.

    That is an interesting idea about the corn oil, but I would definitely need to see then some kind of comparison between potato chips made with tallow/lard vs potato chips made with corn oil. I'd be surprised if corn oil led to higher intake.

    I think the criticisms of fructose metabolism are okay, and it certainly seems inferior to saturated fat. If you are talking about sucrose or glucose+free fructose, maybe things work out differently. I'm more open to the possibility that some fructose [vs none] is helpful than I am to the possibility that fructose is straight good, in the sense that we should be eating several hundred grams of fructose-containing sugars day, a la Peat devotees.

    Okay, yea, he does make it clear that it is not a single substance I guess, but there is enough data perhaps to even exonerate "sweet," from his posts alone. The problem is that "over-consumption," binging, force-feeding, etc doesn't lead to fat gain in many people, despite a possible "addiction." That's why food reward is so inadequate: he avoids writing about the physiology of fat tissue and fat storage because doing so would invalidate any hypothesis that relies of calorie number per se.

    FIRKO mice don't store fat, even when their brains drive them to constant hunger and food intake. There are numerous simple interventions that protect against obesity without relying on calorie reduction [spontaneous or otherwise]: glutamine, certain probiotics, calcium, coconut oil, and vitamin A are a quick five. These Schwartz/Guyenet hypotheses would be laughed off the earth in critical thinking fields, but nutrition research revolves around the mistake that insight can be extracted from "Calories in, calories out."

    1. I would be VERY interested to see comparisons between potato chips fried in seed oils vs. animal oils. The crunch is rewarding, but I do expect that we would see a significantly greater level of consumption in the PUFA chip group based on my own experiences making fries and chips in coconut oil and bacon grease.

      "but there is enough data perhaps to even exonerate 'sweet,' from his posts alone"

      Would people on average eat more or less cake if it weren't sweet?

      "The problem is that 'over-consumption," binging, force-feeding, etc doesn't lead to fat gain in many people, despite a possible "addiction.'"

      This isn't a problem, it is actually a feature. Integral in the concept of food reward is that there exists a fat mass setpoint in the hypothalamus, and the brain defends against changes in fat mass in both directions. It is this setpoint that is influenced by reward signaling. To me this is best illustrated by the opposite example, rat studies where you put a rat in a cage and hook the pleasure center of his brain up to an electrode controlled by a button. You give him a food button and a pleasure electrode button, and surprise surprise, the rat starves to death.

      Guyenet avoids writing about the physiology of fat tissue and fat storage because in normal humans it is irrelevant as it is completely driven by the brain. Insulin is necessary for fat storage; which is why diabetics cannot store fat; but the release of insulin by the pancreas is controlled directly by the brain. The fact that genetically modified mice cannot store fat without any insulin receptors doesn't have any application to humans with insulin receptors.

    2. People would eat more cake if sweet (to a point), which is why I don't base my ideas solely upon large-scale observational or controlled studies (such as finding non-significant difference between sucrose vs glucose). There are too many other factors to consider, and I think we need to understand "small-scale" physiology, which is why I enjoy reading Peat, Dobromylskyj, and Ayers. This sort of knowledge is also why it is unreasonable to label the insulin hypothesis as quackery. I'm not concerned with debunking Gary Taubes; I'm concerned with understanding physiology, unlike Guyenet and CarbSane. I've yet to see a decent attempt by those types to explain differences in resistance to weight change in overfeeding studies (I guess Guyenet's explanation would be that those people are "set-point change resistant") .

      Set-point hypothesis isn't scientific; it's unfalsifiable, and it provides no insight. I doubt I can gain status as a bone scientist by writing papers about bone mass set-point, despite there being one. Saying something like, "The brain changes the set-point," is worthless. There is unlikely some mystical/abstract drive to maintain the same amount of fat mass; it just so happens that the environment is stable to the point of keeping fat mass stable; often times both aren't.

      How can fat tissue be completely driven by the brain if you just said insulin is necessary? The brain doesn't act independently from all else, like a series of "big bang" reactions, spewing out information; there is continual input and output.

      The FIRKO mouse doesn't immediately lead to application, but it gives us some direction, mainly that insulin signaling in the fat tissue is an area worth researching. The excuse, "FIRKO mice aren't the same as humans with 'normal' insulin signaling, so it doesn't help us," sounds like a statement made by someone who is more concerned with pushing his own idea, rather than actually learning--especially when that person uses the LIRKO mouse to support himself.

      ...Ok, well, it's been good, but I guess we aren't getting anywhere. I was mostly interested in your experiment with orange juice and ice cream, because it is Peat-like, and I like to hear/read about those people's experiences.

    3. I don't agree that a set point theory is unfalsifiable. Here are empirical findings that could falsify the set point theory: 1) demonstrating that overfeeding isn't met with a compensatory metabolic upregulation, 2) demonstrating that underfeeding isn't met with a compensatory metabolic downregulation, 3) in the presence of both compensatory mechanisms, demonstrating that these compensatory mechanisms can occur without the brain driving them directly.

      "There is unlikely some mystical/abstract drive to maintain the same amount of fat mass; it just so happens that the environment is stable to the point of keeping fat mass stable; often times both aren't. "

      This is the "settling point" theory of fat mass, and in my opinion (as well as many others), this does not do a good job of explaining the observed phenomena. The most important of these: why do overweight individuals defend against changes to fat mass in response to overfeeding? It makes sense that a normal person with normal insulin levels might not be able to store up the excess fat, and it makes sense that someone who is overweight with elevated insulin might have trouble losing fat, but why would an overweight person who already has elevated insulin levels and is capable of storing up excess fat have trouble putting on more weight when force fed?

  4. "I don't read Jack's blog regularly because, quite frankly, he is a low carb hack; and for that reason alone I assume that he is probably full of shit on most things, and anyone who looks at him as anything more than a fringe lunatic is fooling himself."

    So you don't read his blog often and yet you are willing to make such a fervent criticism of his ideas?

    I won't spend too long redeeming him as he's by no means my hero. But you should understand that Kruse is not low carb; he is for a seasonal carb intake. What's unreasonable about that? Right now, in England, if I go out to the woods there are no fruit trees, there are very few starch sources. On the coast there is plenty of seafood and fish and seaweed. Inland there are animals. Where would i get my calories from in this evolutionary scenario?

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