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Dear Mark: Aussie Lamb, Salt Bathing, and CLA Supplementation

I hope everyone is enjoying the holidays. Since you’re likely busy with something or other, I’ll keep this week’s Dear Mark [7] fairly brief. It’s a grab bag of questions again, beginning with a reader’s query about the grass-fededness (yep, that’s a word) of Australian lamb [8]. Is it reliably pasture-raised, or are Australian producers beginning to load their lamb up with grains [9]? Then, I discuss the efficacy (or not) of bathing in Epsom salts. Does the magnesium get absorbed, or doesn’t it? What about sea water in general – does spending time in it offer anything but a good time? Finally, the spectre of CLA supplementation arises yet again.

Let’s go:

Greetings Mark!

We were just wondering what your opinion was on grocery store bought lamb meat. The wife and I are new to a paleo lifestyle (a few weeks) and just recently purchased your book a week ago and are reading up on your PB. We are loving the difference this has made already in our lives. We have phased out regular beef for grass fed beef and made many other good changes. However, I can’t find a definitive answer regarding lamb meat online. It’s currently my view that since just about all of the lamb we buy comes from Australia then it must be grass fed by default. Just wondering if I’m wrong on this and what your opinion is.

Thanks and have a Great Day!

Grok On,


According to the North American regional office of Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA), which as far as I can tell supplies all the Australian lamb available in the United States, Australian lamb is “all-natural, grass-fed, pasture-raised and free of artificial additives and hormone growth promotants.” The only exception [10] is during a drought, when “local feeding may, by necessity, be temporarily supplemented with grain, usually wheat and/or oats until the drought is alleviated.” Sounds nice, except when you realize that Australia has been subject to a decade-long drought [11] which only recently ended [12].

I also came across this interesting page [13] on the Sheepmeat Council of Australia’s [13] website entitled “National Procedures and Guidelines for Intensive Sheep and Lamb Feeding Systems.” Note that these are “intensive” feeding systems, which tend to mean grain-feeding. It’s pretty tough to intensively feed a ruminant on grass, because grass simply doesn’t have enough energy density to qualify. They link to the PDF [14], and it’s pretty clear that Australian lamb is regularly receiving grain supplementation.

In lieu of full disclosure from the producer or vendor, you can usually tell if lamb has been grain-fed for a significant part of its life by examining it. Fully grass-fed lamb will be deep red, bordering on purple. The meat will be firm, not squishy. It’ll be leaner than grain-fed (but not “lean,” necessarily), and its fat [15] should be a bit yellow or off-white; grain-fed fat will be closer to pure white due to the lack of carotenoids in the diet. Taste will also tell the tale. The firmness of the meat should shine through when you bite into it. It should be “cohesive” in your mouth, if that makes sense, like a solid piece of well-worked muscle [16] (since that’s what you’re eating, essentially). Grain-fed will be more porous.

You can also compare the Australian lamb to New Zealand lamb, which (as far as I’ve been able to discover) is always grass-fed.

Hey Mark,

Tons of sites talk about epsom salts and if you do a search on MDA there are tons of user comments on how they use epsom salts in the comments section after  your articles. I’m curious on what your thoughts are. I assume that if Grok often lived by the ocean and ate salty sea creatures he must of spent a considerable amount of time in that salty water. Is there any benefit to regular dips in salty water?

Thank you!

Yeah, there are absolutely huge benefits to immersing yourself in salty water (preferably sea water) many of which have been explored in clinical trials. Let’s take a look at some of them, shall we?

Bathing in Dead Sea salts, also called Tomesa therapy, improved the skin health [17] of patients with psoriasis and normalized the levels of Langerhans cells (a kind of macrophage that helps with tissue healing and can get out of control in certain skin diseases). A bath in regular sodium chloride (salt [18]) had no effect. Another study [19] found that magnesium-rich Dead Sea water improved skin hydration, skin barrier function, and reduced skin inflammation [20] in atopic dry skin.

Bathing in the Dead Sea had a positive effect [21] on patients with both rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis by reducing inflammation. In osteoarthritis of the knee, a two week Dead Sea bath treatment resulted [22] in a 3-month abatement of symptoms. A recent literature review [23] concluded that the Dead Sea makes for an effective resort for patients with various types of joint ailments.

Also interesting is the effect on type 2 diabetics. A single immersion [24] in the waters of the Dead Sea lowered blood glucose levels in type 2 diabetics.

Ben Greenfield reviewed [25] the benefits and efficacy of magnesium bath salts in a post from last year. Myself, I can vouch that topical magnesium does “something.” I’ll occasionally spritz a few pumps of magnesium oil onto my body before bed or after getting out of a shower or bath, and my skin tingles and I tend to have really vivid dreams that night. The rib cage area seems to be the best spot for application. I always like to keep a sack of Epsom salts around to add a little magnesium to my bath, too.

And of course, my favorite way to bathe in sea salts is to swim in the actual, real ocean. It certainly has evolutionary precedent, as you mention above.

Hey Mark,

I have synthesized the primal lifestyle with the protocols of leangains and intermittent fasting. The results have been great and make me feel awesome. I lift all the heavy weights and sprint, although I admit I don’t move around as much as I should.

However, I have been taking a CLA supplement for at least a year or two now. It is supposedly derived from safflower oil and I typically take about 2-3 per day with meals. I know getting CLA from dietary sources is preferable but buying all the organic and grass fed meat is difficult with my budget (I still always buy organic eggs). I was wondering if taking the supplement while eating conventional meat was still headed in the right direction. Any insight on the subject would be much appreciated.

Thanks a bunch and keep doing what you do!

CLA supplements sound like a good idea. Grass-fed dairy and ruminant meat are expensive, and part of the reason we like them so much is the conjugated linoleic acid, so why not just take the CLA and eat regular meat and dairy?

As I explained in a previous post, not all CLA is created equal [26]. The kind that’s produced in ruminant stomachs – and the kind that you’re generally going to encounter in the wild, in naturally-occurring foods – is primarily cis-9, trans-11, with a tiny bit of trans-10, cis-12. The kind that’s produced from safflower oil is primarily trans-10, cis-12. Okay, but does that really matter?

Oh yeah. See, the trans-10, cis-12 CLA actually appears to perform really well in clinical trials. It abolishes fat mass and increases lean mass, which generally correlates well with improved health overall. That’s what you’d think, at least. But no – this time, the people (and mice) who lose the body fat and increase the lean mass, who experience the “benefits” of safflower-derived CLA do so by shunting all the fat toward an organ you definitely do not want to fatten up: the liver [27].

More evidence keeps accumulating [28]: CLA supplements – in sufficient dosages – consistently increase liver fat, worsen blood lipids [29], decrease insulin sensitivity, and destroy glucose tolerance. But hey! At least you might get a six pack [30] in the process!

I would avoid CLA supplementation. It might be okay, provided you stick with small doses (2-3 per day sounds like a fairly small, inoffensive dose), and it might be even better if you took a CLA supplement that mimicked the ruminant form, but I don’t think it will do you any favors. If you’re going to insist on taking them for an extended amount of time, I would get regular liver function tests to ensure you’re not doing any harm.