Meet Mark

Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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Tag: research analysis

Is There Really an Obesity Paradox?

A couple weeks ago, I linked to an article discussing the “obesity paradox”—the idea that across many different studies and populations, people with slightly overweight and even obese BMIs often have the lowest mortality risk. The author is Harriet Brown, a supporter of the “Health At Every Size” movement, comes down hard on the side of overweight/obesity as safe and even beneficial. At first glance, she makes a strong case. She appears to cite compelling research. She talks to obesity researchers who’ve found protective links between higher BMIs and better health and been lambasted by their colleagues. And if the general consensus is right, and carrying extra weight is so unhealthy, why are obesity and overweight consistently associated with a lower risk of death?

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Antibiotic Resistance: Are We All Doomed?

The future prospects of antibiotics look grim. Headline after headline proclaims the mounting resistance to antibiotics among pathogenic bacteria and the impending inefficacy of our best drugs to fight them. Antibiotic-resistant “pig MRSA” has been documented moving from pigs to people in several countries, including Denmark and Holland. That same MRSA has also been found in the US, England, and is likely brewing wherever pigs and other animals are intensively raised. And just recently, researchers discovered that MCR-1, the gene responsible for resistance to the “last line of defense” antibiotic—polymixin, the one we use when everything else has failed—is transferable between different strains of E. coli. Formerly relegated to pigs, E. coli and K. pneumoniae bacteria with the MCR-1 mutation have appeared in human subjects in several Chinese hospitals. Transferring the gene between different bacterial species is theoretically harder, but that it’s possible at all has raised alarms in the scientific community.

It’s not just industrial farms and antibiotic overuse causing the resistance. Even the scientists studying the problem and running experiments with antibiotics could very well be promoting antibiotic resistance on a larger scale.

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How Bad Is Charred Meat, Really?

There’s nothing like charcoal-grilled meat. It’s not just the food itself, although that’s amazing. It’s the entire experience: being outside in fresh (albeit smokey) air, the sizzle when you slap that meat down on the hot grill, the smell of the smoke. Even the tools we use when grilling are bigger and savager and more rewarding than the dainty implements used inside. We don’t gently flip the steak. We grab it with huge metal tongs and throw it down. There’s less precision and more art. And the flavor can’t be found anywhere else. The smoke, the flame, the char, the grill marks, the color, the dripping fat—they are irreplaceable.

But is it healthy? Is that perfect sear costing you years off your life? Are those BBQ ribs adorning your colonic interior with pre-cancerous polyps?

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What Does the WHO Report Mean for Your Meat-Eating Habit?

I’m sure you’ve seen the rash of fear-mongering headlines proclaiming red meat to be as carcinogenic as smoking. In fact, I know so because dozens of you have asked me for my thoughts. What’s going on? Do we need to worry? What actually happened? Why have your vegan friends become even more smug than before? Why did your crazy aunt send an email in all caps pleading for you to stop eating “so much beef”?

Citing a short summary paper of a much larger study, earlier this week the World Health Organization (WHO) named processed meat a definite human carcinogen and red meat a probable human carcinogen. That’s frightening at first glance. I mean, the WHO? Great band, weren’t quite the same after Keith Moon died, but for my money they’ve always delivered quality health information. When they issue a report about dietary carcinogens, I listen up.

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A Brief History of U.S. Dietary Guidelines

Prior to 1980, how in the world did anyone know how to eat? When you think of all the centuries, the millennia of human existence, how did the species manage to survive bumbling their way through day after day of undirected eating patterns? I’m guessing those of you who know me expected a few irreverent remarks when you read the title of today’s post. Still, I’ll try to keep myself on a short leash today. It’s a legitimate and even, in some regards, culturally (and probably politically) significant question: why were government dietary guidelines ever put in place—and what was the backstory of their uses and modifications over time? Finally, what perspective can it bring to our understanding of embracing a “niche” dietary model like the Primal Blueprint?

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Dear Mark: Anti-Paleo Guardian Column (Plus, Did Big Brains Need Carbs?)

For today’s edition of Dear Mark, I’m answering one question. First up is the latest anti-paleo piece of clickbait, this time from the Guardian. Apparently the ancestral health movement has had a really bad year or something, and we’re barely hanging on after being dealt a series of devastating blows from the scientific community. Will we make it? Find out below. I also use the original question to springboard into a larger discussion on the new study claiming that carbs were necessary for the evolution of the enormous human brain. The media is selling it as a total refutation of the Primal way of eating, but I’m not so sure. It turns out we have way more in common than you might think from reading the headlines.

Let’s go:

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Is the Paleo Diet Supported by Scientific Research? – Part 2

Last week, I countered claims that “paleo gots no science” with summaries of five recent (and not so recent) papers supporting the paleo/Primal approach to diet. The reception to that post was strong enough that I got requests to cover a few more this week. So today, I’m going to explain the findings of five more relevant studies. Not all of these studies come from the original list, but each gives an accurate and important portrayal of the effects of eating in accordance with one’s biology. More importantly, these are all interesting approaches to the diet, with some examining higher-carb paleo, some looking at higher-fat and downright ketogenic paleo diets, and still others trying to disentangle the beneficial effects of the weight loss that normally occurs on paleo diets from the effect of going paleo.

Let’s dig right in:

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Is the Paleo Diet Supported by Scientific Research?

People constantly demand proof for the efficacy of the Primal eating plan. And I’m glad they do. The Primal Blueprint makes sense on an intuitive level, and those success stories we see every Friday sure are persuasive, but it’s also important to see broader support in the scientific literature. Many times, people demand proof without really wanting any; they assume it’s all imaginary just-so stories. “Where are the studies?” has become a retort rather than a legitimate query.

Well, it’s time to retire it. With 22 paleo diet papers and counting, the scientific research is quickly accumulating — and it’s quite positive. In last Sunday’s Weekend Link Love, I shared a list of (most of) the available paleo diet studies. Today, I thought I’d summarize some of these studies for you. Not everyone can be expected to have access to, read, and be able to interpret all of the research that is published. But there’s some really interesting stuff in there that I think you might benefit from knowing (and passing along to interested parties who ask). But be sure to have a look for yourself. Don’t just take my word for it.

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Do Low-Carb Diets Cause Insulin Resistance?

A few weeks back in the “How to Improve Your Insulin Sensitivity” post, I apparently dropped a bit of a bombshell: that very low carb diets can induce insulin resistance. Many of you wrote to me asking about the effects of low-carb dieting on insulin sensitivity and wondering whether you should begin eating more carbohydrates to counter it. Well, maybe, but there’s a right way and a wrong way to eat carbs if you’re low carb. The wrong way is to just add a ton of carbohydrates on top of your low-carb Primal eating plan without changing anything else. Doing that, especially in perpetuity, will likely lead to weight gain, hyperinsulinemia, and even more insulin resistance. Bad all around.

Now, many people are perfectly happy on a perpetually low-carb diet. I function quite well on a low (but not very low) glucose diet, hovering around 100-150 grams a day and often dipping below that. I might go even lower if I didn’t love vegetables and berries so much. But, assuming you are experiencing physiological insulin resistance caused by a very low carb or ketogenic diet, what happens when you do want to incorporate carbohydrates in your diet?

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Essential Oils: Separating Fact from Fiction

If you spend a day or two on social media sites, you get the idea that essential oils are a panacea that can replace every modern medicine, both over the counter and prescription. Kid got a fever? Rub a little of this oil on his feet. Big job interview coming up in a few minutes? Inhale a little of this to relax. Fungal infection? Splash some of this on. It’s gotten particularly out of hand on Pinterest, where multi-level marketing schemers attempt to convince everyone they absolutely need to become essential oil wholesalers. Conversely, if you hang around in the online skeptic communities (Science Based Medicine, Quackwatch, etc.), you come away with the impression that essential oils are at best pleasant-smelling placebos and at worst expensive poisons. So – who’s right? Who’s wrong? Are essential oils simply glorified air fresheners without any evidence of efficacy, or does the truth lie somewhere between the two extremes?

Let’s first dig into the common claims and the evidence for some of the most popular essential oils.

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