Category: Gut Health
If the primary goal of Primal Nutrition is eating nutritious animals and plants, the secondary or corollary goal is to avoid poisonous things. For the vast majority of human history, our biggest problems were acute poisons and toxins.
For example, plants that were incredibly toxic and would kill you or make you immediately sick after eating. Or meat and other animal products that had gone bad or hosted food borne pathogens that could quickly kill or weaken you
In the modern world, acute poisons are pretty much absent from the food supply. We’ve had hundreds of thousands of years to figure out how to avoid the foods that are acutely toxic, and food safety laws, for the most part, do a good job of limiting exposure to food borne pathogens.
As the number of people living with cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, cancer, and other health scourges continues to skyrocket, so too does the demand for safe, effective treatments. People don’t just want to pop pills that mask symptoms and make it possible to “live with” a disease. And as much as we know that diet and lifestyle changes—being less sedentary, sleeping more, reducing stress—are needed to make real, sweeping public health impacts, implementation is a huge challenge. In the meantime, people need remedies that get to the root causes of their chronic health woes—ideally without a laundry list of possible side effects. Enter berberine, an alkaloid compound found in various plants. This is a textbook example of modern science confirming ancient wisdom. Chinese and ayurvedic medicine have valued berberine-containing plants like barberry, goldenseal, and tree turmeric for hundreds of years, using them to treat everything from gout to indigestion to hemorrhoids to skin infections to cancer. Now, research is uncovering exactly how berberine works—and it turns out to be quite a remarkable little substance. To date, there is pretty good evidence that berberine is useful for two applications in particular, and there are hints that it might serve other purposes as well. Let’s dive in. Likely Benefits of Berberine For Managing Blood Sugar, Insulin, and Type 2 Diabetes In type 2 diabetics, berberine seems to lower fasting blood sugar and fasting insulin, decrease HbA1c (a three-month blood glucose average), and improve insulin sensitivity. Some studies even suggest that berberine can be as effective as the drugs that are currently considered standard of care, notably metformin. There is also an additive benefit: administering metformin with berberine seems to be more effective than metformin alone. However, as the authors of one review pointed out, studies comparing the two tend to be of less-than-ideal quality. Shockingly, drug companies aren’t exactly falling all over themselves to fund research to see if an herb can replace one of their lucrative products. Nevertheless, this is a big deal. Insulin resistance, hyperglycemia, and the resulting inflammation are the common threads connecting numerous chronic diseases. It’s possible, even likely, that berberine could be used as a primary or adjunct therapy for many diseases that run rampant today. Take PCOS as an example. Insulin resistance is a hallmark of PCOS, and metformin is often prescribed to manage symptoms and encourage ovulation. In one study, 150 women received berberine, metformin, or a placebo before undergoing IVF. Women in both treatment groups showed similar improvements in metabolic health (lower BMI, less insulin resistance, lower fasting glucose and insulin), but 18 of those who took berberine had a successful pregnancy, compared to 14 in the metformin group and 7 in the placebo group. For Blood Lipids Studies in rodents and humans with high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes pretty consistently find that berberine lowers LDL-C and triglycerides, usually while boosting HDL. It may also lower ApoB. ApoB is a lipoprotein that many cardiovascular disease experts now recognize is a more accurate … Continue reading “What is Berberine and Should You Take It?”
Cold? Flu? Tummy troubles? I know that I don’t have time to be sick, and I’m sure you don’t either. Luckily I don’t get sick very often anymore, but back in my competitive athlete days, it felt like I was constantly battling one cold, cough, or sinus infection after another.
Not to toot my own horn, but I chalk up my current good health to my Primal lifestyle. I know for sure that there is a marked before and after—before Primal, when I had a medicine cabinet full of OTC remedies, and after, when I rarely take a sick day. On those occasions when I do detect a tickle in my throat or the first signs of sour stomach, my first course of action is to double down on those aspects of my lifestyle that support a robust immune system, particularly nutrient-dense foods, sleep, and time in the sun.
The food piece is what we’re going to talk about today. Everybody has an opinion about what to eat, or not, when you’re under the weather. I’m not claiming that certain foods can cure the flu or prevent you from coming down with that cold even after your sick kid coughs in your face. But once you’re sick, the name of the game is supporting your immune system by providing it with beneficial nutrients and compounds that could aid it in fighting off the viruses or bacteria that are making you sick in the first place. Some foods will also provide welcome comfort, which is nothing to sneeze at, pun intended.
The health world is fixated on fiber, constantly telling us how important fiber is and how we should all be eating more of it. Back in the day, our cultural obsession with fiber was all about being “regular.” You had to load up on fiber to keep things moving, so to speak. Nothing was more important. So we started our days with bland, tooth-cracking breakfast cereal that tasted like tree bark and sparked no joy. But hey, it was loaded with fiber and therefore good for us, right?
I’ve long been skeptical of that particular story, mostly because every major health agency that recommends higher fiber intake also says that we should get much of that fiber from whole grains. And you know how I feel about that. If whole grains aren’t essential (or even healthy, if you ask me), then how could the fiber they provide be essential? It doesn’t add up.
Now, though, as we learn ever more about the emerging science of the microbiome, the fiber story is starting to shift. It’s become less about pushing “roughage” through our colons to create bulkier, more impressive bowel movements (although some people still promote this supposed benefit). Certain types of fiber, it turns out, are essentially food for the microbes living in our guts.
Acne is a common problem that gives too many people too much grief. Many conventional acne (or acne vulgaris) treatments—antibiotics, oral steroids, hormonal birth control pills, and isotretinoin (sold with brand name Accutane)—have serious, sometimes downright scary, side effects. There may be cases when these nuclear options are necessary, but I know many folks would prefer to try diet, lifestyle, and more natural interventions first.
The good news is that as common as skin issues like acne are today, they are not an inevitable part of the human condition. Grandfather of the ancestral health movement Loren Cordain asserts that acne is basically unheard of in traditional-living societies. This strongly suggests that modern lifestyle factors underlie much of what we see today. And if that’s the case, then there are steps we can take to cut acne down at the source.
A while back, a friend was telling my wife Carrie and I about these apple cider vinegar gummies she started taking to deal with some persistent health issues. She wanted to know what I thought. You probably know that apple cider vinegar is rumored to have myriad health benefits. I’ve written before about how it’s likely to help people with diabetes control their blood sugar and improve insulin sensitivity. But it’s been a while since I poked around the scientific literature on this topic, so I decided to explore that today. Apple cider vinegar has a long history as a traditional remedy for everything from dandruff to cancer. (Spoiler: there’s no evidence it helps with cancer.) Proponents claim that its healing properties come from the high acid content—mostly acetic acid, but also lactic, malic, and citric acids—as well the polyphenols, probiotics, and small amount of nutrients it contains. Depending on your particular issue, you might dab it on your skin, soak in an apple cider vinegar bath, or drink it. Apple cider gummies have also become quite popular in recent years, as my friend can attest, in part because drinking apple cider vinegar can get old. It doesn’t taste great, and it burns on the way down. I’m not going to cover the question of whether gummies are more or less effective than other delivery methods today, but let me know in the comments if that’s something that interests you. For today, I’m going to revisit the evidence for some of the top purported health benefits and see if there is any reason to run out to the market for a bottle of apple cider vinegar. Let’s go. Health Benefits of Apple Cider Vinegar Apple cider vinegar for diabetes and insulin resistance Scientists have known for decades that there is something going on with vinegar and blood sugar. A study back in 1988 showed that when researchers had subjects consume a sucrose solution either with or without vinegar (strawberry vinegar in this case), the resulting rise in blood sugar was significantly blunted in the vinegar condition. In another, individuals with type 2 diabetes or insulin resistance consumed a high-carb meal (white bagel, butter, orange juice) with or without an apple cider vinegar drink. With the addition of vinegar, participants experienced a smaller blood glucose spike, lower insulin response, and better whole-body insulin sensitivity, especially among the insulin resistant folks. A similar study with type 2 diabetics found that vinegar attenuated the insulin and glucose responses to a high-glycemic index meal but not a low-GI meal. Some longer-term studies also suggest that taking apple cider vinegar for 2 to 12 weeks reduces fasting blood glucose and lowers HbA1c. So there is something there, but the phenomenon is still not well understood. The studies in this area are mostly small with inconsistent methodologies. Of note, it’s not clear whether there’s anything special about apple cider vinegar per se. The observed effects are probably due mostly to the acetic acid, which you’ll find … Continue reading “Apple Cider Vinegar Health Benefits: Fact or Fiction?”