What is the effect of the carnivore diet on obesity and cancer?
Does meat really heal? Many anecdotal reports have been released claiming that the carnivore diet, consisting of eating a diet restricted to meat, has alleviated the symptoms of autoimmune disease and depression while causing weight loss and improved health. Despite the anecdotal evidence, is there any scientific data to support these claims? Let’s consider the effect of the carnivore diet on several health conditions.
When you are on the carnivore diet, your intake of processed carbohydrates and sugar is completely eliminated. These simple sugars are the leading cause of weight gain. In the absence of these carbohydrates, your body burns fat for fuel in a process known as ketosis resulting in weight loss and the eradication of obesity. Obesity is a leading cause of chronic illnesses such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and fatty liver disease.
Studies have shown that excess intake of sugary foods and processed carbohydrates increases systemic levels of inflammation in the body which can increase the risk for cancer and autoimmune diseases. Eliminating sugar intake through this meat diet can therefore theoretically decrease levels of inflammation in the body.
But does the meat diet directly decrease levels of inflammation in the body? The carnivore diet sends the body into a metabolic state called ketosis where it burns fat for energy instead of using glucose. Compared to glucose metabolization which produces large amounts of free oxygen radicals contributing to inflammation, ketone metabolization has been shown to produce far fewer free radicals.
In fact, studies have shown that ketosis decreases inflammation and reactive radicals in animal models of multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune condition that affects the brain. It also decreases markers of liver inflammation in people with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Since the ketogenic diet has also been shown to produce anti-inflammatory effects by directly inhibiting pro-inflammatory immune pathways in the body, it is assumed that the carnivore diet does the same though scientific data isn’t readily available. With this in mind, it can be concluded that the carnivore diet can in fact guard against inflammation and ameliorate symptoms of autoimmune diseases.
The development of cancer, known as carcinogenesis, has been linked to hyperinsulinemia, hyperglycemia, and chronic inflammation. Not enough studies have been done on the carnivore diet, but emerging evidence suggests that the ketogenic diet may decrease the risk of cancer through its anti-inflammatory properties. Because the carnivore diet works in basically the same way as the keto diet, the same can be deduced of the carnivore diet. Along those same lines, the ketogenic diet is hypothesized to decrease risk of cancer by decreasing levels of insulin and glucose in the body and also by decreasing systemic levels of inflammation, and the carnivore diet would achieve the same thing.
Initially, it was thought that cancer cells use a lot of glucose for energy, thus starving them of glucose would stop their growth. Unfortunately, this theory has not produced new treatment or a cure because normal cells need energy too, and there is no way of starving the cancer cells and feeding the normal ones.
There is also an indirect link between cancer risk and sugar. Eating excess sugar over time can cause you to gain weight, and scientific evidence shows that being overweight or obese increases the risk of 13 different types of cancer. In fact, keeping obesity at bay is the single biggest preventable cause of cancer after quitting smoking. The carnivore diet can thus reduce the risk of obesity and the risk of cancer.
One other study published in 2019 showed evidence that people who drank more sugary drinks had a slightly increased risk of cancer regardless of body weight. Because the carnivore diet eliminates sugary drinks, this is one more benefit of this diet.
But what of the studies that show a correlation between red meat and cancer? There is one major flaw in the way these studies are interpreted: they seem to suggest a causal link between meat consumption and cancer that isn’t really there.
Although there is limited evidence on the neuroprotective effects of the carnivore diet specifically, there is much evidence on the neuroprotective of the ketogenic diet, which the carnivore diet closely resembles. Data suggests that the ketogenic diet has anti-inflammatory effects on the brain and holds neuroprotective benefits.
The ketogenic diet was initially designed to manage children suffering from seizures. Studies show that as many as half of patients that used the ketogenic diet had fewer seizures after starting the diet. In children with specific genetic epilepsies or epilepsy syndromes, studies have shown up to 90% of patients achieve seizure freedom on the ketogenic diet.
Because inflammation is thought to play an important role in epilepsy and seizures, the ketogenic diet, and therefore the carnivore diet, may decrease seizure occurrence through its anti-inflammatory effects. The anti-inflammatory mechanisms of the ketogenic diet involve reduced mitochondrial production of pro-inflammatory molecules and reduced production of excess excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate, which can cause neuronal damage.
Inflammation is thought to play a role in the development of other neurological diseases such as autism which is increasingly associated with maternal inflammation, Alzheimer’s Disease, and Parkinson’s Disease, as well as cognitive dysfunction in people with diabetes and obesity. Thus, decreasing inflammation through the carnivore diet may improve symptoms related to neurological dysfunction associated with inflammatory processes.
From anecdotal reports, the carnivore diet has shown neurological and psychological effects beyond the treatment of seizures and chronic pain. It’s also known that inflammation can contribute to depression, and depression itself can promote inflammation. Many people on the carnivore diet report benefits such as increased alertness, energy, mood, and concentration.
It is clear that the carnivore diet has marked positive effects on the conditions we set out to explore, mainly due to its elimination of sugars and carbohydrates. It can be said that getting on a carnivore diet is likely to bring about improved health outcomes.
It is important to note that there is not a ‘one-size-fit all’ when it comes to diet. Every individual has a different body, genetics, digestive system, and immune system, which all of play a role in the body’s reaction to food. However, even if the carnivore diet is not for you, please note that everyone should cut down on sugar and processed carbohydrates because these are known to cause weight gain, pro-inflammatory states, and health problems.