It starts at bedtime.
Small tickles begin around your neck, the backs of your knees, and the insides of your elbows. They invite you to scratch.
But you know where that road goes. So you say no.
The problem is that the closer you get to drifting off, the less self-control you have. And, whether you can hold out or not, three nights out of five end up something like this...
It's 03:00 and you're scratching like a fiend. You're half-conscious of it - too groggy to take control and stop, but perceptive enough to dread the mess you'll wake up to.
In other words, eczema sucks.
I've had it since I was two months old, and it seems to come and go with factors like diet and stress.
Earlier in 2021 it wasn't looking good:
So it's an understatement to say Dr. Paul Saladino got my attention when he featured on Joe Rogan's podcast.
Saladino cured his eczema in six months by shifting to a totally animal-based diet.
I couldn't wait to try it. But before I share my experience, I'll briefly break down the research underpinning his approach (fully documented in his book, The Carnivore Code).
Saladino's thesis is that eating plants causes auto-immune diseases and allergies. Let's examine why:
A one-paragraph summary of two million years
Both the length of our intestines and the powerful hydrochloric acid in our stomachs are testaments to 2,000,000 years of behaviour. For the majority of homo sapiens' history, we've opted for nose-to-tail animal-based diets (that means muscles plus organ meat), alongside seasonal fruits and honey.
This makes sense. A hunt provides more calories and nutrients than harvesting wild vegetables, and requires less work.
At the same time, our ancestors no-doubt experienced food shortages. Animal herds move and fruit is seasonal. So during these times, they turned to plants for survival.
This required adaptation. Plants are loaded with thousands of toxins for dissuading predators from eating them. Everything from oxalates to lectins to salicylates to phytates harms our organs in different ways.
It's important to point out what makes fruit different.
Plants make sure fruit is toxin-free, nutrient-dense, and delicious because they want it to be eaten. It serves their reproduction for animals to swallow their seeds alongside the fruit's flesh and disperse them in a new location (with a serving of fertiliser).
These conditions developed our preference for meat and fruit, and our ability to tolerate plant defence chemicals for limited periods.
Saladino follows up this retrospective research by showcasing modern-day tribes like the Masai. Amongst our global epidemic of chronic disease, these communities continue to show exceptional health while living on animal-based diets.
Here's what makes this all so hard to believe
Saladino's hypothesis contradicts every piece of advice any of us have ever heard from doctors and governments. Let's go over the origins of their recommendations, too.
- Vegetables, fruit, and grains are believed essential for their fibre. Fibre is a prebiotic, meaning that it travels through our gut intact, and feeds our microbiome. But, as referenced in this interview, studies show that the amino acids in collagen provide this very same function. We derive collagen from animal skin, muscle meat, bone-broth, and connective tissue.
- Vegetables offer micronutrients - vitamins and minerals we need for survival. But what isn't well-known is that these are all available in animals, too. That includes vitamin C, which is found in fresh red muscle meat. (It was fascinating to learn that historical sailors got scurvy not because of a lack of vegetables, but because of a lack of fresh food). The catch for the delicate among us is that many micronutrients only exist in organ meats like kidney, heart, and liver (a topic I've explored before).
My skepticism about this all was eased once I grasped just how short-lived our current norms are in the scope of history. The practice of agrarianism - farming crops - is only 15,000 years old. That's the blink of an eye in 2,000,000 years.
Armed with this theory, I was excited to give it a go. I had an auto-immune disease to fix, little preference for sweet food, and had always enjoyed meat. I also had no guilt over impacting the climate - I'd learned from Robb Wolf's documentary, Sacred Cow, that ruminant animals are carbon cyclers when raised regeneratively (but not via factory farming).
My protocol looked like this
Half of each meal was made up of fattier cuts of muscle meat:
- Brisket, mince, and various cuts of steak
- Assorted venison cuts
Half came from organs:
And it's worth mentioning that:
- Everything I ate was free range
- I avoided pork for the fact that most is raised on corn and soy. Like cows, pigs haven't evolved to predominantly live on seeds, and that causes their fat to retain high levels of inflammatory omega 6 fatty acids, which we can react to
- I included salt
- For the sake of a "reset" I excluded fruit from the trial (which I wouldn't do long-term)
- I felt damn good. I'm usually the guy who can't help but eat until everything on the table is gone. But with one meal in the mid-morning and one in the early evening, I knew when I was full and experienced no hunger in between.
- My energy was outstanding. I could run hills during an orienteering race for an hour and climb Te Mata Peak on my mountain bike before breakfast.
- My eczema reduced by around ~70% (remember, it took Saladino's around six months to go completely into remission).
- I didn't face the diarrhoea explosion that Joe Rogan described in one of the funniest posts I've ever read. However, there were some iffy days - mostly when I experimented with significantly upping my ratio of fat to protein.
- The wow moment came when I went camping with my family beside the Mohaka river. Surrounded by tall grass, pine trees, and a dog, this was a hay-fever death trap in every way. I didn't sneeze or scratch once.
While the eczema was much better, it came with friction
- Socialising was a drag. I was endlessly preparing separate meals before joining friends or family for dinner.
- Travelling took lots of planning. I needed to cook on the go or keep chilled cooked meat with me because most jerky in New Zealand supermarkets is made with sugar.
- I missed coffee. I love the ritual both socially and for myself.
Will I implement it long-term?
Yep, with some modification.
Social friction throughout this experiment encouraged me to return to paleo eating (meat, vegetables, fruit) for the following four months. My eczema immediately returned to an unsatisfactory state.
So, from here on out, I plan to shift to meat, fruit, and water when I'm on my own, then go with the flow when I'm socialising.
If you're curious to learn more about it all, here's the podcast that sent me down the rabbit hole.
And, if you're subscribed, I'll update this post the day I see total eczema remission for a minimum of a month.