Well, folks, I blew it with the audio this time. My recording settings weren’t set properly, so we had to use the Skype back-up. Sorry!
Pork has been getting a bad rap in the blogosphere lately. In this episode we explore whether pork deserves the harsh treatment, or whether it’s merely a victim of misunderstanding. We also discuss a novel treatment for chronic sinusitis, which by some measurements is the most common chronic disease in the U.S., as well as a few other great questions. Enjoy!
In this episode, we cover:
4:38 Is pork a “dirty meat” that causes liver disease?
17:20 What do you recommend for chronic sinus infections?
27:58 Does high intra-abdominal pressure always cause GERD?
35:11 Are “properly prepared” grains OK to eat?
45:45 Is postnasal drip a sign of a bigger problem?
47:35 Should pregnant moms supplement with folic acid?
Links We Discuss:
- Ned Kock – Health Correlator Pork and Liver Disease Article
- Chronic Rhinosinusitis (CRS) and Biofilm Studies:
- Xlear Nasal Spray
- Histamine and Tyramine Diet Changes – Gut-Skin Axis Episode
- Pure Encapsulations Nutrient 950 Vitamins
Full Text Transcript:
Steve Wright: Hi everyone, and welcome to the Revolution Health Radio Show. I’m Steve Wright from SCDlifestyle.com, and with me is Chris Kresser, health detective and creator of ChrisKresser.com. How’s it going today, Chris?
Chris Kresser: It’s going pretty well, Steve. How are you?
Steve Wright: I’m doing great, man. I got my sling off yesterday, so I’m finally back to two arms.
Chris Kresser: Glad to hear it. I bet that’s liberating.
Steve Wright: It is, it is; however, I have a bunch of new pains now, and I’m gonna have to learn how to sleep again. So.
Chris Kresser: Right. Ah, well, it’s all part of the fun, huh?
Steve Wright: Yeah. Only like four more months, right? So.
Chris Kresser: Ha-ha. You’ll hardly remember it in a few years.
Steve Wright: Exactly!
Chris Kresser: Cool. So, we have some good questions. We’re gonna do a 100% Q&A episode today, which is a little unusual, but lots going on for me right now, and didn’t have time to prepare anything for the show, and I actually like doing these Q&A episodes every now and then. Before we do that, though, I want to tell everyone — I’m sure most of you have already heard of this, but in case you haven’t, I want to tell you about a really cool event that’s coming up starting on February 26 and running through March 4. It’s put on by my good buddy, Sean Croxton, over at Underground Wellness, and it’s called The Paleo Summit. So, this is an online conference with tons of great speakers in the Paleo/Primal niche, a lot of familiar names: Mark Sisson, Jack Kruse, Erwin Le Corre from MovNat, Paul Jaminet, Diane Sanfillipo, myself, Sarah Fragoso, Mat Lalonde, Amy Kubal, Denise Minger. So, it’s a great group of speakers. And then even Matt Stone is gonna be there for the anti-Paleo perspective, so Sean is really interested in hearing from a number of different voices. I think that’s great. I enjoy that. And it’s really cool because it’s free. Free is good. It’s gonna be accessible to everybody, and all you have to do is go there and register and you get a couple of bonus videos: an interview with Mark Sisson and Sean and another with Sean interviewing Gary Taubes. So, definitely check it out. It kicks off on Sunday, February 26, and go to CKPaleoSummit.com to register. So that’s CKPaleoSummit.com. And I hope you enjoy it. It’s a great opportunity to get exposed to some cool stuff, and unlike the Ancestral Health Symposium and PaleoFX, which are awesome events too that I’m speaking at this year, this one’s totally free, and you can participate from the comfort of your own home.
Steve Wright: Yeah, I’m pretty jacked about this. I’m all signed up, and I think it’s gonna be great. I think the speaker lineup is just amazing. There are 24 people, right?
Chris Kresser: Yeah, 24 people. I think eight days and three people on each day, and then there’s gonna be full transcripts and PDFs and videos and a whole package. That part is not free, but if you want to have the whole thing so you can refer back to it afterwards, you’ll be able to do that. So, it’s a cool format. I think Sean is doing a great thing, and I’m looking forward to being a part of it. My talk actually is gonna be — it’s called An Update on Cholesterol, so I take a lot of the information that we discussed in the three-part series with Chris Masterjohn, and I distill it down into a really practical framework of what to do — if anything — if you have high cholesterol, when is it a problem, when is it not a problem, and what do you do about it from a natural perspective. So, yeah, check it out. It’s pretty exciting.
Steve Wright: All right, so should we roll on to the first question?
Chris Kresser: Yeah, let’s do it.
Is pork a “dirty meat” that causes liver disease?
Steve Wright: OK, so here’s question number one from Marianne: “I would love to hear what you think about pork consumption and liver disease, as referenced from an article this week from the Perfect Health Diet website.”
Chris Kresser: Yeah, this has caused a little bit of a stir. So, for those of you that didn’t see it, Paul wrote an article quoting a 2009 study by Bridges showing a stronger correlation between liver cirrhosis and pork than liver cirrhosis and alcohol. And Paul’s argument was, therefore, that eating pork may cause liver cirrhosis. But, of course, correlation is not causation. We talk about this a lot. That’s research 101. Two things occurring together does not necessarily mean that one thing causes the other. So, it’s really crucial and important to understand that basic principle. And Ned Kock, who has a blog called Health Correlator, which is pretty technical — he’s a statistician and sometimes it’s over my head. I’m not a statistician. I get basic statistics, but when it gets really advanced, my eyes start to glaze over. But this article is pretty easy to follow, and you should check it out if you are concerned about pork consumption after reading Paul’s article. Ned did a more sophisticated multivariate analysis on the same study, and he found that the total effect of alcohol consumption on cirrhosis was actually 94% stronger than the total effect of pork consumption on cirrhosis. He also pointed out that another factor that’s associated with liver cirrhosis is obesity, so in countries where pork is a staple, you might think it’s reasonable to assume that pork consumption may be correlated with obesity, but people who consume a lot of junk food also consume a lot of saturated fat, and they show up in the disease stats, but this is exactly the kind of confusion that led to the mistaken idea that saturated fat causes heart disease, right? So, that idea rose out of epidemiological studies that saw: Oh, these people are eating a lot of saturated fat and they have heart disease. But what they didn’t control for was the fact that those people were also eating tons of other processed junk food that could very well have been contributing to heart disease, and it had nothing to do with the saturated fat, because later when they looked at studies that isolated those variables and they just compared saturated fat with other types of fat, they found that saturated fat did not increase the risk of heart disease. So, we don’t want to make that same mistake here with pork and liver cirrhosis, and that’s why we can’t look at epidemiological data like this and draw causal relationships from it. So, Ned went on to — just for the other side of the coin — to look at evidence that pork might be good for you. And he took some data from NationMaster.com on pork and alcohol consumption and life expectancy, and it was a much larger list of countries than was used in the Bridges study, so it included Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Denmark, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Hungary, Japan, Mexico, Poland, Russia, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, the UK, and the US — so a broad representative sample from all different parts of the world. And in that study, the link between pork consumption and life expectancy is actually positive, with a 0.36 correlation. So, according to this data set, the more pork is consumed in a country, the longer people live. And in fact, the data suggested that each additional gram of pork consumed per person per day adds an extra 13 days to their life expectancy. Now before everyone runs off and goes on a 100% pork diet, you have to realize that this is merely a correlation too, so we can’t draw conclusions about causal relationships from this data either, but we can say that the data don’t prove that pork consumption causes liver cirrhosis unless, perhaps, you become obese from eating it. Now there was a second part to that question, which was: What about the idea that pork is a “dirty meat”, which is somewhat prevalent in the mainstream? Conventionally raised pigs or pigs raised in confinement feeding operations are given a lot of antibiotics because of the conditions of their confinement, and the problem with this is that just like in humans, if you give animals a lot of antibiotics, they’ll develop antibiotic-resistant super strains of bacteria. So, Canadian researchers have found antibiotic-resistant staph bacteria in conventionally raised pork products, and that could, indeed, be a problem. Also improperly cooked and prepared pork may harbor parasites that can cause disease in humans, and there are two helminths or worms that we have in common. Both humans and pigs can be affected by them, and they cause the same diseases in pigs and in us. One is the nematode Trichinella spiralis, which causes trichinosis. That’s the disease most people have heard of associated with pork. And then a tapeworm, Taenia solium. And both of these diseases were known to ancient cultures, including the Egyptian and Greek cultures, and then later on Jews and Muslims, which is probably why both Judaism and Islam proscribe the eating of pork. But today, I mean, if you completely cook pork, if you cook it thoroughly, that should effectively kill the parasites if they’re present, and that’s probably why trichinosis has become pretty rare in the US, because cooking pork thoroughly has become a widespread practice. And traditionally pork was marinated or cured, i.e. bacon, before cooking because the marinating and curing helped kill the pathogens, as well. So, if you’re concerned about the potential of pathogens in pork, (1) don’t eat conventionally raised pork. Get grass-fed, pasture-raised pork from a local farmer or a farmers’ market or a store that sells that. And that will reduce the risk of super strains of antibiotic-resistant staph that you would find in conventionally raised pork. (2) You can marinate or cure pork before eating it. One way to do that without using nitrates or nitrite salts is just to use a little bit of salt and a natural sweetener, like maple sugar, to treat the meat, to marinate it for a period of time, maybe 18 hours, 24 hours, and some spices with flavor, and then just make sure to cook it all the way through, and it shouldn’t be an issue. So, you know, based on the evidence that I’ve seen, I don’t think that you can make an argument that pork is unhealthy or is associated with disease. I think you can make an argument that undercooked pork or improperly prepared pork that’s raised in confinement feeding operations can contribute to that, but I think we need to be a little more specific, you know, when we make these kinds of statements.
Steve Wright: I’m glad you cleared that up, because I was really sweating about my bacon.
Chris Kresser: Ha-ha, I know! A lot of people out there were freaking out. Don’t mess with their bacon.
Steve Wright: Do you eat pork on a regular basis at all?
Chris Kresser: I do eat pork. I like pork, and we get it from a local farm, and we do marinate it and prepare it that way, and we often, you know, we cook it for — we’ll usually slow cook pork, like, if we get a pork shoulder roast or something like that, and we’ll turn it into carnitas, and we’ll roast it for a long period of time at a low temperature, and that will kill any potential pathogens in there. I do eat bacon. I’m not, you know, I don’t eat it every day, but I have it probably two or three times a week. And I love pork chops, actually. That’s one of my favorite kinds of meat. So, I think, like I said, as long as you prepare it well and as long as you cook it thoroughly, it shouldn’t be a problem. Now the other issue with pork is the omega-6 content, and this has less to do with how the pork is raised, although certainly pork that’s raised in confinement feeding operations is likely to have more omega-6 because of the food that they’re given, but even pasture-raised pork will have more omega-6 than beef or lamb or any other kind of wild game meat, of course. But it has less omega-6 than chicken, than dark-meat chicken, so I don’t think the omega 6 issue is a reason to completely avoid pork. I just think it’s probably a reason not to make it your staple meat that you eat every day, twice a day, but I don’t think it’s a reason to avoid it completely.
Steve Wright: I’m glad you brought that up, because I think most people hold chicken to be like the super-safe meat, but little do they know that it might not be so safe.
Chris Kresser: Yeah, I mean, it’s all in moderation. Like, we have the ability to deal with some amount of omega-6, and eating dark-meat chicken, you know, once or twice a week, I don’t think it’s gonna cause any serious health problems for anybody. I think that the risk in doing what I do and making people aware of these things is it’s sometimes difficult to convey the — What am I trying to say? It’s easy, I think, sometimes for it to come across too literally, and I’d like to find a way of communicating it where that’s less likely to happen. But, you know, if I write an article that says omega-6 is proinflammatory in excess and contributes to various disease states, then sometimes that gets interpreted like I shouldn’t eat any omega-6; you know, like even half of an avocado is gonna make me keel over and die of a heart attack. And I just don’t think that’s the case. I don’t see evidence really to support that, and I don’t see it clinically in my practice. I think it’s wise to reduce our omega-6 consumption significantly, as I’ve pointed out several times, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have dark-meat chicken or avocados or walnuts or things like that occasionally as part of an overall healthy diet. And so, I think the same is true with pork, provided you follow the guidelines that I just mentioned.
Steve Wright: Yeah, I’m glad you brought that up. I didn’t mean to demonize chicken in favor of pork or anything, because I think you’re right. It’s hard for us as we read what you write and as we all do our own research, we’re always looking for a black-and-white answer. And I think I’ve learned as you get deeper and deeper, you start to become more appreciative of the body we have and its systems, and you start to realize that everything is kind of on a continuum.
Chris Kresser: Um-hum.
Steve Wright: And there’s usually never a supremely right or supremely wrong way to eat some things.
Chris Kresser: Um-hum. Very well said.
Steve Wright: Or natural foods, that is.
Chris Kresser: Um-hum. Yeah, and it depends on a lot of factors too, like how healthy you are now, what your goals are, you know, where you’re coming from, and I think there’s a question later where we’ll get into more detail about this, but it’s just good to point out in the context of the whole pork thing.
What do you recommend for chronic sinus infections?
Steve Wright: Cool. Well, let’s roll on for the next question from David. He asks, “What do you recommend for chronic sinus infections? This is, according to some reports, the most common chronic disease in the United States. Research by Mayo Clinic in 1999 found that virtually all (96%) cases of chronic sinusitis are caused not by bacteria but by fungus. So, what is your approach to this?”
Chris Kresser: Yeah, this is a big topic, and maybe we’ll do an entire show on it, and we’ll have Kurt Harris come and help us out. He is somewhat of an expert on this topic, and I’ve consulted him about it a few times. And, yeah, I’ve read that Mayo Clinic thing, and it turns out to be a little bit of a red herring. The consensus that I respect on fungus is that except for true fungal rhinosinusitis — which is what the technical term is for chronic sinus infections, chronic rhinosinusitis or CRS — true fungal CRS is easily diagnosable by the presence of eosinophilic mucin, but that’s actually pretty rare, and fungus in the nose is commensal, meaning it’s just part of the body’s natural terrain, and most cases of CRS have nothing to do with fungus being present, and furthermore, there is no good evidence that antifungal agents help in the treatment for fungal rhinosinusitis, which is relatively rare. So, I don’t actually buy the fungus hypothesis for that reason, and my view on it is that it’s probably more like chronic, recalcitrant, difficult-to-treat sinus infections are more related to biofilm than fungus, and particularly in those who have had surgery and those who have poor immune function. And there’s a bunch of studies that I’ve looked at connecting CRS to biofilm — and we can put those studies in the show notes for anybody that’s interested — but there are some pretty interesting emerging treatments for chronic sinusitis that relate to this biofilm hypothesis, and one of them is nasal irrigation with Johnson’s baby shampoo solution.
Steve Wright: What?!
Chris Kresser: Ha-ha, yeah, no joke. This is in the scientific literature. You’ll find studies in PubMed about this. So, it’s a 1% Johnson’s baby shampoo solution, so you do kind of like a Neti or a nasal irrigation with the 1% baby shampoo. And in the study, 60% of patients noted a significant improvement in symptoms, you know, reduction of thickened mucus and postnasal drainage.
Steve Wright: Is this biofilm, is this in the gut or is this in the nose or the cavities?
Chris Kresser: Biofilm is everywhere. Biofilm is an extracellular matrix that bacteria reside in, and most pathogens actually we think now. One really good example of biofilm is plaque, you know, the thin film that covers our teeth. And this extracellular matrix allows the bacteria to share nutrients and also even DNA, and it protects them from our own innate immune defenses and also from any external antimicrobials that we might take. So, it’s kind of like a protective community, strength in numbers, and as long as the bacteria are in the biofilm, a lot of the antibacterial agents that we use don’t really work. So, that explains why some people take antibiotic after antibiotic after antibiotic with sinus infections and they just don’t recover. So, one therapeutic approach is to disrupt the biofilm, and there are ways to do that topically, and there are ways to do that systemically. So topically, one way is this Johnson’s baby shampoo irrigation, and the way it works is that Johnson’s baby shampoo has chemical surfactants in there, and you can think of them as like a therapeutic detergent to break up and assist in the eradication of biofilms, and that’s been known for a while. That’s been used in the orthopedic literature, this use of chemical surfactants to break up biofilm. But in chronic sinusitis, it probably has two benefits: One is as a mucoactive agent, and mucoactive agents work either to increase the ability to expectorate sputum or to decrease mucus hypersecretion. Or, number two, it has potential bactericidal activity; in other words, antibiotic activity. So, that’s one. Another solution that’s maybe a little bit more accessible to people and a little bit easier to get your head around are xylitol nasal drops. Now xylitol is a sugar alcohol, but it has activity against biofilm, and this is one of the reasons why xylitol chewing gum has become popular amongst dentists. As I just mentioned, plaque is a biofilm, so if you chew xylitol gum, that can actually help break up plaque. So, these xylitol nasal drops, or there’s actually a nasal spray that’s called — I’m not sure how to pronounce it. It’s a very bad name. Anyways, Xlear nasal spray. And I’ve read a couple studies that use a similar solution and some accounts from doctors who are working with this stuff, and the consensus seems to be that it needs to be used pretty frequently, like up to three to four times a day, for it to work. But unlike steroid sprays, which are often used in nasal sprays, xylitol doesn’t dry out the nasal passages, and it doesn’t inhibit the immune defense of the body. Instead, it acts more as a lubricant, which makes it easier for natural mucus secretions to occur that kind of eliminate the pathogens. I mean, the way it should work is that the mucus forms, and then you blow your nose and it carries the pathogens out of the nasal passage, and xylitol helps that to happen by lubricating them and acting as a surfactant that allows the nasal passages to clear. So, another potential avenue, although I haven’t seen any research on this, is using a systemic biofilm disruptor, which would be something like InterFase Plus, and that’s a product that has EDTA and some enzymes that chelate — Well, EDTA chelates some of the minerals that are needed to produce biofilm, that biofilm formation depends on. And then there are some systemic enzymes that have been shown to break up biofilm. So, that needs to be taken on an empty stomach, because if you take it with food, the enzymes in there will help digest the food, which is nice but it’s not really, you know, what you’re taking it for. So, InterFase Plus needs to be taken on an empty stomach a couple hours after a meal or a half hour before a meal. And, like I said, I haven’t seen any studies on systemic biofilm agents like this in chronic rhinosinusitis, but I do use InterFase for other kinds of infections, and I’ve found it to be extremely effective in most cases. In fact, it seems to cause more of a Herxheimer or die-off reaction in treating infections than a lot of the botanical antimicrobials, which is indicative that it’s working.
Steve Wright: Interesting. So, let’s back up to the very beginning of the question just to clarify this for everyone. Chronic rhinosinusitis, you said, was kind of rare, so what’s –
Chris Kresser: No, chronic rhinosinusitis is actually pretty common. It might be one of the most common diseases there is, but the fungal chronic rhinosinusitis or fungal RS, as it is called, which is caused by a fungus, that’s rare.
Steve Wright: OK.
Chris Kresser: And that is easily diagnosed by looking for eosinophilic mucin, and there’s been an idea that — I don’t know if it started with that Mayo Clinic article, but it’s been bounced around a lot in the blogosphere that all sinus infections are fungal in origin, and what I’m saying is I don’t think the evidence really supports that.
Steve Wright: All right, I gotcha.
Chris Kresser: Yeah, it’s more about biofilm than it is about fungus.
Steve Wright: OK. That makes much more sense now.
Chris Kresser: Yeah, so I mean, of course, all of the other things apply, like all of the other things that you would do to regulate your immune system and not eating food toxins and making sure you have the micronutrients that support immunity, like vitamin C and iodine and selenium and, you know, exercise, all the basics apply here. But I am assuming a lot of people are already doing that who are listening to this show, and they’re already eating a Paleo/Primal type of diet, and if they’re still having sinusitis, then you might want to investigate this biofilm angle. I think the easiest way to do that is the Xlear — or however you say that — nasal spray and then possibly a systemic biofilm agent like InterFase Plus.
Steve Wright: OK, and don’t forget to check your vitamin D if this is a problem for you, as well.
Chris Kresser: Absolutely.
Does high intra-abdominal pressure always cause GERD?
Steve Wright: All right. So, let’s move on to the next one. This comes from Brendan: “I’ve got one regarding your position on GERD. In my medical nutrition therapy class at school my professor taught us that increased pressure from the other side of the lower esophageal sphincter actually helps to keep the sphincter closed and that a lack of pressure allows it to relax and allows the reflux to occur. This seems to conflict with your idea that bacterial overgrowth leads to increased intra-abdominal pressure and causes reflux. I tend to trust your information more, but I wanted to get your opinion on this.”
Chris Kresser: A real tongue-twister, huh?
Steve Wright: Man! Got me all messed up.
Chris Kresser: Ha-ha. So, I think the first thing I want to say is I don’t believe that all GERD is caused by one thing. GERD is a pretty vast landscape of varying conditions, and a lot of what is referred to as GERD, gastroesophageal reflux disease, is actually NERD, which is non-erosive reflux disease. There are lots of different presentations, lots of ways that it shows up and manifests, and I don’t think they’re all caused by the same thing. In fact, some people do produce excess stomach acid, and that is the cause of their problem. That’s a minority. According to the scientific literature, it’s a small number of people, but it doesn’t mean that, you know, the fact that I wrote that series suggesting that GERD is caused by low stomach acid primarily and bacterial overgrowth doesn’t mean that that’s true in 100% of cases. So, just wanted to clarify that. The main pathology involved in GERD or NERD is transient lower esophageal sphincter relaxations or TLESRs, as they are referred to in the literature. And so, just a little anatomy/physiology here: The esophagus is separated from the stomach by the lower esophageal sphincter, and that sphincter should most of the time be closed, and it opens, of course, when we eat and when we burp and things like that. One of things, I mean, the main thing that happens with GERD or NERD is that you get these transient relaxations of that sphincter at inappropriate times, so the sphincter will open or relax when it should be closed, and then you get a reflux of acid or bile into the esophagus, and that causes the symptoms associated with reflux. So, studies have shown that gastric distension increases the number of TLESRs, the number of these transient relaxation events. And, of course, gas can increase gastric distension and thus can increase the number of transient relaxations and reflux. So, I think you can make an argument — I understand where the question is coming from, and it’s true that pressure could, in theory, keep the sphincter closed, but it turns out that, according to the studies, that this gas and gastric distension actually increases the number of relaxations that happen. And if you do a search on PubMed for gastric distension and TLESRs, you’ll see the study come up, and you can take it in and show it to your professor. Also, I think it’s important to look at actual clinical results. I’ve talked about this three-legged framework I use for determining whether something is valid or for testing a hypothesis. And one of those legs is modern scientific research; that’s important. Another leg is traditional wisdom, evolutionary medicine, which is also important. You know, does it check out according to what we know about ancestral health? And then the third leg, which I think is also very important, is clinical experience. And, so, for something to really check out for me, it has to pass all three of those tests. And if you look at the comments on some of those GERD articles, particularly the three steps to curing GERD article, you’ll see literally hundreds of people that have tried this protocol and that were suffering tremendously and had been on PPIs in some cases for as much as 20 years or acid-suppressing drugs for 20 years and were able, using this protocol, which is geared, you know, towards reducing the bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine and improving, increasing stomach acid production via HCl, have been able to stop for the first time in their lives their acid-suppressing drugs and have been able to eat food without reflux for the first time in their lives. So, I think that’s highly significant and shouldn’t be ignored as part of this whole picture of figuring out reflux and GERD. I will say that there are some people that that protocol doesn’t work for, and they very well may be the people that do produce excess stomach acid for other reasons, and in those cases something like melatonin and methylation precursors, serotonin precursors might be a better option because melatonin has been shown to regulate the contractility of the lower esophageal sphincter, and that’s probably why it works in a couple studies as well as PPIs, a combination of melatonin and serotonergic nutrients like 5-HTP and methyl donors like B6 and B12 and folate. So, I think that’s it. That’s how I’m tying together the gastric distension and gas and the transient lower esophageal relaxations.
Steve Wright: You know, the one thing I’ve never really understood, Chris, is with the lower esophageal sphincter, is that like a flap, like a trapdoor flap, or is it more like an opening and closing of, like, a hole? How does it actually work?
Chris Kresser: It’s more like a flap, I think.
Steve Wright: OK.
Chris Kresser: I’m not totally sure, actually. It would be interesting to see a picture.
Steve Wright: Yeah, I’ve never seen one, and I was just curious because with some of these, you know, low pressure / high pressure kind of is determinant upon how it actually mechanically works.
Chris Kresser: Yeah, I’m pretty sure it’s a flap.
Are “properly prepared” grains OK to eat?
Steve Wright: Interesting. OK. Let’s more on to the next one. This comes from Monica, and she would like to know your thoughts regarding several real food bloggers who are recently posting about wheat, grains, and even gluten and the fact that they are not inherently bad and if properly prepared after having undergone a gut-healing protocol, can be consumed without ill effects.
Chris Kresser: I bet she’s talking about Matt Stone.
Steve Wright: Yeah, I’ve seen some from, I think, Cheeseslave, as well.
Chris Kresser: Yeah. Just getting a little sip of water here. Let’s get back to what you and I were talking about at the end of the first question on pork. Health is a continuum, so if you have on the one hand death, which is the end of health, and on the other hand you have perfect health, then there’s a huge, huge spectrum of what you can experience in between those two extremes. And I just assume that most people who are listening to the show and who are reading my website are interested in optimizing their health, and so that’s the audience that I’m speaking to. I’m also, because I’m a health care practitioner, I’m speaking in particular to an audience that’s dealing with chronic health issues and disease, so you know, above and beyond just people who want to optimize their health, I’m really more focused on people who have health problems, and I’m trying to help them recover. So, a lot of what I speak and write about is geared towards that audience, and that’s important to understand because that audience is more likely to experience difficulties with foods that may not be problematic for people that are otherwise healthy, and I think grains and wheat and even gluten fall into this category, where — Well, let’s break them down separately. So, gluten, I think, is an inflammatory protein on its own, and so I don’t actually recommend that even healthy people eat it for that reason, but does that mean if someone who is very healthy, has a really healthy gut and no real health issues to speak of is gonna keel over and die if they eat a piece of bread a few times a week? I don’t think so. Probably not. And, you know, we can handle some amount of inflammation. We can handle some amount of toxicity, of toxins. You know, there’s a concept called hormesis where a small amount of toxin actually sensitizes our immune system and our ability to cope with larger amounts of toxins. So, I think that you really have to consider who is asking the question, where are they coming from, again, what are their goals, are they trying to optimize their health to the greatest possible degree and feel as good as they possibly can? Most people in that situation do better without wheat and gluten, in my experience. That doesn’t mean there aren’t people that are exceptions. It doesn’t mean that you can’t eat some wheat and gluten if you’re healthy and still feel fine. But if you’re interested in absolutely optimizing your health, I think you’re better off without it. Now, with grains — and there is a distinction here between grains that are not properly prepared and grains that are properly prepared. Grains that are not properly prepared have a number of food toxins in them that are part of the plant’s natural defense system, and of course, people who are following a Paleo and Primal type of diet are well aware of all of this. But again, you know, for someone who is basically healthy, some small amount of grain may not be that big of a deal. And even for people who are not that healthy, if you properly prepare the grains and break them down, break down the phytic acid, break down some of the food toxins by soaking or fermenting or sprouting, then grains may not present any problem at all, even for someone who is not at the top of their health. But I’ll say in my experience as a clinician that most people who are sick or who are dealing with gut issues or immune dysregulation or any number of other conditions generally feel better without grains, as a general rule. But these are all general guidelines, and they’re all subject to all of the variables that I’ve mentioned. You know, what’s the current health status, what’s the constitutional health, what are the goals? So, I think that’s why I get a little bit irritated about all of the debating because it’s kind of nonsensical unless you know what the context is.
Steve Wright: That makes sense, and I think you brought up something really important there, which is the toxic load. You know, if you’re pretty healthy and you recovered your health, if you keep the toxic load pretty low and you eat a non-prepared grain every once in a while, it’s likely that you probably wouldn’t see a problem because your body is designed to handle that load.
Chris Kresser: That’s right. Exactly. And then let’s take it a step further: I’ve said this in the Beyond Paleo, previously the 9 Steps series, but there’s more to health than food. You know, there is! There’s a lot more to health than food. There’s movement and exercise. There’s sleep. There’s stress management. There’s cultivating pleasure. There’s having a purpose and feeling like your life is meaningful and you’re serving others or some higher purpose that goes above and beyond just, you know, getting what you want. I think that’s actually a really crucial element that contributes to health. There’s relationships, how you relate to your partner, your kids, your colleagues at work. There’s connection with nature, and you know, this whole earthing movement that’s kind of taken on steam lately in the Paleosphere; there’s concern with that. So, there are so many things that contribute to whether we feel healthy on a daily basis and whether we prevent disease or recover from disease, and food is a huge part of that equation, of course. I think it’s pretty clear that I believe that from what I write. But it’s not the only variable, and when obsession with food happens at the expense of all of those other things that contribute to health, then actually even eating really healthy food can become problematic. I think we talked about this on a previous episode, my beer and pizza story.
Steve Wright: Yeah, I’m not sure I remember that, but sounds like a fun diet, maybe? I don’t know. Ha-ha!
Chris Kresser: Ha-ha! OK, I’ll tell it again. It’s not my beer and pizza story, but I’ll tell it briefly again for people who are new to the show. So, I was in San Diego way back when I was in school, and I was interning with a holistic doctor, and he specialized in, you know, treating people who were dealing with chronic mysterious kind of diseases. And we had a young guy, I think he was like in his early 20s, and he came to us and he was really emaciated, really sick, and just couldn’t eat anything. And, so, the doctor further restricted his diet, and I mean, he got down to the point where he was eating like boneless, skinless chicken breasts, broccoli, and quinoa, I think were the only three foods he was eating. And each time he came back to the office, he was just literally wasting away in front of our eyes. He looked like death. You know, he looked so sick. And he was this young guy, you know, like totally in the prime of his life. So, he disappeared, stopped coming. We didn’t see him for, like, six to seven months, and then he came back to the office and he was literally — We didn’t even recognize him. He looked like a different person. He had gained like 40 pounds, no dark circles under his eyes, really good complexion, you know, looking extremely healthy. And the doctor and I were both like, “Whoa! What happened here? What was it? Was it diet?” And he’s like, “Yeah, it was diet.” And we said, “Well, what was it? The anti-candida diet or the macrobiotic diet? Which one was it?” And he said, “It was the beer and pizza diet!” Ha-ha, and we were like, “What?” And he said, “Yeah. I just got to the point where I thought if I’m gonna die,” which he though he might, “I’m gonna just forget about all these dietary restrictions and have some fun before I check out.” And so, he decided that at three days a week he would go out with his friends and have beer and pizza and the rest of the time he would eat whatever he wanted. And after, you know, several months of doing that, he was completely transformed and completely well. And, you know, there are a lot of caveats to the story, but in his case, I think, a lot of what was happening was social isolation and he had broken up with his girlfriend because she just, you know, couldn’t handle being with him, and there was a lot going on behind the scenes there, and I’m not suggesting that it’s as simple as just, you know, having fun and eating whatever you want. That’s ridiculous. It doesn’t work that way for everybody. But I am suggesting that that’s how powerful the mind and the heart can be in the healing process and that sometimes eating the wrong food with the right attitude is a better choice than eating the right food with the wrong attitude.
Steve Wright: Hmm. Good advice. OK, well I know we don’t have that much more time here, so let’s ask at least one more question.
Chris Kresser: All right.
Is postnasal drip a sign of a bigger problem?
Steve Wright: This one comes from Warren, and he’s wondering — and it kind of might relate to a previous question — he’s wondering about postnasal drip. Is it a sign of a larger problem, and could it be helped by just eliminating dairy?
Chris Kresser: Uh, yes, it is a sign of a larger problem. That’s not a normal physiological process. And eliminating dairy is certainly a good step. I think if you’re not already eliminating wheat and grains, that’s important too. Wheat tends to have a really strong connection with sinus problems, in my experience. And, so, a Paleo type of diet as a starting place, maybe a 30-day challenge where you eliminate dairy and — I don’t really know necessarily that an autoimmune version is necessary, but if you wanted to be really thorough, you could do that and eliminate eggs and nightshades and all dairy for 30 days and then start adding those things back in sequentially. And if you’re still having the postnasal drip at that point, it’s possible that there’s a histamine issue there. You could try a low histamine and tyramine diet, which we’ve talked about before on the show when we talked about skin problems, the gut-skin issues. And then if you’re still, after that, having issues, it’s probably time to seek out some help and see what’s happening with the immune system.
Steve Wright: So, if you’re already on a Paleo diet and you don’t think you have a histamine problem, it’s indicative of an immune system dysregulation?
Chris Kresser: Yeah, immune dysregulation, some inflammation there in the sinuses. Yeah, definitely.
Steve Wright: OK.
Chris Kresser: We can do one more. I see that the next one is pretty short, too.
Should pregnant moms supplement with folic acid?
Steve Wright: All right. This one comes from Sally, and she would like some advice on the whole folic acid issue. Is there any prenatal vitamin you do recommend? And if so, which?
Chris Kresser: Yeah, so, folic acid is a synthetic form of the active methyltetrahydrofolate, or there are different versions of active folates other than that. But folic acid — the important thing to realize is it’s a synthetic chemical that’s not found in nature in the body, and it has to be converted via several steps into the active forms of folates, which are what the body needs and can utilize. So, the problem is that most multivitamins, including prenatal vitamins, use folic acid, and what happens in a lot of people is that that conversion is poor from folic acid to active folates, and you get a buildup of unmetabolized folic acid. And unmetabolized folic acid has been linked with cancer and other health problems, and this can happen at doses as low as 400 mcg a day. It certainly is more likely to happen at higher doses of 800 mcg per day, which is often what’s in pregnancy multis. So, you want to make sure if you’re taking supplemental folate that it’s an active form of folate. So, sometimes it’s abbreviated as L-5-MTHF, which is 5-methyltetrahydrofolate. There’s a brand name called Metafolin. It is used in Thorne products and Pure Encapsulations and some other products. You just want to make sure on the bottle that it says “folates” on there and not “folic acid.” But in terms of a prenatal that I do recommend, there aren’t that many because most multivitamins, in my opinion, have too much of the wrong thing and not enough of the right thing. But the one I would recommend is Nutrient 950 with Vitamin K, and that’s by Pure Encapsulations, and you can find it online. It’s more expensive than other choices, but it’s definitely worth it. There’s not much that’s more important than nourishing your body with the right nutrients if you’re trying to conceive. That said, I think prenatals are not strictly necessary if you’re getting all of the nutrients that you need from food. Additional folate is one of the few things that I think is crucial even if you’re eating a Primal/Paleo type of diet because it’s so important for the development of the fetus and the prevention of neural tube defects that I think it just makes sense to take some extra folate during prenatal period and during pregnancy.
Steve Wright: And you couldn’t really get that from food or you’d have to eat too much greens or anything probably?
Chris Kresser: Yeah, I mean, you can get some folate from foods, but folate is highest in chicken liver, lentils, and leafy greens. You’d have to eat a lot of, you know, like, six to eight cups of dark leafy greens a day to get the recommended folate amount. You’d only have to eat 3 ounces or so of chicken liver, but I don’t know that many people that are eating 3 ounces of chicken liver. And then grains and legumes are other sources of folate, and those are not happening on the Paleo and Primal type of diet, so I think supplemental folate is a good idea.
Steve Wright: OK, awesome. Good to know. I think that will help a lot of people.
Chris Kresser: Yeah, and if, you know, folks need more guidance on this specifically, you can check out The Healthy Baby Code, HealthyBabyCode.com. That’s my whole program with a lot of detailed information about fertility and pregnancy nutrition.
Steve Wright: If someone is thinking about getting pregnant, how soon should they begin supplementing? Is it a couple months or a year?
Chris Kresser: Well, yeah, probably. I mean, honestly, in some ways the sooner the better. I mean, to an extent. There’s no need to start 10 years in advance, but if you started a year in advance, you would just improve your chances of conceiving easily probably. And, you know, there’s no reason not to do that maybe other than expense because folate at the kind of dose I’m recommending is well tolerated and is not gonna cause any problems. So, you know, six months to a year before, I think, starting the special fertility stuff is a good idea.
Steve Wright: You definitely want to pick up The Healthy Baby Code so you get all the info about what you should be doing.
Chris Kresser: All right. I think that’s it.
Steve Wright: Yeah, I think that’s what we got for questions this time.
Chris Kresser: Let’s call it a wrap.
Steve Wright: All right. It’s been a good show. If you’re new to the Paleo Diet or you’re just interested in optimizing your health, check out Beyond Paleo. It’s a free 13-part email series on burning fat, boosting energy, and preventing and reversing disease without drugs. To sign up, go to ChrisKresser.com and look for the big red box. Chris and I want to thank you for listening today, and please keep sending us your questions at ChrisKresser.com using the podcast submission link. If you enjoyed listening to the show today, head over to iTunes and leave us a review.
Full disclosure: I make a small commission if you use the links in this article to purchase the supplements, books or other products I’ve mentioned.