For most people who find their way to carnivore, it is an elimination diet. In reality, animal based eating is humanity's ancestral way of life. Agriculture began to emerge about 12,000 years ago, but humanity began to emerge as many as two million years ago, with modern humans, homo sapiens, appearing by 300,000 years ago. For most of humanity's history, we were a species of tribal hunters, and our digestive tract is very similar to that of a wolf - especially suited for digesting protein and fat. An animal-based diet is in fact humanity's original, and optimal diet, and we've been eating agricultural products for fewer than 5% of our existence - and processed foods for far, far fewer. So which one is the fad?
Unfortunately, most people are not raised animal-based. They find carnivore and similar diets because they are searching for answers, searching for help, searching for a way out. They already have damaged metabolisms from a lifetime of poor diet, full of grains, seed oils, processed foods, and high carbohydrate consumption. The silver lining is that it's not your fault. You've been misinformed at best, or even misled or used for profit. But this is not the post to touch on the dangers of big pharma and big agriculture. Just know that you are not alone in looking for answers - and it's okay to be where you are. But in that light, carnivore, and even keto, are introduced to many people as an elimination diet. Let's start you healing first, before we start pounding other drums.
Important questions for before you start carnivore:
What is your current diet? -
It may take your mitochondria up to six weeks to adapt to a ketogenic metabolism. During this transition, you may feel weak, experience declined athletic or gym performance, or experience issues colloquially known as "keto flu" or "oxalate dumping." If you are transitioning to carnivore from a keto diet, you may already be adapted and experience no issues at all.
What about oxalate dumping? -
If you are coming from a diet high in fibers or spices, you may experience oxalate dumping, which is your body's process of expelling oxalates. This can be irritating or even painful. If you are coming to carnivore from a vegan or other high-oxalate diet, it may even be necessary for you to transition slowly, rather than diving straight into strict carnivore, just to manage the oxalate expulsion process.
Oxalates are shard-shaped minerals contained in most plant matter. It turns out, plants do not want most of their parts to be eaten, and they have various ways to defend themselves and make us sick for indulging in them. These oxalates can wreak havoc on our fascia, our interstitial tissues, our gut lining, and more, contributing to leaky gut, inflammation, autoimmunity, and so many other issues. When we stop eating them, the body has a chance to expel them and will start doing exactly that. If your body had a lot of oxalate in it, this dumping can be significant, and thus the potential need to manage it.
I will now defer to the foremost expert on this issue, Sally K Norton. Her information about oxalates and how to manage them is published and found on her website: https://sallyknorton.com/oxalate-science/oxalate-basics/
What about keto flu? -
Generally, electrolyte balance is an ongoing concern for people on a varied keto diet, but not for carnivores. Once you are adapted to eating carnivore, this is very unlikely to be an issue for you unless you have other underlying conditions. Nonetheless, you may experience some "keto flu" during your transition and adaptation period. What is it?
You may feel fatigue, dizziness, nausea, irritation, or even develop a rash! The general solution for this is to increase your electrolyte intake. Here is an informative video by Dr. Eric Berg about the subject: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gQIwtXN64cc
While that's geared toward a ketogenic diet, it can also be applicable during the adaptation period to carnivore. Remember: salt and fat are not the enemy, and if you're feeling unwell on your carnivore journey, there's a fair chance the culprit is that you're not getting enough of one of those two things!
Have you had any organs removed (gallbladder, spleen, appendix)? -
If you don't have a gallbladder, it may be difficult for you to digest large amounts of meat at once, and extended fasting periods may lead to excess bile dripping into the duodenum. If you don't have a gallbladder, you know this already. You may need to manage this by eating smaller, more frequent meals. A quantity of just meat that's similar in volume to a "regular" meal might be too much for you to handle during your adjustment. You may also consider an ox bile supplement to help you prepare for more meat-heavy meals.
If you don't have a spleen, you want to be especially sure you are using safe handling techniques and cooking any pork or poultry well. There is some ongoing debate on whether the spleen may serve a digestive function: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32229731/ - but the spleen has an important role in cleaning and filtering the blood, fighting against bacteria, viruses, parasites, and other pathogens. You will need to be extra careful about food-borne illnesses because while the rest of your lymphatic system can pick up most of the spleen's day to day slack, you will have a diminished capacity to fight against new invasive pathogens.
If you don't have an appendix, then be careful during your adaptation phase. The appendix is generally thought to be a vestigial organ, an evolutionary remnant of human ancestors who had an extended cecum to help them digest leaves, that became lost to us during evolution. There are generally no real negative consequences to loss of appendix. But it is also thought to hold a reserve of gut bacteria that can repopulate the flora in your intestines, useful to early humans after an illness or other event. Excessive electrolytes, or an intake of fat highly exceeding what you are used to, can cause diarrhea and other gastric distress, emptying the gut in quite a hurry. Without an appendix, you may be slow to repopulate your gut with "good bacteria" after such an event.
Could you have CIRS? -
CIRS is Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome. About 1/4 of the population is genetically susceptible to CIRS, which doesn't mean they will necessarily have it, but if they do get a mycotoxin infection, it can become systemic and very difficult to deal with. While many people find a keto or carnivore diet because they were seeking answers and healing, not everyone is able to experience the healing that they expected or had hoped for. Ketosis is humanity's optimal natural metabolism, but it isn't magic. Calories still matter; quality of nutrition still matters (are you eating fresh meat or a processed "keto" protein bar?). And if you're honestly "doing everything right" but still struggling - it's worth considering whether there's an underlying condition. Carnivore is a holistic way of life, but there is still value in proper medicine.
So what exactly happens with CIRS? It's a susceptibility to mold illness, or mycotoxin infection, and may also be referred to as biotoxin illness. Once the illness is established, susceptible people have a hard time dealing with it, and it can become chronic. There are clusters of symptoms that include aches, headaches, and light sensitivity; skin sensitivity and tingling; joint pain and morning stiffness; abdominal pain and diarrhoea; concentration issues; memory impairment; cough and excessive thirst; excessive eye watering and metallic taste; short breath and sinus congestion; appetite swings and frequent urination; red eyes and mood swings; frequent static shocks and vertigo; and more. If you present with symptoms from at least 8 different clusters, it's worth considering CIRS.
More information can be seen on an infographic here:
And on Judy Cho's great resource here:
If you suspect CIRS, the first step is a light contrast sensitivity test. Biotoxin inflammation can impact our ability to perceive slight differences in contrast, and there is a free test for this located here:
There's so much more to say about CIRS, including prognosis, the Shoemaker protocol, how/where to get tested, and more - but check out the above resources along with https://www.survivingmold.com for a great place to start this investigation.
Could you have Lyme Disease?
Lyme disease in its most understood form is an infection spread from rodents to humans through a tick vector, which can begin to present after being bitten by an infected tick. This infection is caused by bacteria of the genus Borrelia and can develop into severe nervous system, inflammation, and heart issues if left untreated. However, with treatment and antibiotics the lyme infection usually clears up within a month.
So if Lyme tends to clear up so readily, why list it here? What is chronic Lyme disease? Is Chronic Lyme disease real? The answer is yes, and we'll explore the debate and emergent research surrounding that in another discussion. For now, some basic details on why it could be relevant to a carnivore or low carb journey.