Meat Leads to Inflammation?

Written by: Kevin Cann


            Here we go again.  Another study was just published that showed how dangerous and deadly eating meat is.  This research study came out of Harvard University and we all know how wicked smaht they are.  But before you replace your grass-fed burger with tofu, let us take a look at this research study.

            For those of you who have not seen this study, the abstract is here, and there was a write-up done by NPR here,  In a nutshell the researchers were looking at the gut microbiome and how it responds to two different diets; an all animal based diet and an all plant based diet.  The study concluded with the researcher stating the following:

“Finally, increases in the abundance and activity of Bilophila wadsworthia on the animal-based diet support a link between dietary fat, bile acids and the outgrowth of microorganisms capable of triggering inflammatory bowel disease. In concert, these results demonstrate that the gut microbiome can rapidly respond to altered diet, potentially facilitating the diversity of human dietary lifestyles.”

In other words the researchers concluded that an animal based diet increases a microbe that causes inflammation.  Before we go any further let us look at this animal based diet.  One of the researchers, Lawrence David, stated that “Breakfast was eggs and bacon.  Lunch was ribs and brisket, and then for dinner, it was salami and prosciutto with an assortment of cheeses.  The volunteers had pork rinds for snacks.”  This looks very similar to the Paleo diet that Dr. Cordain, Robb Wolf, and others promote right?  I do not think so.  In fact the following is a quote from an article written by Dr. Cordain in regards to processed meat:

“The scientific data showing that consumption of processed meats has multiple adverse health effects is persuasive, unambiguous and overwhelming (24, 25).  These facts are not surprising when considered in the evolutionary light.  Our hunter gatherer ancestors had practically no evolutionary experience with these Johnnie come lately foods, and consequently our physiological and metabolic systems have had virtually no time to overcome these food borne toxins with genetic adaptations.  I believe that consumption of fresh, grass produced meats under the context of a diet high in fruits and veggies (i.e. The Paleo Diet) will reduce your risk for all chronic diseases that plague western societies.” ( ).

            Pretty strong words there in regards to processed meats and human consumption.  I would like to shift the focus onto Dr. Cordain’s last statement above.  He believes the consumption of grass-fed meats “under the context of a diet high in fruits and vegetables (i.e. the Paleo Diet) will reduce your risk for all chronic diseases that plague western societies.”  This study only looked at an all animal based diet and an all plant based diet.  How would they have fared with a combination of the two?

            Also, resistant starch and fiber, found in fruits and vegetables, have been shown to be critical factors in gut health ( ).  Depriving the intestinal bacteria of both of these will of course create an unfavorable environment, probably even more so in a diet high in processed meats. 

            The study mentions that the animal based diet had an increase of a gut bug that may lead to inflammation of the bowel.  Next to this comment there is a reference.  The study referenced gave mice a diet high in saturated fat.  The saturated fat was in the form of milk fat and it caused inflammation of the bowels in genetically susceptible mice, but not in the wild mice ( ).  Sadly I could only access the abstract of this study, but I think there are a few questions we can ask from that little information.

            Is the inflammatory condition a result of poor genetics or diet, or a combination of bad genes and a mismatched diet?  Where did the milk fat come from?  Did it come from cows that were fed high doses of antibiotics?  We all know that antibiotics destroy bacteria and alter our gut flora.  Were the genetically susceptible mice showing symptoms because they were ingesting a food riddled with antibiotics? A NY Times article that ran in 2011 stated that the FDA found illegal levels of antibiotics in dairy cows and were concerned that they were contaminating the milk Americans drink ( ). 

This scenario seen in the genetically susceptible mice may be very similar to what we see in humans when we consume foods such as processed dairy products.  Below is a list of testimonials of people with the exact same conditions as the mice in that study.  They showed a reversal of inflammatory bowel conditions by taking part in a Paleo diet.  One thing they abandoned (it is not the only thing they took out of their diet so it only shows correlation) is dairy. (The author, his mother, and his sister all decreased symptoms on a Paleo diet, genetic susceptibility?).

            Perhaps the people above and the many others that reversed IBD with a Paleo diet did so because their diet was creating a favorable environment for the good gut bugs to flourish.  If so this shows us that a diet high in fruits and vegetables, accompanied by grass-fed meat, will be beneficial to gut health as well as all the other pieces of living healthy.    

            Jeff Leach over at the Human Food Project wrote an interesting article titled “Can a high fat Paleo Diet cause obesity and diabetes? Maybe, unless.”  This article explains the role of bifidobacterium in the integrity of intestinal gap junctions.  In a high fat diet there is an increase in LPS (lipopolysaccharide) which coincides in a decrease in bifidobacterium which leads to inflammation.  When a high fat diet was fed to rats with bifidobacterium the inflammation was neutralized ( ).  Was there also a decrease in bifidobacterium in the studies mentioned above?  If so this would explain the increased inflammation seen in the all animal diet.  This would also help solidify a case for a diet high in fruits and vegetables alongside grass-fed meats being a healthy diet.

            Meat, fish, and eggs are important for healthy fats, amino acids, iron, zinc, and many other nutrients that help control blood sugar, stabilize mood, make enzymes, and build and maintain tissue.  Fruits and vegetables contain tons of nutrients as well as supplying our gut with the needed fiber to help fight against inflammation, an underlying piece of most modern disease.  We need both to thrive and removing one or the other from our diets can lead to increased morbidity as we age.

Categories: Uncategorized


Robb Wolf’s 30 Day Paleo Transformation

Have you heard about the Paleo diet and were curious about how to get started? Or maybe you’ve been trying Paleo for a while but have questions or aren’t sure what the right exercise program is for you? Or maybe you just want a 30-day meal plan and shopping list to make things easier? Then Robb Wolf’s 30 Day Paleo Transformation is for you.


  1. says

    Kevin, nice write up. The Nature paper is a fascinating study in how gut microbiota can respond rapidly (composition that is) to shifts in diet. Many journalists who reported on the study kind of missed the nuance and ended up concluding meat ‘might/can/probably’ leads to an undesirable composition of gut bugs. At the end of the day, the heavy protein and fat diet did shift the gut bugs, but its important to remember the diet didn’t include dietary fiber – a ‘very’ necessary energy source for gut bugs. Said differently, I know very few Paleo/Primal folks who skip plants with every meal – as the mice did in the study. I’m not knocking the study, as the ‘extreme’ diet is what they were testing. However, they kind of left it open to interpretation in the discussion/summary section and did not put much energy into explaining to journalists and the general public who would be reading the results that this was a very extreme scientific test – ie, they were trying to get the gut bugs to shift by starving the bugs of nutrients (fiber, resistant starch, etc). The diet tested is an extreme version of VLC/Atkins/etc. I’m very very confident that had they added some fibrous plants to that high fat/protein diet the outcome would have been very different – and the researchers would likely agree.

  2. Sabine says

    I have a question:

    There are people who have been eating very little to no vegatable (or even fruit).
    Often, these people ate stomach and it’s contents. Are there any recipes for this truly paleo style food?

    How did these people who eat little to no vegetable matter stay healthy? What did they do instead?

    How can we replace from “PALEO” cookies, muffins, pancakes, with true paleo foods? Are there any suggestions?

    What about those of us, the very many people who have been harmed by a “WESTERN” diet, and now cannot eat these amounts of fruits and vegetables, as it does not agree with them? What can they eat instead? (Fruits and vegetables do raise blood sugars, and cause upset stomachs for some people!)

    Thank you in advance for considering these questions, and i am looking forward to learning from your answers.

    • Kevin Cann says

      I certainly believe that there are genetic variations for carb tolerance. A group like the Inuits would be better off on a diet lower in plant sources. With that said, can they benefit from eating more veggies? Absolutely. I am not too sure on recipes, but if digesting veggies is tough try boiling them so they are nice and soft and get some digestive help. You can then use the water for soups or teas,

  3. Adam says

    This study seems so convoluted. I don’t think there is anyone in the world that advocates an all-meat diet, completely devoid of ANY fruits or vegetables. It is absurd. Seemingly the only reason a study like this would gain funding is so that vegetarians have another piece of evidence to point to in debates with omnivores. Too bad the evidence doesn’t address omnivores!

  4. says

    The bottom line as far as I can understand:
    eat good fat and meat, eat vegetables, avoid starch? Is the paleo diet close to a ketogenic diet Kevin?

    • Kevin Cann says

      I am a fan of safe starch. We need the right amount to fuel daily actvity. Root tubers were a major piece of our evolution (although they weren’t covered in salts and fats). Too low carb can be bad for some people.

  5. says

    I struggle to keep up with all these things. I swear it’s so hard to follow. One minute something is great for your weight loss goals and health and the next it’s terrible!

    What to do what to do…

  6. says

    Great article Kevin,

    The main point here is that the human species is omnivorous, not carnivorous or herbivorous. How can we possibly draw any reasonable conclusion on diet and health from a study that fully ignores this fact.

  7. says

    It’s studies like these that just drive me NUTS! If they are trying to say “paleo is bad”, then do a case study that has been approved by some of the be pioneers of the paleo diet. Thanks for the information, as this is great stuff to share with my clients.

Join the Discussion