Robb Wolf is a former research biochemist is the New York Times bestselling author of The Paleo Solution: The Original Human Diet. He has been a review editor for the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism and Journal of Evolutionary Health; he serves on the board of Directors of Speciality Health Medical Clinic in Reno, Nevada and is a consultant for the Naval Special Warfare Resiliency program.
“If the gut is unhealthy than your sugar response is worse. Conversely, if you eat in a way that makes your blood glucose response look pretty good, then gut microbiome shifts to what they consider to be a healthier profile.” — Robb Wolf
Is there anything you can do to your gut biome to change your blood glucose profile?
It’s complex. Some people can have small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), where bacteria is growing too far north in the gut. When you eat something with carbs in it, it makes the bacteria grow in inappropriate place and way, and it’s difficult to starve bacteria in foregut and feed bacteria in hindgut. A lot of people will experience a lot of improvement from a low carb diet, but it doesn’t work for everybody. Some people may need herbal interventions, like garlic and different antimicrobial agents to help knock that bacterial overgrowth back.
Does fasting have any effect on gut microbiome?
“Reduced meal frequency seems to improve the gut microbiome and overall gut health.” — Robb Wolf
Joe was inspired by Dr. Patrick (check out JRE #901) and experimented with intermittent fasting, while eating only 10 hours a day. His results were great– he lost a lot of body fat without losing energy, but it was challenging. Especially when coming home at night after comedy shows and not being able to consume anything but water.
“water is delicious when you’re thirsty, but it’s boring most of the time.” — Joe Rogan
Zevia and stevia
Zevia — stevia flavored soda (sweetened with plants). Joe likes it because it doesn’t affect blood glucose.
There is no daily allowance on stevia, but it’s an individual case. Robb thinks stevia is better than most artificial sweeteners and can even reduce blood glucose, but some people can hurt from it:
“Stevia can reduce blood glucose. Sweet taste releases an insulin response in some people, but other people who are insulin sensitive it could make the problem worse.” — Robb Wolf
Some people who add kimchi or sauerkraut to their diet immediately feel better, but some people get worse. Those that do worse might have SIBO or reactivity to FODMAPS — fermentable carbohydrates that can make gut microbiome freak out.
How difficult is it to get to the bottom of what your health issues?
“Average time for diagnosis of autoimmune condition like celiac disease is something like 12–15 years. Symptoms vary a lot from person to person… Doctors usually ask a lot of questions to get to the bottom of it, but if you’re doing the doc in the box deal, and you only have 5 min, they’re just trying to figure out what script can they write to move this person out and get to the next person. Unless you get lucky, you’re not gonna figure out what the issue is.” — Robb Wolf
Functional medicine doctors do a lot with very little. They do a really comprehensive (~2 hour) early life history check up, asking:
What was your in utero environment? Did your mom eat well? Did she smoke? Were you born in a vaginal birth or C-section?
Were you breastfed or not?
What was your approximate age of first round of antibiotics?
Did you ever go on tetracycline for extended periods of time for acne?
Did you ever travel out of the country? And did you get some sort of a gut bug doing that?
Giardia, and toxins in pigs and shellfish
Giardia is a microscopic parasite that causes diarrheal illness. You can giardia in various ways, Robb got giardia snorkelling in freshwater Mexico. Lake Tahoe has giardia too, which is caused by too much poop in water. Lots of water bodies are contaminated today Back in the day, giardia was less common, perhaps because there were fewer people… or people knew not to poop in the water?
In the past, religious people didn’t eat pork because pigs eat almost anything, which gave pigs a higher likelihood to carry toxins and infect humans. Similarly, shellfish can also infect humans. For example, red tide loads shellfish with deadly toxins when consumed. Check out John Durant’s book The Paleo Manifesto for related information.
The 7 day carb test — eat 50g of carbs (net carbs, all fibers subtracted), and set a two hour timer from when you finished the meal to check your blood glucose. Robb’s preferable mark is under than 150 mg per deciliter.
Weizmann Institute blood sugar levels paper (mentioned above) claims people who control their blood glucose effectively over time see improvements in inflammation and gut microbiome . Regardless of variances in gut microbiome, when blood glucose looks good, then blood lipids look good, the gut is healthy, and everything pulls to a good spot. So even if you’re not genetically talented and your blood glucose levels look good, then you should get all the metabolic benefits.
Note: even eating whole unprocessed foods hugely varies in effect between people. For example, eating lentils is a great source of carbs that doesn’t affect blood glucose too much, where rice and potatoes affect a lot.
How do antibiotics affect your body? (damage and time wise)
Coywolf — cross-breeding wolves with coyotes. Coyotes used to be 25–30 lbs, now they are 70–80 lbs and they hunt in packs. So they got characteristics of wolves and coyotes. Urban areas are vibrant locations for coyotes. They crush the pet population, especially at night
“My appreciation love to my chickens is 1000th of my cat.” — Joe Rogan
Robb talks about his 105 lbs 2% body fat dog — rhodesian ridgeback — who could probably hold his own if something went down (with a coyote).
Robb checks them yearly. On a day to day basis, he keeps an eye on sleep, nutrition, recovery, and HRV (heart rate variability) monitoring — which measures stress load. Robb checks it in the morning.
Testosterone — levels and replacement
Joe is on testosterone replacement therapy, and when he changed his diet from high carb to high fat (ketogenic diet) — his testosterone levels were way up. A bunch of Joe’s friends who are also on testosterone replacement therapy reported the same thing. One of his friends levels doubled and he couldn’t find any other variability.
Robb says that usually people on lower carb diets have an increase in sex hormone — binding globulin, and that can reduce the level of free testosterone. So total tes may and free tes may look great, which is common in low carb diets, but more importantly receptors sites density for tes increases. So you may not need as much tes if you increase receptors sites density, but if you have more, you might be getting even a greater effect.
What is causing receptors sites density?
“I don’t fully know, but when people are on a lower carb diet, it appears anabolic hormones have a more pronounced effect than a higher carb. I don’t really know the mechanisms behind how that works, but if you had two people with the same amount of tes and estrogen levels, where one person had same hormone levels, but more receptors sites, than that person would have a more potent anabolic response.” — Robb Wolf
“It makes sense because if we over consume carbs in general, we fill up the liver glycogen, and the liver starts converting it to palmitic acid, which is a saturated fat, and that makes us insulin resistant, and there’s good mechanisms behind that. There’s good engineering if we’re eating a little bit more of ancestor diet, but when you throw a modern processed diet and sedentism, and messed up circadian rhythm, not going to bed on time, not getting enough daylight sun, then the whole mess becomes pro inflammatory and moves you into insulin resistant profile.” — Robb Wolf
What is about sugar when you don’t consume it on a regular basis after a long time of being keto, and when you eat it again you feel horrible?
In ketosis, the body creates metabolic insulin resistance, and muscles get insulin resistant, so we don’t get glucose in muscles — we’re using free fatty acids and ketones. So once you’re keto adapted and your first meal out of it is a milkshake or fries — 200g of carbs (because you’re insulin resistant), it takes a massive amount of insulin to push that to storage, and it will make you feel like death.
Ketosis is a workaround where we don’t have to break down proteins to convert them to glucose to feed the brain. We can break down body fats, which turns to ketone bodies, which are water soluble and can go through the blood brain barrier, and fuel the brain in a really effective way. When you are in ketosis, you do spare some glucose, just for some parts of the brain and red blood cells — the few tissues that have to run on glucose and have no other workaround.
Note: biggest benefit of ketosis — being able to skip a meal!
Does the brain suffer on really a restricted sugar diet?
Robb claims that for eons humans and other every other organism on the planet didn’t have consistent food based on an ancestral template. So how do we know our brains used to run off glucose?
Because our brain is so big and so metabolically active — ~2% body weight, 20% energy use — it’s really important to protect it. Between 70–80% of the brain can shift to fuel on ketone bodies, but 20–30% need glucose.
You can force your body to run on fats, where you do carbs every couple of days or eat carbs earlier in the day, and later in the day just fats and proteins, and then you fast through part of the next day. So you force your body to run on fats, produce some ketones (not full nutritional ketosis levels), but when you do drop in some carbs, your body can handle that, and it doesn’t put you in diabetic blood sugars.
So what’s better to be full ketosis or cycle in and out of it?
Robb isn’t sure, but he personally feels best when ketotic (in full ketosis).
Robb also makes caveman coffee with their MCT oil, mixed with sugar free peanut butter, and soy lecithin/sunflower lecithin — which gets him to 0.5 millimolar blood ketones level — decent ketosis even though adding some carbs. Ketone salts don’t sit well with Robb.
Peanuts can be toxic!
Peanuts are legumes, which have immunogen properties and can irritate the immune system. If you improperly make peanuts, they can make you sick, and if you undercook black/kidney beans and ate them, you can get gastritis— meaning you might be shitting blood!
How to treat legumes
You should soak legumes overnight or sprout them or cook them in a medium that has some acid in it, then it breaks down these anti-nutrients, and they’re not nearly as immunogenic.
Why Paleo community succeeded with limiting grains and legumes?
Paleo had success with autoimmune issues because people with serious GI issues like SIBO or other autoimmune condition should minimize grains and legumes because they are immunogenic to a lot of people.
Healthy gut people shouldn’t worry about grains and legumes, but what works for you today, may not work for you tomorrow. Lifestyle changes that cause you more physical or mental stress might alter your gut health.
Robb is not concerned with genetic modification — we’ve been genetically modifying things for thousands of years. He is concerned with some of the business practices like food production, which doesn’t increase yield, but creates something more resistant to Roundup a.k.a glyphosate, which is a pesticide to kill weeds. It creates a vicious funnel where you need more fertilizer and pesticide input. Farmers spray genetically modified monocrops with stuff that kills all life, but the genetic modified monocrops. Roundup has been suggested as a mitochondrial disrupter
People who are gluten intolerant can eat sprouted breads like ezekiel bread or wonder bread. To make ezekiel bread, you need to soak the grains, pour off the water, and let them sprout. In the sprouting process, enzymes released tend to break out the gluten and gliadin proteins.
Robb personally can’t eat one of these breads — it makes him sick. He’s not sure if he has celiac or gluten intolerance, but any wheat exposure (even if someone cooked a steak on a pan that had french toast on it the day before), he would get sick
Robb’s past health conditions chronicles
Robb suffered from ulcerative colitis when he was 27 (he’s 45 today), which got him down to 130lbs at his worst (he currently he’s 175 lbs). Robb couldn’t absorb any food even though eating a lot. He was eating a grains and legumes based diet, which wasn’t working for him. Also living in Seattle and not having much sun didn’t help either. The results of low vitamin D levels, bad sleep, bad circadian rhythm led him to get giardia (mentioned above). To cure giardia Robb received metronidazole, an antimicrobial used for giardia and other forms of archaebacteria. The treatment is also a mitochondrial disruptor, but different than antibiotics.
What are some pro mitochondrial supplements?
Resveratrol, fasting, ketosis — all make the mitochondria healthier. Resveratrol is difficult to absorb. It is fat soluble, so you need to mix it with a fatty matrix. Gut health is really important in absorption of supplements and pharmaceuticals.
Are people allergic to avocados? Joe was told by his doctor he might be
Avocados are not uncommon allergens, because they are seed essentially with food around them, but Joe didn’t experience symptoms of allergy, which are usually foggy headedness, GI issues or joint creakiness.
If someone has intestinal/gut permeability, then they can get sensitive to food. If you fix permeability, then food doesn’t get into your body, it gets broken down to amino acids, fatty acids, and constituent carbs. So the immunogenic properties don’t get into your body anymore, they stay in your gut, which is outside the body!
How does sugar cause inflammation?
Sugar feeds both good and bad bacteria.
If we eat a diet that is deficient in fiber, high in refined carbs, then all carbs get absorbed early, and there’s not food for bacteria that should be living the in colon, which is where most bacterial mass should be occurring. So bacteria moves up in the GI tract, and that’s when we get SIBO — a pro-inflammatory process.
Wild swings in blood sugar is a pro-inflammatory process — which means up regulation of insulin (over a chronic process) can cause inflammation.
Cortisol released in response to blood sugar crashes makes you hyperglycemic and pings the liver to release more glucose, which is also pro-inflammatory.
What is inflammation?
Inflammation by itself isn’t bad; it’s the amount, type and placement. Different cytokines — chemicals such as interleukin 1 and interleukin 6, typically turn on immune cells. Chemical messaging can turn on other inflammatory processes and cells nearby and also immune cells.
Ideally we get a little bit of hormetic stress, so the body senses the stress, and makes us stronger! We can cope with it when exposed to it again. But if the system is also pro-inflamed from poor diet, inadequate sleep, gut permeability, then the little tears and bruises never heal, because the body is allocating resources to dealing with the gut, and doesn’t have resources to deal with joints and muscles.
The FDA recommends avoiding ibuprofen, which can increase chances of heart attack or stroke. Cameron Hanes (good friend of Joe and hardcore bowhunter) used to take ibuprofen every day because he was always in pain. Joe told Cameron that Dr. Patrick recommends staying off ibuprofen because it’s bad for your gut bacteria, which could be causing gut inflammation you’re trying to fight with ibuprofen, which becomes a vicious cycle. Once Hanes stopped taking ibuprofen, his joint pain went away!
Ibuprofen and Robb’s injury
An amazing and sad story about how Robb injured his L4 and L5 discs 15 years ago at Crossfit HQ (Robb is a CrossFit OG) doing a combination of high volume glute ham situps and max deadlift (an insane amount of weight!) which resulted in abs failing. Since then, the injury bothers him if he sleeps in a weird bed, sits for too long, or if his hip flexors are tight. If he stays on top of his mobility, he doesn’t experience pain and can train, but when pain gets really bad, he would take 800mg of ibuprofen, but only once!
Rope climbs are Robb’s favorite pulling movement, because you get to work on movements that are beneficial for jiu-jitsu (specifically lockouts), and because you get to work on your back, arms, pacs, lats and shoulders.
“Just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s not toxic.” — Robb Wolf
Does the ketogenic diet reduce chances of getting cancer?
It could — certain types of cancer prefer to run on glucose (not on fats or proteins), but some cancers are very metabolically flexible. Common cancers such as breast, colon, prostate, and glioblastoma, thrive on glucose, so reduction in glucose may lead to cancer starvation.
Increasing oxidative stress is bad for cancer
People with cancer get on a ketogenic diet, which increases hormetic stress. They also fast before chemotherapy or radiation, because low glucose environments — like state of ketosis — cause oxidative stress in mitochondria. Normal tissues do great with that, but cancer doesn’t.
When you’re in ketosis it reduces your pool of glutathione — our normal antioxidant defense network. So reducing your antioxidants to the bare minimum helps make sure cancer doesn’t have oxidants defense systems for it to survive.
Some people take high doses of antioxidants thinking cancer is driven by free radicals (oxidative damage). They even take high dose vitamin C, which is an antioxidant, but can be a pro oxidant at high concentration. Hyperbaric chamber is another method to increase oxidative stress.
Cryotherapy and hot sauna
Robb doesn’t do cryotherapy (Joe does) where he lives. Reno, NV, is usually cold, and he often sits in a tub of water outside (typically with a layer of ice on top), temp is slightly above freezing. He also does hot sauna frequently (as Dr. Patrick recommends), which helps with his recovery game from jiu-jitsu. Robb tried cold water exposure after workouts, which made him feel good for a short time, but not long lasting. He likes to sit in 140 degrees sauna for 15–20 min until he REALLY needs to get out!
Robb follows Gymnastics Bodies, a program by former US national team gymnastics coach, Christopher Sommer. It’s strength and mobility work baked together, plus 3 day a week stretching sequence — front splits, side splits and thoracic (back bend). Each day Robb does some strength and mobility. Robb also uses a meditation app, even for 5 minutes. Robb doesn’t go to an isolation tank often, only when he travels, there isn’t one close to him.
“Float tanks + weed is like the greatest thing in the world for relaxation.” — Joe Rogan
Robb hasn’t used CBD yet (non psychoactive anti inflammatory agent of marijuana), but he find it interesting that research showed it’s not risky, and also an accessible, inexpensive option. Robb suggested adding CBD to chocolates and other sugar vehicles can help alleviate some stress, which can help getting to the point of talking about dietary changes.
“Reality is that our modern world is set up exactly against our genetics” — Robb Wolf
Palette fatigue is when you get bored with foods and want something else, and you can eat more and more as long as you keep changing the flavor between sweet and salty. There are people who study how to make food addictive by experimenting with flavors. Professional eaters have pairings like hot dogs and gummy bears. Robb and Joe watched an example of crazy pairing — Adam Richman from Man v. Food eating an 8 lb sundae with french fries:
Cheat day can be like a heroin addiction, but the anticipatory process is good source of dopamine.
Favorite cheat meals. Robb: a 5 lb bag of sea salt and vinegar potato chips. Joe: linguine and clams.
Blood glucose and ketone monitors
Robb measures glucose blood levels using a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) — a tiny hair-sized probe that goes through the skin and samples blood interstitial fluid once a minute for 2–3 weeks. Robb finds the monitor to be pretty mellow, he puts rock tape on top of it and can roll with it (jiu-jitsu rolling). It’s around the size of a 50 cents coin.
For the average person, is there a benefit to eating sprouted bread vs regular bread?
Generally yes, because it’s partially digested, and there’s a lower likelihood of these breads to be pro-inflammatory.
Lap-band system — scary surgery. It causes some people who were diabetic to become almost immediately not diabetic. After a few years, some people get back to being diabetic because their stomachs are so small and they can eat that much, which makes them choose refined foods.
AspireAssist — Stomach pump weight loss awaiting FDA approval
Insurance reimburses for lap-band surgery and gastric bypass (~$30–40K), but it’s really hard to get insurance to reimburse a gym membership or a health coach
Joe called out Robb on what a vomitorium is, which an entrance and exit to an arena, not vomiting to be able to eat more food.
Fasting and Ketosis
Some guy went on a medically supervised fast for 382 days. He lived off his body fat going from +400 lbs to 180 lbs! Robb explains how this crazy long fast and ketosis state is possible with the diagram below. Blood glucose drops and stabilizes, beta hydroxybutyrate goes up and stabilizes. Gluconeogenesis in the liver produces glucose, also glycerol fat and amino acids (which are gluconeogenic) can convert to glucose.
Fasting to avoid excess skin — people who lose massive weight and have excess folds of skin (like people on The Biggest Loser) need to surgically remove it. But there’s a chance that people using fasting protocol wouldn’t need skin surgery! Fasting would be better than low carb, high protein protocol because if there is protein in the diet, then even though fat goes away, the protein matrix of skin and interstitial connective issue isn’t going to go away. Ketosis reduces the breakdown of lean body mass, in which the body turns over that protein base.
The ketogenic diet 101 infographic
Where to listen (or watch)
All JRE video episodes are free to stream on YouTube:
Note: timestamps are based on YouTube version (no sponsors).
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