Mark Sisson joins Daniel on Collective Insights to discuss his work helping people improve their health and nutrition. Sisson talks about how evolutionary sciences and biology should inform our modern day nutrition decisions. He goes into detail about how many of the food choices we make today don’t mesh well with what our bodies are designed to handle, leading to health problems. He also discusses the importance of taking supplements and not always relying on health data taken in the moment. The main point Sisson emphasizes is that our lifestyle choices ultimately have an impact on our wellbeing. Getting healthy shouldn’t be a grueling, painful process.
In This Episode We Discussed:
- Ancestral health and modern day obstacles
- The impact of foods on genetic expression
- Metabolic efficiency
- Blue Zone concept
- The case for taking supplements
- Interpretation of health data
2:32 Enhancing life experiences through lifestyle choices
7:55 Eating food as a hormonal experience
11:14 Gene expression downstream of diet choices
16:51 The meaning behind metabolic deficiency
23:02 Blue Zones and a healthy relationship to grains
32:35 European vs. US grain comparison
41:46 Why people should still look at taking supplements
50:01 Trusting how you feel
53:55 Interpreting and fact checking health data
Mentioned in This Episode:
Daniel: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Neurohacker Collective podcast, Collective Insights. My name is Daniel. We are here with Mark Sisson today, who is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple and The Primal Connection universe. He’s author of Primal Blueprint, Primal Connection, many books in [00:01:00] the evolutionary-informed diet, lifestyle, wellness space. I think he went from the goal of serving 10 million people to 100 million people as he was getting close to the first goal and then realizing how much was actually possible. He has a background in biology, originally pursuing a direction in medicine and then moving more in the direction of Olympic [00:01:30] training, extreme athletics, marathon training, and then the whole field of health and wellness and probably has one of the most active communities that exists, in terms of people who are interested in health, wellness, fitness, quality of life writ large, so delighted to have you here with us today. Thank you for making time and excited to get to ask you some questions.
Mark Sisson: Yeah. It’s my pleasure. Let’s have some fun.
Daniel: [00:02:00] For those who are not already familiar, what’s the basics of The Primal Blueprint and the underlying philosophy that guides it?
Mark Sisson: The Primal Blueprint is a template for a way of living that encompasses lifestyle choices: behaviors, activities, food choices that have been shown through research [00:02:30] and through evolutionary biology in terms of the clues that directed research, to enhance the experience of life. Now I’ve never said it that way. That sounds like maybe a little woo-woo way of saying, it’s really about enjoying the most possible out of your life, getting the most enjoyment, satisfaction, fulfillment, completion out of every possible moment by looking for ways in which [00:03:00] the behaviors that we elect to take on affect gene expression.
Going back to my early days in college and as a pre-med candidate, I was very fascinated by evolution, the fact that this notion that we have this recipe that wants us to be strong and lean and fit and happy and healthy and productive and loving is geared that way, is wired that way, through millions of years of surviving a harsh environment. Yet we find ourselves [00:03:30] today in a modern environment with the sorts of inputs that interfere with that desire, that overriding tendency to want to be lean, strong, fit, happy and healthy. My job, as I see it, in terms of an educator, is to discover these hidden genetic switches and in a way that’s fun and compelling, educate my readers into ways, choices that they might make, that might serve them better toward their goal than what they’re currently [00:04:00] undertaking. Does that make sense?
Daniel: Yeah, so you are looking from an evolutionary biology, evolutionary theory lens of what the evolutionary environment in which we spent eight million years as hominids and 250,000 years as Homo sapiens is and that the amount of time that we’ve had grains post-agriculture or the amount of time we’ve had refined sugars or then artificial foods, post-chemical revolution is very small. We’re not adapting to it, and not just that but artificial lighting, [00:04:30] sitting at computers, all of the places where the modern world is different than what we’re genetically adapted to. What are the consequences of that, and how can we design a life that pays attention to our genetic fitness?
Mark Sisson: Absolutely, and I have to say, I want to design that life in the context of hedonism and pleasure where possible. I’m not suggesting that everybody camp out in their background and go hunt squirrels. I’m just suggesting that there are ways in which we can make certain food choices [00:05:00] that will enhance how we burn fat, how we build muscle, certainly how we produce dopamine and serotonin. I’m suggesting that there are ways in which we can orchestrate our sleep so that we develop a deeper more fulfilling sleep, REM sleep, that we are less subject to stress. Again, all in the context of a modern life, just finding the clues from [00:05:30] that evolutionary template.
Daniel: They don’t have to hunt squirrels, but they probably should pay attention to when they’re eating meat where it comes from and what type of chemicals, antibiotics, etc. it was exposed to or not. They don’t necessarily have to grow all their own vegetables, but they again should pay attention to if [inaudible 00:05:49] or not and local or not, those types of dynamics that are at least paying attention to evolutionary triggers.
Mark Sisson: Absolutely, absolutely. [00:06:00] I’d like to preface the rest of the conversation by saying there are no right or wrong answers here. They’re just choices. They’re just lifestyle choices, so when we make these choices based on information, we would look at the range of produce that we see in our town, from the cheap stuff you get at the big box store or wherever, to the health food store down the street, to the farmer’s market or the CSA. There’s a range of offerings there. Some of them [00:06:30] are [inaudible 00:06:30] covered. Some of them are grown in soil that’s been so beat up and mismanaged that there are no nutrients of any consequence left in them, and some of it has been well taken care of and probably very healthy, likely very healthy.
Again, no right or wrong answers here but knowing what you’re buying and being aware of the potential consequences of consuming them is where I [00:07:00] try to educate people in that content. Say with meat, meat exists on a spectrum. I listen to the dialogue now, particularly in the documentary world where there’s all this diatribe against capital grown meat, conventionally grown meats that are grain-fed on big feed lots and poorly treated. I’m 100% against that. I’m a carnivore, and I support eating animals [00:07:30] that have been raised humanely on the diets that are native to their own evolution and then killed humanely and with respect, so all these foods exist on a spectrum of not so great choices to really excellent choices, but it doesn’t mean that one type of food is necessarily better than the other.
Daniel: Yeah, so better in some kind of universal, moralistic sense but physics and biology are what they are independent of beliefs about them, and they are going to have effects on things like gene expression, [00:08:00] so that’s the evidential basis that we’re trying to make decisions based on, for quality of life optimization.
Mark Sisson: Yeah, and what does that look like? That looks like somebody who is consuming starchy grains and carbs and processed carbohydrates and sugars and sweetened things may think, “Wow. My life is wonderful. I’m enjoying every possible moment that I’m eating candy, cookies, and ice cream,” but the way that that food choice manifests itself inside [00:08:30] the body, it’s a very intense hormonal experience. In cases like that, there’s blood sugar mismanagement. There’s a rise in insulin. There’s a tendency for those bodies to store excess calories as fat instead of burn that fat off. There’s a tendency to see a rise in inflammation.
Inflammation is a cause of a lot of people’s pain and suffering and agony. Inflammation can lead to … It’s the primary cause of, shall we say, heart disease [00:09:00] in many cases. Heart disease isn’t necessarily directly related to fat consumption or cholesterol. It’s actually a disease of oxidation and inflammation, so if you can cut down the inflammation by making certain food choices, you’re going to have less pain, less tendency toward risk factors for certain lifestyle diseases.
Again, it’s weird to think that food, it’s more inflammation than it is fuel, in many cases, right, but every bite [00:09:30] of food that we take is a hormonal experience and understanding how those hormones interact with each other is a fun thing to know and to be able to use to be empowered over how you manifest again that strong, lean, fit, happy, healthy, productive, pain-free body.
Daniel: Okay, so there’s a lot of different levels that we can look at in nutrition. We can look at just the macros. Are we getting enough macros and maybe the right ratio of them, which is [00:10:00] one whole topic, and that’s the fuel topic. Then we look at the micronutrients and all of the minerals, phytonutrients, vitamins that are involved as conversion factors. That’s typically where nutrition stops. Now you’re also saying we have to look at the endocrinology of how our body is responding and the way that the hormones are affected, but then you’re also looking at not just what are the foods that were part of our genetic fitness landscape, but how do the foods affect genetic expression?
Mark Sisson: Right.
Daniel: [00:10:30] That’s different than normally just thinking about, what is the effect of the food on cellular metabolism itself? That’s saying, what is the effect on longterm cellular metabolism disease expression because it’s actually changing genetic expression.
Mark Sisson: Yeah. Then it becomes really a philosophical discussion about what does longterm genetic expression look like? What is the short term effect of a particular food choice, because when you consume foods, the first thing that happens [00:11:00] is this hormonal response to them. That’s the first signaling device, but over time, and given a trend toward a particular type of food, that signaling then prompts the up-regulation of certain genetic responders, gene systems that start to make certain proteins to deal with either the consequence or the manifestation or the biochemical byproducts of these foods. It’s all interrelated because it all does take place at the cellular [00:11:30] level.
When we talk about macros, for instance, we talk about macronutrient ratios. That’s one aspect of making these choices that can impact downstream the hormonal expression, eventually the gene expression, eventually whether or not you have inflammation or build muscle or burn fat or store fat or are pre-cancerous [00:12:00] or have metabolic syndrome or a type of diabetes. It’s a cascade of events. Any one bite, not so consequential. Any one meal, not so consequential. Any one day, well, now it starts to get a little bit. Then several weeks becomes consequential, and then several years, now you start to get the metabolic damage that we often discuss in the paleocentric and the ancestral health world. [00:12:30] The body wants to be. I’m telling you, it wants to be healthy, but it responds to the signals you give it.
If you feed an otherwise healthy body lots of sugar, simple sugars, industrial seed oils like canola, soy, and corn, you could say those are just fats and they’re carbohydrates, so they’re macronutrients, and who cares what they’re made of, but these industrial seed oils, the way they’re processed are highly pro-inflammatory. The simple [00:13:00] sugars, again, have this insulin response that is counterproductive and ultimately leads to inflammation. We could talk about macronutrient ratios, but we have to get deeper and deeper into the nuances of those macronutrients and what we’re trying to achieve.
I feel like I’m making this more confusing than it is, but it’s a complex equation [00:13:30] with lots of variables, and when you change the variables, you have to look downstream at what the outcome might be. You could say, “I’m going to have a diet that is 60% carbohydrate and 30% protein and 10% fat,” right? That would be like the ideal. Your cardiologist might say that, but if those calories are coming from crappy fats and oils, if the carbohydrates are mostly [00:14:00] processed grains, even if they’re whole grains, we can talk about the anti-nutrient effects of whole grains, and devoid of vegetables, and if the protein is cheese and conventionally-grown meat, even though that in terms of conceptually the doctor would say, “Oh, my God. That’s a great macronutrient profile. You ought to be able to lose weight on that and maintain your natural body weight.” No, you’re going to be sick because you didn’t adjust for the variables downstream. [00:14:30] You didn’t get the proper amount of micronutrients because you’re eating perhaps crappy vegetables or no vegetables at all.
There are a lot of vegetarians I know who don’t eat many vegetables. You might have been taking in carbohydrate in the form of very processed simple sugars that convert to glucose so quickly in the bloodstream it causes an insulin response. Again, you may have taken in protein that was not efficient at building muscle. [00:15:00] That’s why I’ve got eight books on nutrition and I’ve got 4,000 articles on my website because we find all of these different little interesting tangents and nuances to delve into.
Daniel: My first teacher in nutrition, I don’t know if you ever came across this guy. He was a contemporary of Dr. Christopher and Bernard Jensen in the earlier part of the century. His name was Dr. Evarts Loomis. His first principle of nutrition was, he said, “All of the details [00:15:30] of micronutrients, macronutrients, specific forms, study that, but the first key thing,” and this was well before the primal world was a thing. He said, “Eat close to the living ecosystem. If what you eat looks close to the living ecosystem, you’re at least in the right vicinity.”
When people think about before hunter-gatherer dynamics, obviously there was no such thing as refined sugar. Berries, fruits, were the closest thing, and they were seasonal only. Pre-hybridization, they looked nothing like they look now, in terms of total sugar content, [00:16:00] and you couldn’t get a huge amount of them without work, so then there’s a hypernormal stimulus response of, of course there’s a dopamine, opioid response to those because of their caloric density. Now that we can just do as much sugar as the industrial process can make possible, we just hit that hypernormal stimuli into addiction states, but there also wasn’t just a whole bunch of any one vegetable. There was little bits of lots of different vegetables that always would have been in season, little bits of lots of different types [00:16:30] of nuts or whatever, so I would imagine that you are looking at variety, seasonality, locality, lots of things like that.
Mark Sisson: For sure. I’d like to take a brief detour and just be focused on a concept that underlies most of what we talk about now on my site, and that is this concept of metabolic deficiency. Metabolic deficiency basically describes [00:17:00] the ability of our body to extract energy from as many substrates as possible, so if you’re metabolically efficient, you can get plenty of energy from your own stored body fat if there’s no food around. You can get energy off a plate of fat if there’s a fatty meal. You can get energy from a carbohydrate that’s on that same plate. You can get energy from the glucose that is stored as glycogen in the muscle. You can get energy from the ketones that are produced when there’s no food around and the body can change fat into a fuel [00:17:30] that replaces the deficit in glucose, if you will. Ultimately, you can also burn protein, although that’s the last resort for any human.
Being metabolically efficient means we have access to all these different substrates, and we have the hard wiring. We have the genetic default setting, if you will, at birth to be able to do all this stuff, but we screw it up by eating so much carbohydrate. We eat so much [00:18:00] complex carbohydrate. From an early age when our parents were giving us mushed peas and bread and toast and Zwieback and crackers and Goldfish and all the other and then juice boxes and all this other crap that people have been giving their kids for the longest time. The body responds to those signals and basically becomes metabolically inefficient. In other words, it learns how to burn glucose really well, so we burn glucose. Most of us in this country burn glucose really efficiently. We don’t [00:18:30] burn fat that well at all, partly because we never get a chance to burn it, partly because we’re eating every couple of hours. We’re stuffing our face with more fuel in the form of simple sugars that quickly convert to glucose.
In the event that we skip a meal, the brain goes, “Where’s my glucose?” Then we go onto this pattern of now we have low blood sugar and because we haven’t learned how to burn fat, we have not become metabolically efficient yet. There’s no other fuel source available, so the body goes, “We’ve got to get some sugar.” You either eat it [00:19:00] or you create it by tearing apart muscle tissue. You go into a stress response. You secrete cortisol. The cortisol causes this stripping of amino acids from certain muscles. Those amino acids go to the liver to become glucose so the brain can function. It’s a very counter-productive system to somebody who wants to live a long life and have energy all the time and have muscle mass.
Now again, you go back to evolution. Do you [00:19:30] get how cool it is that we are wired to have a dopamine response to something that’s sweet and we are wired to overeat? We are wired to overeat because typically fruit ripened at the end of the growing season before there was going to be a lack of food. That fruit became the fuel that if you overate, we had this amazingly elegant system that converted excess calories into body fat. It was fuel that we carried around with us. It’s such a cool [00:20:00] system from an evolutionary point of view.
Then if there was no food for a day or three days or a week, no problem. Take that fat out of storage because I have metabolic flexibility. I take that fat out of storage. I burn it for energy. I spare muscle tissue. I don’t cannibalize my muscle. I’m burning ketones. Now my brain is even more aware of where the animal that I’m going to hunt or where the next grove of berries are.
It is such an elegant system that we have designed within us. [00:20:30] It’s pretty phenomenal, and yet if you fast forward to today, we still have this hard wiring that wants us to overeat sweets all the time. Great, and then we store it as fat. Great, so far, but then we’ve lost that metabolic efficiency, that metabolic ability to take fat out of storage and burn it as fuel, combust it as fuel, even under really relatively high rates of metabolic output, to create ketones from some of that fat, use [00:21:00] that instead of glucose for the brain, to the extent that there is no requirement in human nutrition for carbohydrate. You could live your entire life theoretically without ever eating carbohydrate and be fine. You burn fat, and you create ketones, and to the extent that you need glucose, and you need some glucose, the body has this mechanism we call gluconeogenesis where it makes glucose.
It makes glucose not only out of protein, which is what happens when you are a sugar-burner and you haven’t become metabolically flexible, [00:21:30] but when you’ve become metabolically flexible and you’ve built the metabolic machinery, then the body takes this triglyceride, and it takes free fatty acids and either combusts them for energy or sends them to become ketones. It takes the glycerol and makes glucose over here. It is so freaking elegant, and yet it’s the reason so many of us are frustrated and hit plateaus and get sick because we get the first part right. We get the overeat and store the energy, but we don’t [00:22:00] get the second part right. That’s what I teach. I teach how to achieve metabolic flexibility.
Daniel: Obviously, this looks like not overconsuming carbohydrates and sugars every day. That’s obviously going to be a key. If that happens, it happens in relatively short seasons combined with the flexibility dynamics of then consuming those stored carbs later. I have a question for you. The idea that [00:22:30] too many simple sugars is a problem and especially refined simple sugars and carbohydrates in the form of so much in our American diet, I think there’s nobody that isn’t on board with that.
Mark Sisson: There’s still some, believe me. There are still some, but go ahead, yeah.
Daniel: No one who’s doing their homework.
Mark Sisson: Yeah.
Daniel: Now when it comes to grains, I have a question to hear your thoughts on that. Obviously, grains were not a part of an evolutionary diet. Until we had agriculture, they weren’t meaningful. Agriculture wasn’t that long ago. Our genes [00:23:00] haven’t changed that much since then, but when we look at blue zones around the world where people are longest-lived, almost all the blue zones have diets that include grains. That doesn’t mean it’s a 90% grain-based diet, but if we look at Japanese diet, obviously they have seaweeds. Obviously, they have fish, and they have grains, rice, some other grains in their diet. If we look at Azerbaijan or Hunza or the Nicoya Peninsula, we see some corn, some rice, [00:23:30] some barley in their diets, and we don’t really have a lot of data about hunter-gatherer diets because there just aren’t that many of those people left. Our historical reconstructive science on it, it’s a little bit tricky from fossil records to guess what was going on, so what are your thoughts on healthy relationship to grains?
Mark Sisson: Yeah, it’s a great question. The first evidence that we look [00:24:00] at, guys like Loren Cordain and Jared Diamond explored, which was the stature of Egyptians, which were the first real agricultural civilization after hunter-gatherers in that part of Northern Africa. The stature was they were a foot or so shorter, lower bone density, bad teeth, misshapen other bone structure, and indicative of a [00:24:30] culture that had come across an interesting currency, which was this food that you could grow, you could dry, you could store, so you didn’t have to hunt and gather and wander and trek across the land anymore. It was a currency that you literally could pay people to do work, build pyramids. It was a currency that would allow you to own land and [00:25:00] for better or for worse, to have large families.
The hunter-gatherer family was typically one, one and a half on average kids, maybe two. It was a very subsistence living. Now you’ve got this luxury of larger amounts of calories. They’re not terrible, but it’s not meat. It’s not green vegetables. It’s grain. It’s starch. It’s enough to keep you alive, but is it enough to thrive on? [00:25:30] That’s the first clues that we started to look at were Egyptians. Now if you continue with the thought process that evolution sorts out, accounts for survival of the fittest. It’s not exactly how it works, and we can look at some of the Northern Middle-Eastern longterm societies that started growing grains and started cultivating grains. You could argue that the ones who were able to survive [00:26:00] the consumption of grain and didn’t get other diseases were heartier for that reason and learned how to consume most grains. You could look at Japan and go, well, rice was never a big concern at least in the paleo world because rice is the most benign of all the grains. It has really the least amount of what we would call anti-nutrients.
Most grains that we deal with today, particularly in the United States, are these tightly wound proteins [00:26:30] that’s caused problems because we haven’t evolved the digestive systems to fully digest those tightly wound proteins, and they have an effect on the lining of the gut. In many people, myself included, it causes severe gut issues. I didn’t realize until I was 47 that the irritable bowel syndrome I had since I was 14 years old was a result of grains. As soon as I gave up grains, it completely resolved, after a lifetime of misery [00:27:00] for doing that. That’s a story that’s shared by millions of my readers, so there’s some element to it. You don’t have to have celiac disease in order to be affected negatively by grains. In my case, yeah, I had irritable bowel syndrome, but I also had arthritis that went away went I gave up the grains. I had lingering sinus infections after any time I got a cold, and I got a lot of colds, but anyway, the idea that grains are [00:27:30] antithetical to health for a lot of people, myself included, a lot of my readers included.
There are some people who can consume any type of grain and apparently not have them bother them, although most people I speak with, if I say go on a 30-day grain-free experiment to see what happens, most of them feel better. It’s on a spectrum of some people just are doubled over in pain their whole life or are going to die because of grains. Others are like, “Yeah, I didn’t notice anything, but you know, when I gave it up, I felt a little [00:28:00] bit better, a little clearheaded over there.” There is some effect of that.
The other thing about grains, in general, is that they’re just a cheap source of carbohydrate that converts to glucose pretty quickly, so they’re not particularly nutrient dense. Now in the United States, we’ve genetically modified these grains, either through just normal Mendelian genetics and animal husbandry or through stuff that’s been done in the lab. We’ve created these strains of grains that are much higher in protein [00:28:30] because that’s what we’re after in grain is that protein content, but the gluten is the grain’s storage form of protein, and that’s the problematic issue for most people.
In the United States, we find a lot more people who are negatively impacted by grains than in Europe where they haven’t necessarily undergone that sort of modification. In Europe, they have a lot of what we call ancient grains that are continuously regrown without a lot of tweaking, if you will. [00:29:00] I can go to Europe and Greece, and I can have bread and the occasional piece of pizza without … I mean, I don’t go overboard, but it doesn’t affect me the same way that stuff does in this country.
Again, I’m giving you a broad overview here, but going back to the blue zone concept, when I say I’m cutting back on carbohydrates, particularly grains, particularly refined grains, a lot of the blue zone countries, the first thing I’ll say is they don’t eat [00:29:30] that much. Grains become a subsistence part of their existence. It really does contribute to their ability to survive one day to the next. They might have 1,200 or 1,500 total calories in a day, where in the United States we might have 12 or 1,500 calories of bread and pasta and cereal in a total day, plus the meat, plus the fat, plus the ice cream, plus the everything else that we eat.
The blue zone concept [00:30:00] is interesting, and I get it. Number one, they don’t eat that much, and that’s probably been shown above all else. Caloric restriction, among all other animals, has been proven to be the single greatest determinant of longevity. Caloric restriction, whether forced or otherwise, in blue zones. They’re active. In all the blue zones, they walk. They don’t train for marathons to beat themselves up. They work the fields. They walk. They fish. They’re active, or they’re [00:30:30] 85 years old, and they’re out in the field, and they’re doing Tai Chi and doing Qigong and they’re doing all these. They’re moving, and they’re not thinking. They’re not wearing a Fitbit going, “How many calories did I burn in my workout today?” They’re just moving, so there’s a lot to be said for just putting the body through ranges and planes of motion.
Now we’ve got caloric restriction. We’ve got movement and general physical activity throughout the day, in addition to [00:31:00] just specific movements. They are known in these cultures for dealing with stress. We call it rolling with the punches. There are several longevity studies that look at not just blue zone cultures but old people across the world, whether or not it was a complete culture that had an average lifespan that was in their 80s and 90s but individuals that were 90 and 100. They looked [00:31:30] and basically, because some of them drank a half a bottle of whiskey every day and smoked a cigar, but one of the common themes among all of them was this ability to roll with the punches, this ability to take a traumatic life event that would have stressed somebody out and caused them to lose 10 years off their life and move on.
The blue zone concept, there’s a lot of great stuff there, and I 100% agree with it. I think more than anything, [00:32:00] what The Primal Blueprint and paleo and low carb and keto share with veganism and fruitarianism, is it’s what you’re not eating that’s having the greatest impact on your health. What you choose to eat, if it’s natural and wholesome and real and you don’t overeat it, you’re probably going to show some good results, but it’s what you’re electing not to eat.
You’re not eating the refined sugars and processed carbohydrates. [00:32:30] You’re not eating the industrial seed oils that permeate every processed food, the trans-fats, the partially hydrogenated fats and oils, the canola, the soybean, the cottonseed oil, all of that just nasty, nasty stuff that has a severe impact. By cutting out all that bad stuff, you’re left with a lot of choices, a lot of ways of eating that are still going to manifest that strong, lean, fit, happy, healthy, productive body that we all say we want.
Daniel: I have a question [00:33:00] for you regarding the European versus US kind of grain phenomena. I haven’t researched this well enough to have a strong opinion on it. I’ve definitely heard different ideas. The idea that there are people who are not celiac but definitely notice themselves being reactive to gluten here and in certain European countries they’re not. One idea is it’s because of the hybridization of grains here and to the heirloom species or the non-GMO species. That makes a big difference.
We had Zach [00:33:30] Bush, who made the Restore product on the show recently. In his opinion, it’s definitely mostly glyphosate and that the European countries have had much less glyphosate use and that largely it’s the ubiquity of glyphosate on grains here that we’re actually reacting to, and you get zonulin signaling and that maybe also, the glyphosate and other biocides affecting the soil microorganisms, affecting the genetic expression of the plants is another big thing, so there’s a question of how much is it in the grain, the [00:34:00] phytic acid and the gliadin and that intrinsically, versus the plant might actually be fine, and the environment that the plant is growing in is a huge percentage. Do you have a sense on that?
Mark Sisson: I’m open to that as a plausible explanation in addition, but I’ve seen enough looking at gliadin and zein in corn and these tightly [00:34:30] wound proteins and the impact they have. This releases zonulin, which is obviously problematic as the first indicator and leader to leaky gut, which then can manifest a whole host of issues. The leaky gut, and then you allow some undigested protein into the bloodstream. The immune system goes crazy trying to kill it, thinking it’s a microbe. Obviously, [00:35:00] some of these undigested protein molecules look like the pancreas, the beta cells in the pancreas, or they look like chondrocytes in the joints, or they look like your thyroid, so you get Hashimoto’s. You get adult onset Type 1 diabetes or whatever.
It all starts with this otherwise impermeable gut that you’ve made permeable by insulting it with either [00:35:30] a hybridized grain or glyphosate, if that’s the case. I’m open to that explanation. I haven’t seen much on it. I have to say, the Monsanto scientists are pretty adept at crafting stories that there’s no known issue with glyphosates, right? [00:36:00] I’m not believing it one way or the other, but I read the studies. I have to maintain an open mind in all these cases. As I say, I’m not defending any of this, and I am very open to that concept. It’s an interesting one. I just haven’t seen any proof. In my mind, it’s a theory that hasn’t yet been proven.
Daniel: I’m in the same place with it. I’m also one of the people who was not celiac and actually had no GI symptoms but had other auto-immune symptoms, ended up doing some gut testing, [00:36:30] seeing collapsed mucosal immunity, seeing anti-transglutaminase antibodies, getting off gluten and getting radically better, so I relate to the grain problematic thing. I’m very curious to see how much of it is the grains themselves versus the hybridization versus the chemicals in the environment. I think that’ll be interesting in the next few years.
Mark Sisson: Yeah. I agree. When I look at the [00:37:00] types of foods that I would choose to eat, these are breads. These are crackers. They’re grains that have undergone washing and grinding and milling. You wonder how much of the glyphosate residue is actually present in a slice of bread at the end of the day, but like I say, I [00:37:30] guess I’d like to think that that’s the issue because if that’s the case … I used to make a big deal about, “Well, so what. I have to give up grains.” Every once in a while, I smell a piece of bread coming from the oven and I’m like, “Damn, man.” That and a big slab of butter, and I am good to go.
Daniel: Hypernormal stimuli is definitely hypernormal. Okay, so I’m curious on the vegetable and meat sourcing topic, and let’s just use vegetable as an example. [00:38:00] How different in your study is commercial kale or cucumber or celery or whatever it is in terms of both that it had an NPK fertilizer rather than a full fertilizer? It’s the microbiome of the soil. The trace minerals were probably depleted, and it was sprayed with pesticides, biocides of various kinds, but it looks like kale, and it looks like raw kale, right?
Mark Sisson: [00:38:30] Yeah.
Daniel: That you could put in a salad, versus something that was biodynamically grown both with full spectrum fertilizers, soil microbe maintenance, and without pesticides. Obviously, there’s a pretty big variance in how big a difference people think that is.
Mark Sisson: Huge.
Daniel: What is your thought on that?
Mark Sisson: It could be a factor of 10 to 1. It could be that a conventionally-grown piece of kale that [00:39:00] looks for all intents and purposes like a wonderful healthy choice has been grown in depleted soil and it’s been fertilized with substandard choices and has been sprayed might be worse than not eating any kale at all. I’m a fan of growing vegetables. I love to support my local farmers. I like CSAs, and I like farmers markets. [00:39:30] I have a real problem with the fact that big Agra has co-opted the term organic now and has kind of perverted it so that even the little guy now can’t get qualified, even though he’s literally following the most organic type methods possible.
Daniel: Do you go to your farmers market and just talk to the farmers, ask what they do, and get a sense of how [00:40:00] much you like their?
Mark Sisson: Not anymore because I buy from the same people every week, but yeah, I do and I would. I actually just moved to Miami, and we’re going to be doing farmers markets down here, so I guess we will start that process again. There are those shady characters who show up at farmers markets having gone to Costco the day before and loaded up, but the issue is a serious issue because if you do your research on fruits and vegetables and [00:40:30] I eat lots of them. I eat five or six servings of vegetables every day.
I’m going to cover all my bases because the US Department of Agriculture did their homework, and it said that if I put that into my diet parsing app, it’ll show that I covered all my bases with basic vitamins and minerals and phytonutrients, but the reality is, some of these vegetables contain literally a tenth or less [00:41:00] of the amount of micronutrients that we had when the US Department of Agriculture started doing these studies back in the ’40s and ’50s. That’s just wrong, so you’re basically eating roughage, if you will, and not getting a lot of micronutrition, which is really key to, as you say, that’s where the cofactors, the energy cofactors come from. When we’re talking about gene expression, we’re [00:41:30] talking about methylation and certain things that require some of these cofactors.
Daniel: Let’s turn to the topic of supplementation. If someone is trying to supplement away eating well, that obviously doesn’t work, but if someone is eating well, and say they’re going to a CSA as much as they can. They’re still probably not getting perfectly raised food from an evolutionary perspective all the time, and they are being exposed to volatile organic compounds and just airborne [00:42:00] toxicity and all kinds of shit that wasn’t part of an evolutionary environment. I actually really like. I lot of the people who have a primitive lifestyle orientation eschew supplements, and I see that you focus on diet but you actually also have supplements. Speak to that a little bit, would you?
Mark Sisson: Yeah. I started out in this business, in this pursuit of health, [00:42:30] 35 … Actually, I started when I was 12 years old, but really aggressively as an athlete, I started to chase performance. I realized that training was one part of performance, but recovery was another part of performance. The type of training I was doing was generating severe amounts of stress, manifesting itself in what we call reactive oxygen species, oxidative damage. I also recognized that I was working hard, so I had an otherwise stressful life. [00:43:00] For me, I started looking at the research on antioxidants, so I started my supplement company to create antioxidant supplements for athletes to assist in their recovery from hard training.
As I got further and further into that research, I started to realize, well, geez, this applies to the average person walking down the street, too, who has a lot of stress, who isn’t eating right, who’s probably not getting the micronutrition that they need. [00:43:30] The more I looked into it, the more I realized that that probably applies to the person who’s eating well, who’s eating healthy, who isn’t getting enough sunlight.
Vitamin D is probably one of the most important vitamins you can get, and you don’t get it much from food. You don’t make much unless you’re exposed to sunlight, and yet it’s critical in your immune system. It’s critical in cancer prevention. It’s critical in a lot of different factors, so I take lots of Vitamin D, [00:44:00] and I’m out in the sun a fair amount, but I take lots of Vitamin D because I get there’s a direct correlation for the amount of Vitamin D in an average person’s blood and their risk for certain disease.
Vitamin C, I started supplementing with lots of Vitamin C years ago. As I get older, I realize that partly because I’m eating more of a keto low-carb diet now, I don’t eat a lot of fruits. I eat a lot of vegetables, but [00:44:30] the damn vegetables don’t have much micronutrients in them. It’s that same thing. It’s like, how much Vitamin C are you going get when you have a big salad that’s got tomatoes because they have Vitamin C, that’s got maybe some bell peppers. They’ve got some Vitamin C, but is it enough? In the context of me as a 65-year-old, soon to be, athlete wanting to maintain good pliable tendons, ligaments, connective tissue, cartilage, etc. etc. you need Vitamin C to keep that repair going, [00:45:00] so I supplement with Vitamin C.
I supplement with cartilage because I don’t eat enough bone broth. At the end of the day, I take antioxidant supplements. I take a probiotic. Not on a daily basis, but I make a probiotic. I made it for me because I realized that I wanted to be able to repopulate my gut with the particular strains of bacteria that we call signaling strains. There’s four forming signaling strains. They signal the other. They up-regulate other bacteria, the bifidus and lactis. I could [00:45:30] go down a whole litany of supplements that I take. I take phosphatidylserine. You’ve probably never heard of it. Maybe you have because you’re a neuro guy.
Daniel: It happens to be in one of our products.
Mark Sisson: Yeah. It’s one of the most awesome nutrients in the world. It’s a critical part of every cell membrane, particularly nerves. It is an anti-stress nutrient, if you will. The studies that Montelione did on that 25, 30 years ago which suggest [00:46:00] that it literally lowers your cortisol production in response to an acute stressor. I make a case for taking supplements as part of my otherwise ancestral lifestyle because those are the things I find missing, just like I make a case for sitting in front of a fireplace at night before I go to bed because I’ve been looking at a blue screen all day. I make a case [00:46:30] for melding the ancient wisdom that the body has with the reality that we’re stuck in this modern configuration, that sometimes we have to decide how we can tweak it a little bit to get what we want out of it.
I love every bite of food I eat, but I’m very certain that every bite of food I eat isn’t enough in the course of the day to provide the amount of micronutrients that I want [00:47:00] to live a long, healthy, productive life. People will say, “Well, geez, Mark. If you follow evolution, then you might also agree that evolution doesn’t give a rats ass what happens to you after you have kids.” It’s some grandparenting theory, but for the most part, once you’ve passed along the genetic material, that’s evolution going, “You know what? You’re on your own, pal. Whatever you do from here, we’ve got nothing to do.”
That’s where the hacking [00:47:30] comes in and you say, “Okay, well, I want to keep running. At the age of 65, I want to keep playing Ultimate Frisbee. I need strong Achilles tendons. I’m going to supplement with collagen and Vitamin C. I don’t want to get sick. I’m going to supplement with Vitamin D, even though I’m in the sun. I want to recover from hard workouts, delayed onset muscle soreness, so I’m going to take antioxidants to a certain extent.” Why would I not want to do that, in the context of [00:48:00] trying to live the longest healthiest possible life?
Daniel: I want to take that a little bit further and talk about an ancestrally informed lifestyle and modern medical tech, and how you see the relationship between them. When I say modern medical tech, I don’t mean putting people on statins because they have high cholesterol. I mean actually interesting medical tech, so for instance, say we run functional medicine [00:48:30] toxicology on people, and we see all of the styrene and organophosphates and etc. that someone has been exposed to, just from normal life, just from the formaldehyde in the carpet, right? Now, people didn’t actually, in an evolutionary environment, they were never exposed to organophosphates, so we don’t even have really good detox mechanisms for those things, like glutathione works with it and Cytochrome P450 doesn’t, so then it’s like, all right. Well, [00:49:00] I want to minimize my exposure but unless I move to … Actually there’s nowhere that doesn’t have those now. I’m going to have exposure, right?
Mark Sisson: Yeah.
Daniel: Then do I do IV glutathione to support that? That’s obviously not part of an ancestral environment, but neither is a supplement. Then I go a little bit further and I say, “All right. Well, we’ve got elevated CO2 levels in the atmosphere, and I am going to adjust as a part of my normal lifestyle of working more.” I get less exercise than I primal person would have had, so do I decide to use a [00:49:30] bio-hacking device like a hypoxia trainer to get more intensive benefit out of my exercise? Altitude training because I don’t live at altitude. The whole bio-hacking space that looks at, how do we pay attention to our genetic history and the reality of what we’re exposed to in the world that’s different than that. What’s realistic for people’s schedules and what kinds of tech also add to that? What’s your take on that?
Mark Sisson: Well, it’s mixed. First of all, I’m not a big fan of wearables, wearable tech, [00:50:00] to begin with at all. I think so much of it is proven, in my estimation, to be faulty and misleading from the number of steps that you take in a day to heart rate variability. I’ve got premature ventricular contraction in my heart from years of running, so I skip beats a lot, so I wear a heart rate variability monitor. They go, “Dude. You are ready to go,” because you’ve got that great gap between [00:50:30] beats, and yet it’s probably the worst time for me to go train.
I did a thing years ago where I went to a doctor’s office for a little skin examination, and the nurse put a blood pressure cuff on me and took my blood pressure. It was 145 over 105, so the doctor comes in. He says, “Well, the first thing we’re going to do is put you on a blood pressure med.” I go, “I don’t think so. I don’t think you’re going to.” I walked out. I go home. I buy a blood pressure cuff, and I measure my blood pressure, [00:51:00] actually two of them, two of the best ones, Omron. Fifty times over the next week, I measure my blood pressure. Never once do I get it that high. Never once do I repeat the same measurement, and I got it as low as 105 over 65. The idea that you sometimes measure these moments in time, you take a snapshot measurement, and then somehow are going to determine a strategy [00:51:30] moving forward based on that, it’s like looking at a poster of Gone With the Wind and trying to tell me what it’s about. It’s much more involved than that.
I’ve had multiple diagnoses over the years. I got an MRI from the best doctors in the world in Santa Monica, sports orthopedic guys who said, “You need a shoulder operation. You’ve got a torn labrum. You’ve got a divot in your glenoid fossa. [00:52:00] It’s sitting in the middle of the joint there. You’ve got bursitis. You’ve got biceps tendinosis, so here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to go in and snip off the labrum. We’re going to shave off the divot, and we’re going to staple your biceps tendon to your humerus.” I’m like, “No. I don’t think you are.”
I go home, and I do six weeks of intense PT, which I knew I should of done and resolved it, and that was 10 years ago. I could be walking [00:52:30] around today complaining to you about my shoulder. The same thing happened when I supposedly had a hernia. “We’ve got to go in there and put a mesh in there.” No, I’ll fix it myself. I’m really anti-medicine. I’m about ready to write a blog post on a life-threatening experience I had doing a simple diagnostic test about three months ago. Ultimately, I almost died of sepsis as a result of a medical mistake. I knew better, and I’d been talking about this and writing about it for so long.
Now when [00:53:00] we talk about these hypoxic spikes and we talk about some of the tech, look, some of the stuff is great. The VersaClimber, I don’t know if you’re familiar with it. It’s one of the greatest pieces of equipment ever invented. It mimics climbing, but it’s an unusual pattern for humans to climb, and yet it gets your heart rate higher than any other piece of equipment I’ve ever been on. I held a world record for the mile climb on it about 30 years ago, [00:53:30] but when you go to some of these devices, like the hypoxic thing, you go, “Geez. I could be riding a bike, talking to somebody next to me for 35 minutes, or I could be miserable for 10 minutes while I’m doing this and not being able to read a book or talk to anybody, but I’ll be more effective. It’ll be a more efficient use of my time, right?
It’s a choice. If you’re going to choose to do that, and you think that the outcome is going to be great, but [00:54:00] I want to enjoy the time I spend working out. I don’t want working out to be misery or anything like that for me. Anyway, I’m just going off about it.
Daniel: I’m in this, too.
Mark Sisson: I’m a Luddite. I don’t like tech. I’m constantly … Oh, good example. I’m in the keto space, right? We did a thing a while back where my coauthor of my book, Keto Reset Diet, he [00:54:30] pricked his finger, took three different blood monitors and tested his blood glucose within five seconds of each. One of them came out 114. One of them came out like 92, and one of them came out 78. It’s like, all right, seriously? You went from being concerned about having too high blood sugar to being concerned about having too low blood sugar, and you trusted this quantified [00:55:00] self concept. I think we tend to rely way too much on what the numbers are telling us and way too little on, how do I feel? How do I feel?
Daniel: Errors of measurement are a huge deal, right?
Mark Sisson: Yeah.
Daniel: If the sensitivity or specificity of the diagnostic is off, that’s a huge deal, and in the quantified self-movement, that’s all over the place because if we get a sleep device and we say, “Hey. It correlates 60%,” [00:55:30] that also means-
Mark Sisson: What good is that?
Daniel: We are pattern-fitting wrong info a pretty significant amount. I’m with you on the need to be cautious on the interpretation of the data. Fact check the data. Get enough assurance on the sensitivity specificity before treating, and then make sure it’s really the right treatment. Now you’re also saying something which is very important, which is how do I feel?
This is one of these interesting ones for me because there are some people who [00:56:00] are in late stage pathology that is asymptomatic, meaning that the first time they get a headache and go check it out, the brain tumor has already been growing for years. Had I done the right blood markers, I would have seen a sign of it a long time ahead of time. I see, well before people are symptomatic, I’ll see inflammatory markers or autoimmune antibodies that can prevent that illness expression, and yet there’s also times where everything in the blood chemistry [00:56:30] looks good, but they feel off. I really like being able to factor both of them.
Mark Sisson: Yeah.
Daniel: Would you say that with an err on the side of paying attention to how you feel first? That’s also how you’d relate to it?
Mark Sisson: Yeah. I mean, I agree. Look. I mean, certain amounts of blood work, I’ve had my CRP at 11. Who knows why? I had a cold a few days earlier, whatever. If you [00:57:00] treat that as, “Oh, my God. Your CRP is 11,” CRP is all over the place from one day to the next, so some of these blood markers, I’m staying with a friend who’s very interested in his blood work. He’s very knowledgeable about it. It’s a hobby to get his blood work done and change his diet. He had a total cholesterol of 142. He wasn’t eat meat for a while, an HDL of 50. Now he goes and gets … After Thanksgiving, he does a couple weeks of … He eats healthy all the time. He just ate some [00:57:30] turkey. His total cholesterol was 245, and his HDL was 38. It’s like, “Okay. Is that in the same person?” How do you even make adjustments based on that? If you’ve tumor markers in your body, there’s some action that needs to be taken there, but if you’re just-
A classic example is people come to me, and they say, “Oh, I thought I felt great, but then I went to my doctor, and he said, [00:58:00] ‘Your thyroid is on the low end of normal.” I go, “What does that mean?” “Maybe we should start looking at that.” Now the person starts feeling bad, even though they felt great. They weren’t cold. They weren’t losing their hair. They weren’t gaining weight, and they felt great, and yet the doctor said, “Your thyroid is on the low end of normal.” All of a sudden, all the bells go off. “What does that mean? I’m going to die?”
Look, if you feel good, and your thyroid is the low end of normal, you win the lottery. You’re going to live longer than anybody else because a low thyroid that’s otherwise asymptomatic [00:58:30] is typically indicative of an engine that is revving really, really quietly and low and is going to live a long time. I can go on and on about how you can interpret these different numbers from one person to the next, from one system to the next, from one doctor to the next. I get up in arms when I see physicians start prescribing. Like the classic is, “Your cholesterol is 202. We’re going to put you on a statin.”
Daniel: [00:59:00] Yeah, we don’t even need to talk about that.
Mark Sisson: It doesn’t matter that your HDL is 75. “Your cholesterol is over 200. We’re going to put you on a statin.” Anyway, so there’s a time and a place for all this stuff, for sure. I’m interested to see what the next generation of wearable tech and measuring devices come from, but for now, I am not convinced. I’m not.
Daniel: I hear you.
Mark Sisson: I’ve tried a bunch of sleep monitors, one of which said, for three nights in a row I got 0 [00:59:30] deep sleep, and I woke up feeling great, so whatever.
Daniel: When we compare the at-home sleep monitors to real sleep lab polysomnography, the accuracy is low enough that I don’t think people really can make good decisions based off of them without really careful interpretation of what it means. The no deep sleep, I see that all the time, where people’s different device will say it.
Okay, so I’m curious about things like [01:00:00] say you had your rotator cuff shoulder dynamic. The physical therapy for you and maybe taking collagen and Vitamin C was enough. Awesome. Sometimes that is enough. Sometimes there is a type of structural injury where that doesn’t end up being enough, and surgery is always a shitty option if it’s preventable. Staying broken is shitty and a possibility, so then when you start looking at things like stem cell injections or PRP or BPC-157, where you’re [01:00:30] not saying, “Your body is broken. We’re going to override it.” You’re saying, “These are ways we can actually support the body doing its thing.” It’s kind of philosophically different, right?
Mark Sisson: Yeah.
Daniel: Are those interesting to you?
Mark Sisson: They’re interesting to me. The stem cell thing is still suspect to me. I still am not convinced that a local injection of stem cells is going to not manifest itself in something untoward in other parts of the body, so I’m going to reserve judgment on that. The [01:01:00] PRP, I’ve had people. One of my friends in Malibu is a top PRP guy, and he’s had great success and not success in some cases, but he’s had enough successful outcomes that I think it’s probably worth doing. I think it’s worth doing if you supplement with collagen. In other words, because you’re going to prompt the body to make some changes and make some repairs that it otherwise would not be inclined to do because you’ve really pushed the [01:01:30] envelope, you better provide the raw materials that it’s going to require to do that work, right?
Daniel: Yeah. I appreciate the time that you’ve spent with us. If people want to learn more, they can go to Mark’s Daily Apple. They can go to Primal Blueprint. If they really want to dive in and learn more about ancestral health because we only started talking about diet, we didn’t talk about movement. You probably have as much on movement as you do on food and on sleep and [01:02:00] on lighting and on mindset. Would you say as far as books go, Primal Blueprint is the best starting place?
Mark Sisson: Yeah. That’s really the master work, and we just updated it two years ago. It’s now a 500-page book. It’s got a lot of good stuff in there.
Daniel: Yeah, awesome. We will put the link to that in the show notes. I haven’t read it in full, but I did look through it, and there was a lot of awesome information in there. I liked the way you put it together and specifically, I liked your focus on that [01:02:30] this shouldn’t be grueling. What was your phrase? Minimize suffering, pain, and struggles?
Mark Sisson: Well, it’s the least amount of pain, suffering and sacrifice. The greatest benefits with the least amount of pain, suffering, and sacrifice.
Daniel: Yeah, so I think that’s pretty easy for everybody to want to get on board with.
Mark Sisson: Cool.
Daniel: Thank you for your time, and thank you for all of the work that you’ve done in advancing this space and knowledge.
Mark Sisson: Thanks for having me.
Daniel: All right, appreciate [01:03:00] it. Take care.