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Health Effects of the Carnivore Diet

Dr. Paul Saladino1 trained at the University of Arizona with a focus on integrative medicine. He completed his residency in psychiatry at the University of Washington in 2019, and is a certified functional medicine practitioner through the Institute for Functional Medicine. In this interview, Saladino discusses the surprising benefits of the carnivore diet, especially for those struggling with autoimmune disease.

Initially, I was skeptical of the carnivore diet, but once I listened to Saladino’s detailed analysis and justification for this approach, I changed my position and believe it is appropriate for a large number of individuals.

While at the time of this interview, Saladino was still a resident-in-training, he’s developed profound expertise in this area by attending medical school twice, and diving deep into the medical literature.

“I graduated from college in 1999. I went to the College of William and Mary, studied chemistry and biology and did a whole bunch of molecular biology research there. My dad’s a doctor, so I [was] steeped in medicine throughout my pre-career years and throughout my childhood …

I’ve always been interested in the way that health and disease affected quality of life and the way that food affected the way that I felt as a human being,” Saladino says.

“I’ve been an athlete for most of my life, running and backcountry skiing and climbing mountains and so on. I was always kind of tuned into connections between food and health and disease. But when I got out of college … I took six years off and just spent the time in the mountains, exploring and adventuring.

Perhaps I already had this sort of seed within me of just questioning norms and asking interesting questions or being very curious. But that time certainly fed that. I hiked the Pacific Crest Trail … 2,700 miles. I climbed mountains throughout the Pacific Northwest, the Rockies in Colorado. I got into mountaineering and backcountry skiing. 

Eventually, I realized that I really loved biology. I was really curious about some of these health questions. I wanted to go back to school. My dad is … an internist, an incredible man who spent so much of his life caring for patients. But I also saw him spend a lot of time working and not a lot of time being able to achieve balance and real self-work …

I went to physician assistant (PA) school at the George Washington University, and then started working in cardiology with a group of cardiologists in Bend, Oregon. Cardiology originally was a good fit for me because I thought I was a runner at the time … This is what maybe is unique about my training … I went to medical school twice.”

Looking for the root of disease

A PA can be likened to an accelerated shortcut to being a physician. They have nearly identical practicing privileges, although a PA works under the authority of a supervising physician. 

So, Saladino went through two years of basic clinical science twice, which helps explain his deep understanding and appreciation of the biological sciences. He admits that while his initial interest was primarily determining the benefits and drawbacks of various drug treatments, he quickly developed an interest in understanding the actual root of disease.

“I wanted to know how to change the course of a disease, how to get to the root cause of the disease. I know this is what you’re fascinated by too. It unites a lot of us in these fields. It’s, ‘What is causing a disease?’ This is the most interesting question to me and medicine. 

That birthed my second career in medicine … Because I realized very quickly into my career as a PA that I was going to want to go back to medical school to get an M.D., to get a doctoral degree, to continue my training, to have the ability to practice as a physician, and to do that practice from a perspective of someone looking for root causes of diseases. 

That’s really been my focus. I ended up working as a PA in cardiology for four years. At that point, I went back to medical school at the University of Arizona in Tucson, which has a pretty strong history of integrative medicine … They have the Center for Integrative Medicine there …

As I looked at medicine differently, food seemed to be such a huge part. The things that we are putting into our body really seem to be a big part of what created health and disease …

Right now, I’m in my last month of my four years of residency at the University of Washington. I’ve got one month left to finish residency. But it was really the first seven years of my medical training after being a PA that kind of set the stage for this next sort of exploration, curiosity, realization for me … 

I had this incredible privilege to see medicine through the eyes of someone who had been in the trenches. I thought, ‘OK. Now I’m learning medicine again. What is going on here?’ Every time I learned something, I thought, ‘What is the root cause here? What is going on?’ 

What happened for me was this constant kind of disappointment, this constant sort of struggle realizing, ‘The pharmaceuticals are incredible, but they’re not treating the root cause. People don’t often get better’ … I was looking for tools that worked … I had the suspicion that it was diet. What I’m learning is that there may be an ideal diet for everyone, or it might be individualized. It might be some of both in there.”

The carnivore diet

When Saladino discovered the carnivore diet, he’d already been contemplating ancestral norms and evolutionary ideas, asking questions such as: “Where have humans come from? How do we eat? What is the most congruent way of eating for humans that is going to give us optimal health?” 

He admits the idea of the carnivore diet is “super radical.” He first heard of the carnivore diet from Jordan Peterson on a Joe Rogan podcast.2 He talked about his daughter Mikhaila, who had a bad case of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA), which is an autoimmune inflammatory disease. 

She had multiple joint replacements at a young age, which crippled her. “She discovered this way of eating only animal meat,” Saladino says, and over time, her symptoms improved.

“In medicine, we talk about case reports. I love case reports because I want to see how things actually work at a real level,” Saladino says. “It was so striking to me that someone like Mikhaila could essentially reverse and completely heal from JRA and then the depression that was connected with it, probably because of the concomitant immunologic and inflammatory mechanisms with this radical dietary change. 

I thought, ‘That is really striking. I want to study that.’ Then Jordan Peterson talks about the fact that he had anxiety and sleep apnea and other issues himself. They improved when he started eating an animal-based diet.”

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