180DegreeHealth, from the beginning, has been about two primary things:
- Slaying widely-held nutritional myths
- Figuring out what the hell is causing an accelerated increase in nearly all health problems worldwide over the past century, the last 40 years in particular, and determine how best to turn those trends “180 degrees.”
Admittedly, 180D has done a lot more of #1 than #2. In fact, because the pursuit of #2 attracted so many extreme health fanatics and disordered eaters, I felt obligated to mostly drop the latter and shout “EAT AN EFFING SLICE OF PIZZA AND RELAX” from the rooftops.
But it’s scary out there people. For example, in just 40 years, the Alzheimer’s rate in 75-85 year olds in North America increased by 4,000%. Many other inflammatory and degenerative diseases have seen increases nearly as scary in that time period. We can’t just give up because some of our failed extreme diet experiments didn’t work out. We’ve got to figure this out.
And so, I present to you today a really great lead about what might be causing all this, something that might possibly slay THE most sacred nutritional cow, and something that might have real potential to reverse the horrifying recent health trends.
Keep in mind, this is mostly just a theory. Most theories are completely wrong. A very few are even partially correct. I’m not 100% convinced about it, and you shouldn’t be either. You shouldn’t be 100% convinced about anything in science. Nothing is ever set in stone, and one new discovery can dramatically upend everything that has come before it.
What’s the theory?
The theory is that excess accumulation of Vitamin A in the body is the primary cause of body-wide inflammation. This inflammation is invoking an immune response, and the immune response itself is doing even more damage on top of it (via autoimmunity, basically).
Sounds pretty preposterous upon first glance. I mean, we’re talking about Vitamin A here. You know, the FIRST VITAMIN ever discovered. It’s a substance found in almost every food. The most common form of vitamin A is retinol, and is used on the eye, hence the name (retinol as in retina).
But it starts to sound a lot less preposterous when you think of it like this…
There has been a huge increase in most inflammatory and immune conditions over the last 40 years. So what changed significantly 40 years ago and continued to get worse?
Well, there’s the low-fat diet craze. There’s the switch to high fructose corn syrup. We started playing video games and using computers. We started using a hell of a lot more chemicals, additives, and flavor enhancers in food.
Those sound bad, and most pin the blame such things without needing to see much evidence, but there’s not really much of a theory that one can build about how those things cause such a tidal wave of inflammation and the immune system basically going apeshit to boot.
The increase in vitamin A consumption, however, is much more compelling. Right in line with the dramatic rise in illness was a dramatic rise in vitamin A consumption.
- Right around 1980 the U.S. started pumping supplemental vitamin A into milk, breakfast cereal, infant formula, margarine, and other foods. Other nations followed suit.
- The use of vitamin A-loaded multivitamins absolutely skyrocketed (over 50% of U.S. citizens take a vitamin A-laden multivitamin daily)
- The skin cancer scare started, and everyone began lathering themselves with sunscreen–rich in vitamin A palmitate.
- Acne creams chock full of vitamin A (I used to use prescription Retin-A) were squirted on every pimpled face, later followed by the notorious vitamin A-based Accutane
But that’s not all!
The consumption of foods rich in plant-sourced vitamin A (as carotenoids) went wild! Global tomato consumption more than doubled. Year-round fresh fruit and vegetable availability increased dramatically. The boon in healthy nutrition (attempts at it, at least) increased wildly. Fruit and vegetable juice consumption skyrocketed. I mean, hardly anyone knew what a smoothie was in 1980. In 2005 I heard a kid once say, “Who the hell eats a smoothie for breakfast?” The 2018 answer to that question is of course, “EVERYONE!”
And then of course there’s salads. And kale. KALE! Yes, humans have actually been trying to eat it for years now.
Okay, I think we can all agree that the consumption of vitamin A has gone way up over the past 40 years. Now, why the hell is that a bad thing?
So, certainly you’ve heard something along the lines of “taking too many vitamins can be bad.” Yeah, REAL bad. Vitamin A is by far the vitamin with the worst reputation when it comes to getting too much of it. The list of symptoms you can get from taking too much vitamin A is a mile long, and doesn’t sound very pleasant.
That’s an acute condition, and can be easily and quickly fixed by going back to relatively normal vitamin A consumption levels.
The theory put forward by Grant Genereux is that vitamin A, a fat soluble vitamin, is stored away in the liver. The liver does NOT have unlimited storage capacity for vitamin A, so when the liver becomes saturated with it, it gets stored as retinoic acid (a nasty, inflammation-inducing substance used for chemotherapy and acid peels and the like) all over the body–where it becomes a trigger for inflammation and a belligerent response from the immune system.
Once you reach that point of saturation, all of the vitamin A you ingest is a potent “poison.” Grant believes that the disease patterns seen worldwide, and the sudden rise, has all the markings of a poisoning, not of a degenerative disease process:
Does it not make some intuitive sense that whatever is causing these diseases; it just has to be something pervasive, yet subtle, in our environment? Something that is so obvious that it’s being ignored and overlooked. Something so little and almost trivial, that it’s never too much of a suspect. Something that is right under our noses. Something we’ve been told, and we assume, is good for us. Yet, it’s something that can have a profound, and devastating effect on the human body.
Additionally, once you understand that the root cause of the autoimmune diseases, and many of the mental health disorders, is a poisoning, you’ll understand why all the various drugs are utterly useless. Or maybe this vitamin A subclinical toxicity is not obvious? After all, this is a very subtle and tricky situation that develops slowly over a long period. It’s more or less documented to be hugely unlikely to happen on as wide a scale as it is. But it is happening, just with mostly small or subclinical amounts of this potential toxin accumulating in the wrong places in the human body.
Just to be clear here, this is not at all classic hypervitaminosis A. No, it’s far worse because the saturation levels are higher. I think it’s insidious Vitaminosis A. This is a very slow build up to near saturation and thereafter remaining in a state of chronic subtle overflow of what now becomes a toxin. This process is so well documented and clinically proven, that I think we can consider it to be an absolute fact. Earlier on I asked what could possibly cause the head to toe self-destruction of the human body that we see with the autoimmune diseases. Now we know; it’s actually a well-proven, and well-documented fact too. It’s retinoic acid.
How could a “vitamin” be causing all of this?
Well, in Grant’s second book, Poisoning for Profit, he does a pretty damn good job of breaking down the flaws in the original experiments that identified this substance as the very first “vitamin.” It may not actually be a vitamin at all, but simply a common toxic substance found in food that our livers normally keep under containment, and that our bodies have learned how to use over generations (for example, vitamin A is released from the liver to fight infections. It works since, you know, it’s poison!). As most of you nutrition nerds know, liver is by far the most concentrated source of vitamin A, and is considered by most nutritionists to be a superfood. (Cod liver oil has almost a religious following in circles like The Weston A. Price Foundation, but many have gotten burned by consuming too much of it. Like, literally burned.)
Grant also bought some gerbils and fed them a zero vitamin A diet with no ill effect. Quite the contrary. Awww, look at those cute lil’ fuckers! Reminds me of my two gerbils back in the day, which I named Koko B. Ware and Leapin’ Lanny Poffo, because I’m the awesomest at naming stuff.
Some frisky gerbils that outlived the supposed vitamin A deficient lab animals in experiments nearly 100 years ago is mildly reassuring at best though. What about humans?
Grant has been avoiding all sources of vitamin A 100% for nearly four years I believe. Still kicking. Still able to see. In fact, he reversed a mile-long laundry list of serious, debilitating health problems doing so (eczema, weight gain, and dementia most notably), and even had most of his gray hair turn back to brown in his 50’s.
The Andersen family has avoided vitamin A for 17 years as of this photo (parents aged 44 and 57 in the photo). Even the kids have hardly had a trace of vitamin A in their entire lives. Man, they’re really in rough shape! They have no eyes! :)
Vitamin A is supposed to be a key nutrient for skin health. Sorry lady, I want to see more of your skin. For science of course!
Note, Charlene “lizard skin” Andersen has noted her health problems (asthma, eczema, Lyme disease, and others) are rekindled by consuming liver, which she grew up eating frequently and having a strong affinity for.
Enough of that. Suffice it to say that there’s a LOT more to the vitamin A story.
While most will just assume that Grant healed himself of his problems by removing all allergens (since he whittled his diet down to just a few foods), or PUFA (he consumed hardly any in his diet as well)–or just flat out dismiss it because he’s an engineer so therefore couldn’t possibly know his ass from a hole in the wall–I assure you there is more here than that. Again, the theory shouldn’t sweep you off your feet and turn you into a zealot overnight. But it’s something to be open to.
As Grant states at the end of his first book, Extinguishing the Fires of Hell:
“However, even with all this evidence, I’m not asking you to simply believe that this theory is correct. I’m only asking you to believe that it is quite possible for it to be correct. Whether it is correct or not is still an open question. The responsible answer to that question is that we really don’t know just yet. The great part of this investigation is that you now have an opportunity to help prove it one way or the other. We need more evidence, and a lot more results to prove it correct or not. The quickest way to get that evidence is for more people to apply this simple little diet experiment and report their results. I wish I could say the results will be fast and easy, but they will not be. This process will take time. I expect somewhere around three to twelve months, or longer for most adults. Therefore, we need to be both patient and diligent. Additionally, we need to be very careful not to jump to conclusions. This is serious business, deadly serious business. Please don’t report false results. Don’t report wishful thinking. I’d view doing so to be completely amoral and regarded as fraudulent. Also, please report all results. Both failures and successes need to be reported. For eczema, psoriasis, lupus, and most other autoimmune diseases, please post both before and after pictures.”
So what should you do with this information?
Well, for starters I think it would be safer to avoid vitamin A-laden supplements, including cod liver oil, and fortified foods (milk and breakfast cereal being the worst), until we have more information. We need to be SURE that these things are beneficial and not harmful before consuming them willy nilly. Thanks but no thanks for not diligently doing your homework before implementing nation-wide dietary changes, government! (grumbles, feels slight remorse over burning that Ron Paul poster a few years back).
Also, like I have recommended since always, you should use shirts and hats as sunscreen, not white goop full of vitamin A. Vitamin A makes the skin super sensitive to sunlight. I stopped using it because I got tired of getting horribly burned in minutes when I forgot to put it on, even with a dark tan. As Grant points out in his book, slathering vitamin A cream on rodents causes skin cancer. Not an INCREASE in cancer rates. 100%. Every. Single. One. Even without sunlight.
That’s what you should do if you’re healthy. That will keep your vitamin A intake likely within the boundaries of what your liver can deal with, and hopefully you won’t run into long-term problems.
You should also keep your liver healthy and highly metabolically active. There are many factors involved in liver health and function, but a couple no brainers are preferentially opting for saturated fat over unsaturated fat (to help avoid fatty liver disease), and keep your metabolism high. The liver is among the most metabolically active tissues in the body, and its metabolic activity slows dramatically to lower metabolic rate when you are overstressed and/or undernourished (calorically). This is perhaps why stress and a lowered metabolism can cause autoimmune flareups, and interventions that raise metabolism and alleviate stress are so effective. For a while at least.
If you’re ill and overrun with an autoimmune disease or other inflammatory, supposedly “incurable” condition, well hell, give a Vitamin A-depleted diet a whirl. What have you got to lose, really? I think this “Villain A” theory is promising enough to explore.
How does one deplete themselves of vitamin A? Eating none of it for 7 months or so should do the trick, if Grant’s estimates are correct. The diet is brutally restrictive, limited mostly to grains (he used rice), white vegetables (think peeled white potatoes, turnips, celeriac, parsnips, jicama, cauliflower), beef, and raisins and grape juice. But it beats eating only beef, which seems to be all the rage these days when it comes to toppling autoimmune conditions and mental disorders.
Note, a diet of beef and water only contains no vitamin A. Coincidence? Decide for yourself.
And also reading through the lengthy and highly contentious thread on the Ray Peat forum about it HERE. Franko answers questions about it and debates with more energy than I could ever muster, so I would definitely check that out.
And of course read the comments here! I’m sure there will be at least a few hundred.