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#21 – More Game Changers Movie: Kresser vs. Wilks Rogan Debate, Harvard Nutrition Studies, B12 Supplements, The Bioavailability of Plant Proteins and More with Dr. Aaron Gardner

Food that plays a role in nutrigenomics

Since our last Game Changers Review show, Joe Rogan hosted a debate between the popular Paleo advocate Chris Kresser and the co-producer of the Game Changers film James Wilks. In this episode, we break down the Rogan debate and do a deep dive into an epidemiological nutrition study conducted at Harvard to show our audience “how the sausage is made.” From there, we touch on the plant vs. animal protein debates, B12 supplements and cancer risk, as well as the health benefits and challenges of Vegan diets more generally.

Listen on Google Play Music


This Episode Covers:

  • The death of epidemiology and how Harvard nutrition studies are conducted [10:45];
  • Breaking down a Walter Willet Harvard plant protein study [15:45];
  • The Vegan studies that weren’t (when plant forward data is passed off as Vegan data) [23:00];
  • Risk ratios and Forest plots [26:00];
  • John’s “THE SCIENCE” rant and nutrition flexers [33:00];
  • Hyper focusing on obscure biochemical processes that might not apply to you (BEWARE FLEXING)[38:00];
  • B12 discussion and the B vitamin cancer studies [43:00];


Joe Rogan: Now, if it’s reversed, 70% of these studies show there’s no increased risk of cancer.

Wilks: Or 84%.

Joe Rogan: Or 84%, which is…because you add in the decrease risk. We’re not even adding the decrease risk, which shows that you’re less likely to get cancer, which is almost the same as an increased risk of cancer, which, in my eyes, is a wash. You would assume that we’re talking about something that doesn’t give you cancer.

Kresser: Well, I mean, I agree that this study found that they couldn’t prove a causation, right? They couldn’t prove a link between cancer and…

Wilks: But you made it out like he was being deceptive.

Kresser: He’s being deceptive.

Joe Rogan: I don’t agree with that.

John: Welcome to the “Gene Food” podcast. I’m your host, John O’Connor. Hey, guys, today, we’re doing more game-changers for you. We’ve done an analysis of the plant-based documentary called “The Game Changers” produced by James Wilks and James Cameron, which is a film that tells the benefits of plant-based diets for athletes. And we did a review of the movie a few episodes back, which is one of our more popular episodes. We didn’t try to debunk the film because we don’t think that that’s really the tact to take with “The Game Changers.” But we did try to give people that have watched the film a little bit more nuance on the science and some commentary on some of the things that we think the film got right, as well as some of the things that we think the film got wrong. Since we did that episode, there was a debate on Joe Rogan between Chris Kresser, who’s a well-known paleo advocate and nutrition commentator, as well as James Wilks, who, as I mentioned, is the co-producer of the film. And they debated an episode that Chris Kresser had done previous with Joe Rogan that was set to “debunk” “The Game Changers.”

There’s a lot of new things that came up surrounding the film in that debate. We touch on a lot of them, including, what does some of these very hotly contested plant-based studies actually look like? We went in and analyzed and took apart one of the Harvard studies that they discussed in “The Game Changers” and give our listeners kind of an idea of what these epidemiological studies, what they actually look like, like how they’re conducted, what the scientists are doing, who they’re talking to, how they’re compiling data, what the levels of risk look like, and we walk through some of the other issues like B vitamins, the DS scoring, the amino acid bioavailability of plant versus animal protein. It was just more of a discussion of “The Game Changers,” putting a final touch on that whole conversation, so hope you enjoy it. Without further ado, here is Dr. Aaron, Head Geneticist at Gene Food, and we’re getting into all things “Game Changers” movie.

Okay, so, I guess, we’ll cut to the chase here, “Game Changers” follow-up podcast. I’ve been really excited to do this podcast. You were a little bit under the weather back in few weeks ago. We would have done it a little sooner, but it’s the follow-up on more discussion of “The Game Changers.” For people that didn’t listen to the first episode, we did a kind of an overarching, not a debunking, just a commentary on “The Game Changers” film. Aaron went into the science of some of the topics that were covered, tried to give some nuance to what, I think it’s still fair to say, is a fairly heavy-handed message from the movie.

And today, we’re going to cover some points we missed previous, and then also get into what I thought was just absolutely fascinating, which was the James Wilks versus Chris Kresser debate on “Joe Rogan.”

Dr. Aaron: It was an interesting podcast part one.

John: I mean, what were your initial impressions of the debate?

Dr. Aaron: So when I first watched it, you come away with the idea that basically criss-crosses of just being, you know, just being looked out. James Wilks just absolutely demolished him. But then unlike …

John: It’s funny for you to say that, too, because usually you’re so diplomatic and it’s true. I felt… Anyway, sorry, go ahead, go ahead.

Dr. Aaron: But then, on like rewatching it, you kind of realize that, yes, in like the form of a debate, I think he probably did. Yeah, Chris Kresser just came across as very flat. He wasn’t really up. He didn’t seem like he was up for a debate. But then, the actual point that James Wilks was making, the things that they were getting bogged down and you were sort of… Well, actually, you know, he’s basically landing these free blows and there was no come back, but he was not entirely honest himself either. A lot of the things that he was saying he could flip it right back around onto, you know, some of the vegan studies as well. So, I think it was possibly…on later listening, it was more…it was just an imbalanced discussion. You know, I feel like maybe a little bit of more moderation, or if it had been a discussion and it wasn’t just so combative, it might have been more interesting. But it was just so so combative between the two of them.

John: Yeah. And so, if you’re listening at home, and you’re like, “What are these guys talking about?” So, if you’ve clicked on this podcast, you’ve probably seen or at least heard of “The Game Changers.” It’s a movie that was done. James Wilks was one of the co-producers of “The Game Changers.” He’s a former UFC fighter. He won the ultimate fighter. As he’s mentioned many times, this is kind of an inside joke for those of you that listen to the Rogan debate, he’s a combatives instructor, not a nutrition expert, but a combatives instructor. But he’s a combatives instructor who knows how to read forest plots.

Dr. Aaron: Yeah.

John: Which is kind of interesting. But he, Joe Rogan, who pushes back against veganism and has more of a paleo outlook, he likes to have on people who are, let’s be…you know, he’s more of a paleo-friendly kind of, like, you know, low carb friendly forum on this podcast in terms of when he discusses nutrition. He has on Chris Kresser, who’s been a guest on his show many times, and he has a man to debunk “The Game Changers.” They didn’t do a review. They did a “debunking.” It’s a long episode.

And then, James Wilks, to his credit… I mean, it’s brave of both of these guys to go on and put themselves out there like that. And he says, “Well, let me have a debate with Chris Kresser. He supposedly debunked my film, I want to challenge some of the points that he made.” And what I see as having happened there is that I think that the plant-based community views Chris Kresser as a villain, which he’s really not. He’s a trained acupuncturist from Berkeley who’s very thoughtful, and generally pretty well-researched and well-prepared to discuss a lot of issues. I don’t always agree with him, but he’s a thoughtful, considerate guy. But they view him as a villain because he’s somebody that’s speaking out against plant-based diets. And I think that James Wilks was prepared by, I would imagine, a staff of at least a few people. And they really prepped him. What they first prepped him to do was just to discredit Chris Kresser. It seemed like that was what his goal was.

Dr. Aaron: Yeah, that’s what I might have taken home at the end after listening a couple of times. But it was more of a combative debate, I could say it’s sort of a takedown, as opposed to two people actually discussing things. And so, ultimately, you didn’t really get…you know, I imagine the people who support James Wilks on a vegan outlook, they’re gonna say he won. The people who support Chris Kresser and more like the paleo outlook, they’re gonna say, “Well, he was hard done by.” There’s no actual meeting in the middle. I don’t think anyone listened to that who already had their mind made up. It could’ve changed their mind based on what was discussed today. Like, you say, it was more of a takedown publicity sort of stunt.

John: Yeah. I mean, the first objective was to say, okay, you know, like when Dr. Khan debated Chris Kresser on “Joe Rogan,” he did not appeal to authority in his debates. And that’s because he’s a guy who is just a very…he’s just a very good guy. And he’s not looking to discredit somebody or make somebody, you know, feel bad or call somebody out or say why one person’s credentials are not as good as somebody else’s. I mean, Dr. Khan could have easily just come on that debate with Chris Kresser men, like, “Okay, well, you know, I have this medical pedigree, I was the highest-rated cardiology fellow ever in the history of University of Michigan Medical School, and I’ve treated thousands of patients and I’ve published in these journals and all that.” He didn’t do any of that. He stuck, he played it straight up and fair with Chris. And you just talked about, you know, quote, what they like to say always is like, “the science,” “the science.”

James Wilks took a different tact. He pointed out, which nobody ever really does, that Chris Kresser is a licensed acupuncturist. Look, I mean, I have a tremendous respect for acupuncture. I mean, I think good acupuncturists are excellent medical practitioners. But in this view of James Wilks, you know, an acupuncturist versus people at Harvard or, you know, more credentialed researchers, PhDs, scientists like yourself, he just doesn’t stand up and hold water. And I think what he tried to do initially is to say, “Look, here all these errors that you’ve made in terms of you don’t know how to read these studies. You’re only a licensed acupuncturist, you’ve admitted yourself you’re not a nutrition expert.” And he landed some major blows against Chris Kresser in terms of his credibility in that debate, I thought.

Dr. Aaron: Yeah. But then, like I was saying, you could turn those around. Like, you say, James Wilks isn’t a scientifically trained nutritionist, either. So, that’s why I was meaning that you could almost turn everything around back on James Wilks that was being landed. And I say that as someone who…you know, I’m a geneticist, I’m not a nutritionist. I’m a geneticist with an interest in nutrition, but I’m not trained in nutritionist either. I’m a scientist. I understand scientific papers, but I’m not a nutritionist. I’m coming from a different angle. So I fully subscribe to the fact that you should have lots of different people with different backgrounds coming together and try to work out something together, rather than just putting two people with different arguments in a room together and letting them bash chunks out of each other.

John: Yeah, I mean, it was very entertaining. I agree too and, you know, it’s a tough thing to navigate because you don’t have the defined background in nutrition. I don’t have a defined background in nutrition. I’m one of these citizen scientists like James Wilks. I’ve done, you know, quite a bit of…James Wilks likes to say he’s on a 1,000 hours, and now, 3,000 hours of reading peer-reviewed literature. You know, I’ve spent a lot of time reading, you know, literature and scientific publications and trying to inform myself. But hopefully, why you and I are both doing that is not to land like a knockout blow against somebody and say, “Okay, well, we just kicked your ass. And don’t tell us that the diet that you’re on is good for anyone, because, clearly, the scientific consensus says that you should be eating, you know, beans and rice every day and oatmeal for breakfast.” I think the idea is that that’s going to be something that’s probably going to fade into nutrition history as sort of an outdated way of looking at things, and we’re looking for ways that people can kind of succeed as individuals. Hopefully, not trying to debunk anybody.

Dr. Aaron: Definitely, I think it’s going to be that sort of the rise of personalized precision medicine and the sort of almost the death of epidemiology.

John: Ah, and that’s a perfect segue, the death of epidemiology, because that is probably the most controversial point between all these different groups. I don’t think we did as good of a job last episode with this as we could have as I listened back to the episode. And so, you know, one of the things that I thought was unfortunate that Chris Kresser did is he kind of forfeited his own experience with veganism and macrobiotic diet at the beginning of the debate. He said, “Well, my personal experience matters not at all.” And I couldn’t disagree more. I don’t think his personal experience is something that should be used to set nutrition policy. But the fact that he may have had issues when eating a macrobiotic diet, people coming forward with those stories, gives a catalyst for studying why they had issues with those diets rather than just these vague discussions constantly about, “If you had an issue with this vegan diet, well, you just did it wrong,” or, “You had some issue with mental health coming into the diet or you did a 25-day water fast.”

Vegans are very similar to the paleo camp in that they will never allow that somebody actually had a problem when going on one of these diets over a prolonged period of time. They just explained it away with, you know, basically user error. And the way that Wilks attacked Chris Kresser was to say, “Well, even when you did a vegan diet, and it didn’t work for you, why did you have the audacity not to follow the scientific consensus for eating this diet?” Which I thought was brazen. I was like, “What is he talking about?” He’s literally saying to Chris Kresser, “Why, when you went and ate a vegan diet, you didn’t eat according to the scientific consensus?” which is supposedly set by Walter Willett at Harvard with these epidemiological studies. What are epidemiological studies? For the person who has no exposure, what are they?

Dr. Aaron: So, an epidemiological study is basically a study of a large group of population. You basically record metrics. So, it might be things like people’s weight or, you know, biological markers, like those things coming out of blood, the cholesterol. Oftentimes, they’re done retrospectively. So this has never been done in the past and then someone comes up with a new question, they go back and analyze an old dataset. But the important point is that it’s just based on a whole population, and then trying to lump…you know, it’s basically try and make a single message out of that whole population. You’re kind of removing any of the variation in the population to try and get that mean, that average response out of that epidemiological study.

John: Right. And so, when James Wilks who…he did a great job. You know, I like both of these guys. I would really…you know, I think Wilks won the debate, but I like both of them. But when he says that he read 1,000 hours of peer-reviewed nutrition science, he’d spent a lot of time reading these epidemiological studies, meaning he’s reading studies that looked at over, Aaron just said, long periods of time using food frequency questionnaires, so they distribute a questionnaire to a group of people. And Aaron, correct me where I’m wrong, you know, whatever, chime in on this, but it’s like they distributed question near people at scale. And then they follow them over a period of years. And they rely on them to report this many portions of beans, this many portions of rice, this much red meat, I had this many cups of coffee, and then, they aggregate the data, and they look for trends within it.

Dr. Aaron: Yeah, so, I mean, there probably are some studies where, you know, unlike the general population, that’s going to be the only way they can do it because they want a big population. They want, you know, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of people. And so, you can’t go out and basically monitor in real-time what people are eating. So yeah, you have to rely on people’s record. There will be some smaller studies. You know, it’s often the ones involving people in, like, hospital environment where they will actually have a really detailed record of what they were actually fed because, you know, it’s part of the actual clinical process that they were following. But then, obviously, the side effects of those is that they’re in the hospital population. You’re looking at not a normal population. But yeah, that’s basically the idea. It relies on individual recall, which, as we know, can be a bit flighty. And then, the idea is to aggregate everything together and assign a trend to that whole population…

John: Based on one food input.

Dr. Aaron: Yeah.

John: So, we’re talking about these epidemiological studies. And like we mentioned, in the movie, there’s a very frequent referencing to Harvard, Walter Willett. And so, what we wanted to do for people that are interested, that are listening to this episode, so I presume they are interested, is literally say, “Okay, well, what does one of these studies look like?” So, we’ll take a couple of them. So, which one do you want to start with? I know you identified three Walter Willett studies. Go ahead.

Dr. Aaron: There’s the general one, the “Association of Animal and Plant Protein Intake With All-Cause and Cause-Specific Mortality” is quite a nice one to start with.

John: Okay. And we did a blog about that…

Dr. Aaron: Yeah.

John: …on the site, I believe. And so, nuts and bolts, like, how did he do that study? Like, how did he get his data? Who did he talk to? Did they use questionnaires? What did that look like?

Dr. Aaron: So, it’s a prospective cohort study of U.S. healthcare professionals. So basically, a prospective study means that it was going forward in time. It’s not that they’ve gone back to an old data set and started analyzing that data. They’re trying to take things forward in time. And it was 130,000 participants from the Nurses’ Health Study, which was a study that started in 1980 and carried on until 2012, so it’s a long, long period of time. And then, there was also a small followup study that carried on from ’86 to 2012 included in part of that.

And as part of this study, they basically looked at animal and plant protein intake. And this was assessed by, like you say, a food frequency questionnaire. And then from that, they’ve basically interpreted how much protein, you know, based on what people were saying, they sort of know as reference value, they will be able to assign an amount of protein intake to an individual based on that. But it’s not the actual precise amount of protein that they’re taking, you know. Just because you say you eat a hamburger, that can be, you know, lots of different sizes of hamburger, you can have lots of different sources to the protein intake, and it’s all based on the sort of average intake. And that was the setup of the study.

John: Right. So, it’s not like they’re saying, “Okay, we’re going to take 10,000 people, and they’re going to be vegan for 2 years, and we’re going to take 10,000 people and they’re going to be carnivore for 2 years, and then we’re going to take 10,000 people and they’re going to be paleo for 2 years.”

Dr. Aaron: No. So those like interventional studies would be the really the best thing to do. If we could take, you know, let’s say, 10,000 people who are sort of age, sex, health-matched, and say 5,000 of them are going to be vegan, 5,000 of them are going to follow the paleo diet. And then, we follow those for five years and we make sure that they are all staying on those diet, you know, as quickly as we can. And throughout that time point, we measure, you know, loads of physiological metrics, things like that, you know, general health, basically everything that we will be possibly interested in. That would be an absolutely perfect study, and would be the study that answered these questions. But unfortunately, I’ve tried to think how much something like that would cost to do because the amount of, you know, intervention that you would have. This epidemiological study, although it’s not great, it’s the best we can do, really.

John: Right. I mean, even commentators that I really trust, because I don’t see them as agenda-driven like Valter Longo at USC, who’s the head of longevity at USC. He did a lot of the work that we’ve talked about with these different amino acids, about how, you know, you want to keep your consumption of certain amino acids, especially amino acids that are found in animal flesh, little bit lower, in his view, because it stimulates IGF-1 and mTOR in the cancer pathways and some of these disease pathways. You know, he views epidemiology as one leg of the stool to evaluate. He doesn’t throw it out entirely, but it does need to be put in its proper context.

Dr. Aaron: He’s actually in this paper as well. Valter Longo and Willett are actually on this paper together, so…

John: Interest. That’s an all-star cast.

Dr. Aaron: Yeah.

John: That’s an all-star cast.

Dr. Aaron: And he had talked about epidemiology truths, all right? You know, my most recent paper is actually an epidemiological study for people with cystic fibrosis based on data that we’ve accumulated over time. And that’s the idea is, okay, it’s not the be-all and end-all. You don’t stop there. The findings that we have from that paper, we take forward into actual, like, intervention research, so we identify something that might be a risk factor. But then, the bit that you need to do to join the dots is to take that risk factor back and say, “Well, okay, how does this actually work at, like, the molecular level? You know, what is it that’s causing this effect? And then is there anything we can do to modulate that? Are there other people who make more risk or less risk based on the genetics map?” Epidemiology is like almost the first thing you want to do, and then you really dive in and try and individualize it.

John: So, you’re explaining this to us as somebody that actually performs high-level, professional, rigorous epidemiological studies, which is part of the reason we love having Dr. Aaron on the podcast because he’s a badass. He wouldn’t say it himself, so I’ll say it for him. So, all right. You have these food frequency questionnaires. They’re being administered to people prospectively. Now, you said Nurses’ Health. Now, Nurses’ Health was a study that had been running, I believe, to identify trends for breast cancer, specifically in women.

Dr. Aaron: Yep.

John: So, they basically go back to these people that have participated in that study already, because they had presumably their contact information, they were part of their system, I would think, right?

Dr. Aaron: As part of the study, they would have recorded their food intake. So it’s not that they’ve gone back and said to the people that they found, “Can you remember what you ate?” As they were going through that study, they were recording what they were eating, and then they’ve gone back now to analyze that data. But the data was recorded prospectively.

John: Meaning they were studying one thing for, like, a group of people, they were already studying them, and then they said, “Hey, we’re gonna add one additional layer of analysis to what we’re already studying.”

Dr. Aaron: Yes, basically, so these data sets just out there. And if you have a question on…you know, they’ve recorded what you’re interested in, and what you’re interested in coming out the other way, then you can just do a different analysis on it as well. So, they allow these studies. They build in extra stuff that they don’t necessarily need for that particular thing that they’re interested in, but they know that other researchers might be interested in in the future, because then, it can be used for multiple things.

John: Gotcha. And as a sidebar, you know, it’s funny. I have heard stuff on the internet, different commentaries, articles written about how some of these epidemiologic studies may actually improve over time because we have our smartphones.

Dr. Aaron: Yeah.

John: You know, so we can actually see data on a host of issues.

Dr. Aaron: So when I was saying about the end of epidemiology, that’s almost what I mean is that now there’s almost trial starting where people like today have a smartphone app. And it’s by one of these nutrition counters, so, you know, you don’t do a food diary at the end of the week. You basically tap in on your smartphone as you eat something. And then, maybe, you know, you weigh in every morning and it’s recorded in real-time. And it just gives the researchers this huge, huge data set. And then, once you get to that point, you almost are stepping away from epidemiology because it’s going to become so individualized.

John: You can basically do something that’s more reminiscent of a clinical study at scale using some of these Orwellian…

Dr. Aaron: Well, yeah, that’s the downside of that.

John: That’s the problem, right?

Dr. Aaron: Yeah.

John: So basically, when James Wilks is in the debate or anybody, it doesn’t matter how great they are. Like, some of these commentaries I really like, I find value in all different types of these commentaries. I try to allow myself to say, “Okay, well, here’s the border of where I’m going to listen to this person because the data that they’re so adamant about might not actually apply to me as an individual.” So, these guys are administering food frequency questionnaires, and then they say, “Okay, this group of people ate more plant protein, this group of people ate less plant protein.” But these are not strict vegan studies.

Dr. Aaron: No.

John: What happens in the plant-based community is they say, “Okay, there’s a study done at Harvard, bow down to Harvard, bow down to Harvard, Harvard knows more than you. You’re not really that smart. Look to the idol, you know, of Harvard.” And they did a study. And they found that eating less plant protein causes less disease than eating more animal protein. And so, therefore, you should be strictly vegan for the rest of your life. You should never eat a clam, you should never eat an oyster, you can never have a turkey leg at Thanksgiving, etc. Right? So it’s not vegan data. IRight? I mean, just…where I’m wrong, you tell me.

Dr. Aaron: No, you’re exactly right. So that’s basically getting lumped in as being a vegan study, but it’s not. These people may have a very low meat intake, but it’s not that they’re vegan, you know, on that strict definition of vegan. That’s definitely not balanced as far as I’m aware that no large epidemiological studies have looked at that.

John: Right. And then the flip side of that coin is, as you said, with Valter Longo and his work, I actually have respect for some of this epidemiology. I don’t have respect for it to the point where I’ll just never eat a piece of fish again or never have an oyster, but they do have a situation where Valter Longo, with some of his work on the inflammatory nature of these amino acids, has to a certain degree corroborated some of these findings. Because in this Walter Willett study, I think they effectively say that if you did not have a chronic illness, then reducing your consumption of animal protein offered you very little benefit. But that was only over a two-year period. And if you did have a chronic illness, then actually they saw a pretty good and pretty significant drop in all-cause mortality over a relatively short period of time by eating directionally more plant-based. Is that a good summation of…?

Dr. Aaron: Yeah, I think that’s a good way to summarize it. Yeah.

John: Do you have the percentages off the top of your head? Like, how significant was… But they saw no benefit for people that did not have a chronic illness, correct?

Dr. Aaron: Oh, I can’t remember the exact numbers off the top of my head. I guess they put the paper there in the abstract because I can’t remember them off the top of my head.

John: Okay.

Dr. Aaron: They were small, though, basically.

John: They were small. And what they like to do in “The Game Changers” is they like to say, “Well, you know, what they’re doing with me is exactly what they used to do with the cigarette industry, because now they’re just using celebrities to tell me with McDonald’s commercials and Burger King, same as they used to do for cigarettes.” But there’s a bit of a problem because, with cigarette smoking, I think the epidemiology of cigarette smoking showed, what, like 100 times, 100 times greater or 500 times greater risk for lung disease and lung cancer when you smoke cigarettes.

Dr. Aaron: The relative risk of smoking, you know, on your health compared to eating a vegan diet in orders of magnitude apart.

John: So, one of the big issues on this debate was interpreting forest plots, which I think is essentially waiting data and waiting evidence and seeing just how compelling evidence is in one side of the spectrum versus the other. So, talk about a risk ratio of, say, one or one and a half versus what you find in, you know, a cigarette study, which shows this overwhelming problem with smoking cigarettes.

Dr. Aaron: So risk ratios and hazard ratios are probably one of the most difficult things to try and explain because you have to try and understand the context that they’re presenting them in. Basically, in a study that’s using a forest plot, you’ll see these…we can put an example up on the podcast page, but you’ll see this basically a study. They’ll have a list of studies on the vertical axis, and then it will have, on the horizontal axis, it’ll have, like, huge numbers, and one will have a big line going up. It’s basically… A hazard ratio of one means that whatever you’re investigating has no different. So, if you were saying that plant-based diets are better than a meat-based heavy diet, if it had a hazard ratio of one, you’d basically be having absolutely no effect. It would say there was no different.

If the hazard ratio went positive, so you’re saying that, you know, you had a very, very strong effect of something like 10. Stop saying that eating a meat-based diet, in this case, would be very, very protective of your health. Whereas if you went the other way, and if you went to the negative side, then it’s the other way around, saying that a plant-based diet is protective for your general health. And then, basically, the further away you get from that one, the stronger the effect. But the other important bit is on these things. You’ll notice that there will be a single point for each study. That point is the sort of the average, the median points, but then you’ll also see the arrow bars coming out horizontally from it as well. And what that arrow bar is telling you how is much variation there was in the study. So, ideally, what you want to see is a small point very, very far away from that hazard ratio line of one, and then with a very, very small, you know, level of variation in it as well.

And when you look through a lot of the studies, none of them are actually really there. But consistently, in this particular paper, they consistently showed that it favors plant protein over animal protein. But, again, that’s not saying going to a vegan diet. That’s just saying that in plant protein, there was a consistent benefit for that. But it was quite a small, you know, benefit. We’re talking it going down to about 0.8, 0.9 compared to one, so it’s a very, very small beneficial increase in risk. And there’s many other things out there that have a more deleterious effect on your health.

John: I thought anything above one…we thought we wanted… Because this is just me, the dummy, like the layperson not understanding this.

Dr. Aaron: It depends how you ask the question. So, the hazard ratio can be…it can slip in either way.

John: I see. Okay, okay, yeah.

Dr. Aaron: Yeah. And that’s one of the important things, it’s basically to look at that and say, “Well, what question are they asking in the data first?” Because depending on how you ask it, you can say, “Is plant-based protein better than animal-based protein?” And then, your risks will show in one way, or you can flip it around and say, “Is animal protein better than plant-based protein?” And depending on which way you ask the question, the ratios would appear flipped.

John: Right. So, that’s a beautiful explanation of this. So, it’s basically, the forest plot is charting… Kind of like what we saw with the Bland-Altman plots for the ordering last episode. You’re showing the distribution of the different studies and where they show neutral risk, increased risk, decreased risk, and you’re kind of mapping out the data as it comes online.

Dr. Aaron: Yep. And then one really important thing to remember for this forest plot is that, you know, the things that are included in the study, they also need to… You know, when people are looking at what study to include in their data, they often go through a selection process. You know, so they say that, “I’m looking for this particular level of information. And if it doesn’t give me that, then I’m going to exclude it, or, you know, I will include this one, and I will give it a higher waiting to really understand those.” But you can’t really just look at them on their own. You need to understand the selection criteria that the authors have applied to them. And just, you know, because you could basically…I could go out and I could select a set of studies that I knew would show a particular effect, put those together in a forest plot and say, “Look, we’ve got this really strong effect.” But I’ve basically achieved that by ignoring everything else.

John: Right.

Dr. Aaron: So, in a well-controlled study, they will tell you exactly how they’ve done it, and they will tell you which studies that they’ve included or excluded. And then based on that, you can say, “Well, actually, that looks like a legitimate way of doing it.”

John: And that was a part of the problem that James Wilks mentioned, which was something that I actually learned from him, which I thought was interesting, was talking about meta-analyses is that… I guess, the way I started viewing the way he looks at meta-analyses, which are compilations of studies, is that you essentially have…just like with mortgage-backed securities, you know, in the financial meltdown, you had all these different mortgages that are bundled into a securitized product and then you can buy that product, but it’s a bond. So, there’s tranches of risk. So there’s like AAA bonds at the top, and then there’s like, you know, C bonds at the bottom, and C bondholders will feel the impact of the default before the AAA bondholders.

So within the same product, there’s different levels of trustworthiness for these mortgages. And I think the same thing is true for these meta-analyses, because we always say, “Well, this meta-analysis of studies showed that, you know, LDL cholesterol ratio of below 100 didn’t…dropping LDL below 100 didn’t reduce all-cause mortality.” But I guess there are, packaged within those meta-analyses, some studies that are good and some studies that are bad, which makes it that much more confusing trying to read any of this data. Do you see it that way in terms of meta-analyses that there’s going to be good stuff packaged in there and there’s gonna be bad stuff packaged in there?

Dr. Aaron: Yeah, and it kind of depends on how the authors have done it. So that’s partly why they will try and select the things they will come up with a third criterion and say, “Well, we think studies that were performed in this way.” So one of the…like, a really simple way is that they can say, “We don’t want to include studies that use retrospective food diary because we don’t think that’s an accurate way of recording, you know, food intake.” So, they could basically exclude any studies that had that, and they say, “We only want ones where people were recording this food prospectively.” And that’s a legitimate way of filtering out data. As long as they say that, that’s what they’ve done, they can filter that out and include it in the meta-analysis.

John: Right.

Dr. Aaron: And it’s basically yes, they’re trying to apply a set of criteria that they think are good to a paper. But, you know, another set of researchers somewhere else might not agree with that and could perform a similar method analysis, include different studies, and get a slightly different, well, you know, even sometimes quite significantly different response. So it’s to really understand that we need to know what’s in there, and just see if you agree with the ratings that the authors have used to get to that point.

John: Right. And so, when you’re sitting at home, and you’re listening to these debates, the sad irony of these conversations is, just to zoom out a little bit here, is that people are listening to these debates. They’re listening to, you know, somebody like Dean Ornish, or Chris Kresser, or Robb Wolf, or all these, you know, thoughtful, well-prepared, guys that are really digging in, really thinking about the data, they’re interpreting it differently. I think people oftentimes do develop biases. They’ve invested their whole career and, you know, going one way nutritionally, and so, they’re going to generally side with one way of interpreting the data versus another. But the problem is, if you’re sitting at home, and you’re thinking, “Well, this is going to impact how I’m going to eat?” No, no, no, not at all. I mean, look, it means you probably shouldn’t eat a carnivore diet, I’ll tell you that much. I mean, you probably don’t want to go sit down and eat like seven chicken breasts a day because you have this type of research by Walter Willett, which is saying that, “Look, in just a short two-year period, you did see a drop in all-cause mortality.”

Then you have Valter Longo who comes in and he says, “Also, these amino acids, when you put them at this quantity, are inflammatory, they can contribute to disease states.” So that’s what you’re talking about with the combination of epidemiology, which is an invitation to more science, that research thing corroborates the basic foundational principles of the epidemiology. And then, yeah, you can kind of directionally use some of that as a guidepost.

Now, I think most commentators agree that too much animal protein, too much protein, in general, is probably not a great idea for most aspects of your body. And if you are going to eat it, the best research seems to indicate that what you eat it with does matter, which is a point that Kresser brought up. But for Wilks to then turn around and say, “Well, how dare you, Chris Kresser, when you started eating your vegan diet, to not eat based on the scientific consensus, because of the fact that you strayed from, you know, the standards on the carbohydrate ratio or you didn’t eat the vegan diet that we say you should,” that to me was very unsettling because I think what that’s taking is it’s taking science, it’s misrepresenting it, and it’s using it to intimidate. And that’s what I see happening out there in the nutrition world right now is everybody’s flexing in everybody. So, you get on this podcast, I did my 1,000 hours…it was funny. Maybe, let’s say I’ve done 570 hours or 600 hours or whatever I’ve done, you know, like trying to get up to speed on some of these issues. The more I read, the more I know what I don’t know.

Dr. Aaron: Yep. That’s exactly it.

John: The more I read, I’m just like, I know…I feel like I just learned these huge dark spots of mine. I’m not like, “Oh, I read 700 hours of nutrition science, and I’m going to go tell everybody what they should do as a one-size-fits-all.” Far from it. It actually puts me in the exact opposite direction. And yet everybody’s flexing in everybody. Everybody’s saying that… And the phrase that I really would like stamped out of the vocabulary of these conversations is, well, you know, candidly, I’ve probably used this phrase myself on this podcast like 72 times, but I’ll try not to, and hopefully, I’m not using it like in this exact way. But it’s like, “The science, the science, the science, well, the science says this, the science says this, the science.” It’s like, “Stop saying that. Stop saying, “The science says this.” Don’t say that, because guess what? The science does not say that. What are you talking about? This has nothing to do with one individual, how they should eat. It has nothing to do with it. What are you talking about? Stop. Stop, please. If you’re listening, small audience of our podcast, please don’t do that anymore. Stop flexing on people all the time, you know, right? Like, okay, I don’t know, sorry, I’m having like a moment here.

Dr. Aaron: No, I definitely agree. I mean, the thing we’re talking about science is that you could almost certainly find… When things are so small, the effects, you know, things are having, it becomes easy to find a… You know, you could come with a study that shows one thing, I could come with a study that finds the other thing. And that’s what you see when the effects are small because, you know, some people respond well, some people won’t respond well, and you just don’t get… Like, when you lump everyone together, you don’t get that individual variation. And then, obviously, there are some things where you see massive effects which are consistent to your [inaudible 00:37:14]. And, you know, those are very easy to study, but things like the…you know, working out the exact balance of your protein intake in an individual over a long period of time, there’s going to be so much variation in that, but it’s going to be very difficult to pick apart, you know, to come up with a best diet for everyone based on the science, because if you read the science, you could come up with any different diet that you want to really.

John: You also tend, when you’re doing this research, to hyper-focus on issues that you maybe shouldn’t hyper-focus on. Like, for me, when I started doing the research on omega-3 to omega-6 ratios, I was pretty hyper-focused for a minute there on arachidonic acid and how it stimulates certain immune system activity like cytokine activity and inflammatory activity. And what I didn’t completely understand until I had more opportunity to read and kind of explore, talk to you, talk to some other people, frankly, listen to some of the paleo community who are sort of like pro-arachidonic acid as an essential fatty acid that, you know, it’s necessary for different functions in the body. I kind of understood I was like, okay, you know, I had this hyper-focus on this one fatty acid, and I thought it was a bigger issue for more people than it is. I think when it is an issue, I think if you’re hyper-converting, you know, linoleic acid to arachidonic acid, as some people tend to do, especially as we’ve learned African-American populations, I also carry one of those markers, it can definitely become an issue. But that doesn’t mean that everybody needs to go out there and be afraid of arachidonic acid. And I think we all forget that we’re only looking at narrow little sections of this research. And then when we do that and we try to flex on it too hard, it sends people off on the wrong path.

Dr. Aaron: Yep, definitely. I mean, I know for a fact that I don’t do well on a low-carb, high-fat diet. At least I know I don’t do well on it. I’ve got blood metrics, which you talked about previously, which showed that that really increases my inflammatory state. But I could go out there, and I could find articles that would say, “Well, this diet is the ideal diet type for everyone.” And then it’s like, “Well, why is it not working for me?” But that’s because of my individual genetic and physiological makeup that it’s not working for me. It’s trying to take care of my individual level of my inflammation, and then fitting that in with all the research about.

John: That a great point. The difficult thing to do is to marry scientific research, which you’ve devoted your career to, which we’re interested in. In Gene Food, we want to have everything that we do be completely based and rooted in science. But for the people that are listening to us, I think another important message is, you know, Young talked about this. We have a quote from Young listed on our About page, you know, “The more law lays claim to universal validity, the less it does justice to the individual facts.”

Science should not replace your individual insights. You can still have individual insights. You can still come to a conclusion for yourself about something with your own body. You don’t need a peer-reviewed study to come to that conclusion. Let’s say you eat oats every morning, and it makes your stomach hurt, and you have indigestion, well, guess what? You’re not doing a good job digesting oats. You don’t need to go find a peer-reviewed study to tell you that, you know. And we’re just constantly just throwing studies back at each other.

One of the things that I wanted to throw out there is Fort Michilimackinac. Fort Michilimackinac is a fort on Mackinac Island in northern Michigan, and it is an old colonial fort. And there are guns on that fort trained into the Mackinac Strais, which is the body of water that you would take to get from the topmost…I’m from Michigan, the topmost point of the mitten, Michigan forms a mitten, to Mackinac Island.

The governor of Michigan has a governor’s mansion on Mackinac Island, and it’s a cool place. There’s no cars allowed, horse and buggy. There’s fudge. You know, go there, spend your tourist dollars in Michigan if you’re listening. But the analogy, back to these nutrition debates is, you know, somebody who’s flexing on somebody who really wants to show how much they know about biochemistry could make the equivalent of a Fort Michilimackinac argument and say, “Hey, don’t you know that there’s guns that are trained, there’s cannons that are trained on the Mackinac Straits? They’re not safe. You can’t take a boat across the Mackinac Straits.” Just like me with arachidonic acid. I could have been saying that to somebody who’s saying, “Oh, god, arachidonic acid.” Somebody could be having a perfectly balanced levels of arachidonic acid in their body. In other words, those guns aren’t firing. So when you’re listening to all these nutrition debates, whether it’s James Wilks with heme iron, or, you know, somebody else with some other input, it’s not that those guns fire universally. You need to find out whether those guns are firing on you and your own body.

You know, you could be making nutrition decisions right now based on a Fort Michilimackinac situation. You could go like, “Oh, god, somebody told me I need choline.” Well, your choline might be firing just fine. You know, those guns for most of us, frankly, right now for all of us, you can safely take the ferry across the Mackinac Straits to Mackinac Island and those guns are not going to fire on you. And yes, somebody that’s very smart about researching Michigan geography, AKA somebody who’s really smart about researching nutritional biochemistry could tell you all about those guns for an hour and then you might leave that podcast being like, “Oh, my god, those waters are so dangerous.” No, they’re not, they’re not firing, and they haven’t for hundreds of years. It’s a dormant colonial fort. You’re fine.

Dr. Aaron: That’s a good… I want to go visit now as well.

John: I really wanted to pull that one out. That’s a good one for you and your wife to go check out when you do your next U.S. trip.

Dr. Aaron: Next road trip, yeah.

John: Okay, so let’s… Well, that was the biggest tangent of the history of the “Gene Food” podcast, but I had to get that off my chest. I think the last couple of things that we wanted to talk about with this debate are… I mean, I thought Wilks definitely landed some blows on Kresser with the whole B vitamin discussion, for sure. I mean, what did you make of that?

Dr. Aaron: Yeah. So a while ago, we talked about, like, the different…you know, the way it’s differently in the U.S. and UK. And I had this sort of idyllic view that all UK cattle was grass-fed, you know, there was no supplementation at all, and then our beef, and it was just like a U.S. problem. And then, you actually sort of, you know, pointed me in the direction of your links, and I did a bit more digging on that. Well, actually, that’s not true. Even, you know, there’s a lot of factory farming happening in the UK, which don’t fit, and even our grass-fed beef that we have. A lot of that will be supplemented for things like vitamin B2, because even though it’s grass-fed, the quality of the grass and the sort of the hay and the grass that they’re eating isn’t as good as it used to be. And so, it’s definitely being supplemented.

But I think that doing more and more reading about B12, it doesn’t sound like a vegan, paleo, whatever diet issue. I think the takeaway from that is that we should all be supplementing with B12. It doesn’t matter what diet you’re following. I think we should all be supplementing with B12, probably quite a low level.

John: I was gonna say, what about the cancer? See, the thing that I think is interesting that never gets brought up in those conversations is, you know, because for the listeners at home who might not know we’re talking about. So, Chris Kresser said in the debate about what James Wilks had said in the movie, “The Game Changers,” that everything that he said about B12 was basically demonstrably false. And I understand where Kresser was coming from, because one of the things that “The Game Changers kind of does imply is that it used to be that we could just get all of our B12 from the dirt and, you know, the natural streams because it’s a byproduct of bacteria. But since there’s chlorine in the water and all these different things we’ve basically been ruining our environment, that B12 is less available and now we have to resort to other sources to get B12. And Kresser was denying that animals are supplemented with B12 because it kind of goes against his paleo arguments. But as you’ve just pointed out, it’s actually…it was a great point that Wilks made, which is that, like they’re supplementing these animals that are supposedly B12-rich with B12 themselves. So the takeaway that Rogan and everybody kind of agreed on without any caveats was, well, everybody should be taking a B12 supplement. But one of the things we’ve put in the blog is this issue of some of the studies that are out there looking at populations that had, I think, non-trivial increases in cancer risk when taking large doses of B12 and methylfolate over long periods of time. So, how do you square that?

Dr. Aaron: So, B12, I think, it’s about 0.5 milligrams. If you’re a smoker, it gives you a risk of four times increased risk of cancer, which if you think about the, you know, the relative risk that we were talking about with those plant-based diets where you’re talking about going down to, like, from 1 to now 0.9. Going from a one to four is quite significant increase.

John: Okay.

Dr. Aaron: Yeah, basically, it’s avoid high doses. So 0.55…I’m just looking at it now, 0.55 milligrams of B12 gives you a high risk if you smoke. There are risks, you know, that you can basically use to reduce it. So, a 0.4 milligram dose gives you about a 1.5 to twofold increase. But you can take significantly less than that. You know, we’re looking at things that maybe talking about, like, 0.05 milligrams per day doesn’t seem to necessarily increase your risk that could have of cancer, that could have, you know… It could basically improve your general health if you’re deficient in it. Overall, it’s gonna be your diet.

There were studies where even a high dose of B12, even without smoking, increased the risk. You know, smoking was the worst thing that you could do in conjunction with it. But you would also increase your risk by taking a high dose of B12 on its own, anyway. But the way to do it is if you want to supplement with it, if you’re talking about taking much, much smaller doses, then you’ll often find in your like off-the-shelf vitamin tablets and things like that.

John: Okay. So, at the end of the day, basically, it’s just another byproduct of the fact that our food system is really deteriorating.

Dr. Aaron: The really cool thing, and I kind of mentioned it on another podcast there. We’re talking about basically depletion of our whole food ecosystem. So, even if you’re a vegan, there’s this idea that you could get it by eating plants that hadn’t been washed. You know, that you would get your B12 that way. I don’t think that’s necessarily true, because our fields have been leached of the B12, and now, we know that our animals…you know, they’re eating less but if they’re not getting sufficient, so they’re being supplemented with B12.

It would be really interesting to see what happens if we go back to a more traditional type of agriculture, you know, less intensive, like in rotating crops, and things like that, basically going back to that organic ideal. Whether that starts to repair the damage that we’ve done to our soil, and then, based on that, maybe the animals need to be supplemented would B12. Maybe eating a vegan diet, in that case, you would actually be able to get sufficient B12 from just eating the plants that have been grown in that way.

I don’t think anyone’s really studied the effects of, like, organic farming on micronutrient levels and food over a longer period of time. But I think that will be really interesting. But at the moment, I think our food system is not up to scratch really.

John: I do, too. I mean, they just had a 60 minutes episode this last Sunday on pork farming, and how there’s just ramping antibiotic use, and how there’s just real problem. No one can get in to inspect four different levels of bacteria. That’s one of the things that we’ve talked about a couple of times. And I do not know the solution there, but it’s clear that there’s some major, major problem with the way that animal agriculture is being performed. I just think those industries are so powerful, that how are you going to ever change that? Right? It feels…although I think dairy consumption is going down, but it feels just…how do I put it?

Dr. Aaron: It’s not just animal consumption. You know, consumption with all these huge monoculture farms where basically everything is sprayed with herbicides, pesticides, soils never given a chance to recover. And they just keep pumping out the same crop over and over and over again. That’s not really any better either, but you’re not going to get good quality food that way.

John: So, again, that’s one that kind of goes above my figure. I guess you could just…I mean, grow your own food. I mean…

Dr. Aaron: Well, I think it’s just we talk about what you can do to improve your diet in the short term. And I think we’ve talked about it, go for the best quality that you can afford. You know, if you can afford to get organic food and eat. I know a lot of people can’t, but if you can afford to go that way, I think that’s going to have a beneficial effect on your health. And if you’re going to eat meat, eat the best quality meat that you can. You know, don’t eat your 20 burgers a week that you’ve got out of the freezer that you bought for $2 or something like that. If you’re going to eat a bit of beef, make it like a really good beef where you can actually trace the sort of the history of the animal and you can know that it was grown in this particular way, not have any antibiotics, like we talked about, things like that. Were there any sort of supplements it had that’s been described, and it’s minimal? And you can go for that type of food. That’s probably the best thing to ensure that the food that you’re eating is as rich in these micronutrients as possible.

John: Yeah. I mean, I remember had a few episodes back I had on Amy Keylan, [SP] who’s a doctor in Salt Lake City. And she was talking about how even they looked at the quality of the produce in terms of the micronutrient count in New York City, even organic in New York City produce, versus in other parts of the country, and it was lower in a lot of the essential micronutrients. That’s one I just…that’ll make your head spin as if you really just start trying to think how am I going to get really excellent quality food? And it seems like it’s becoming more and more difficult. You got to take real extreme ownership over it.

And one of the things that Wilks did talk about was kangaroo versus…kangaroo and elk. He kind of threw Joe Rogan a bone, and he was like, “Well, if you’re going to eat meat, there’s a study that shows that kangaroo meat, which would be the equivalent of elk, which is what Joe Rogan loves, is less inflammatory than eating some of these, you know, industrially raised meat,” which I thought was a…

Dr. Aaron: Yeah, yeah. He did know that the wild meat is probably going to have a better micronutrient profile than a lot of the [inaudible 00:51:34].

John: And I think that’s something that people…me as a consumer, I struggle with that. I think, you know, I really do make it a point to try to get as good of a quality products as I can. And then, sometimes, I really think to myself, it’s like…just because you can’t often see the difference. And you don’t have some ability to look and see like what the actual nutrient value is of the different foods. It makes you wonder, and that’s what I think gets you lazy. It’s helpful to talk to you like-minded people that kind of reinforce that it’s a good idea to really be careful about where you’re sourcing your food.

Dr. Aaron: I came across a really good example that we often talk about omega-3 intake, you know, can be beneficial for health and can improve your mood and things like that. And I was just reading an interesting study that was talking about the level in farm salmon compared to wild-caught salmon.

John: Oh, god.

Dr. Aaron: And in this spot salmon population omega-3 is way down. So you can say to someone, “You need to eat some oily fish to improve your omega-3 levels. You go out and buy that farmed salmon. You’re not getting the omega-3 and think that you probably should be or you think should be. That if went and caught some line-caught salmon from Alaska or somewhere, you know, in the North Sea in the UK, something like that, it’s just… Yeah, all food’s not equal, unfortunately, and we just need to take better notice of it and really understand what’s the history of the food that we’re eating.

John: Yeah, I mean, you just go to Whole Foods, like here in my neighborhood, or any of the vendor, any of the grocery stores. And the farmed salmon is often more popular, like I know a lot of people in my family, friends, they prefer the taste of farmed salmons, it’s little fattier. They’re used to the taste. It can taste good. But it’s incredible they look like different…I mean, the difference just in…to talk about what I just said before, you can’t see the difference. That’s one way where you can see the difference and visually just screaming at you. I mean, the sockeye salmon, you can see it’s this deep, rich kind of orangey-red like, and then the farmed salmon is this kind of like the pale, unhealthy looking, kind of almost gelatin. You could almost touch it, and it would kind of quiver at its surface kind of a thing, like it looks just so gross.

Dr. Aaron: Yeah.

John: That debate was like 3 hours and 40 minutes, so we’re not going to touch on all the points nor do I think we really want to. We’ve talked a lot about “Game Changers.” This is going to kind of end “The Game Changers” discussion on this episode. But one of the things that was…I think, that’s kind of a really big blowback for Chris Kresser, it was I believe what prompted Joe Rogan actually turn and ask him, “Yeah, what are your nutrition credentials?” He asked for an explanation. Like, what does masters level nutrition level training mean? And to me, that that was like a coup for James Wilks because it kind of took somebody who really…the host, Rogan, who really should have been pretty much the entire timeline on Chris Kresser’s side, which he was for the con debate, and kind of almost moved him over for the purposes of this debate into James Wilks’ camp, which I thought was kind of a not even like you said from a substantive angle in the debate, but just sort of like a personal dynamics that that was pretty bad for Kresser. But it was when they talked about this DS scoring. And Kresser didn’t know that the DS scoring is a way of looking at the bioavailability of amino acids, but it’s used in pigs, and it’s meant to be a measure for famine states to try to get presumably children in other countries who are malnourished, the proper nutrition at the optimal rate with the right types of foods.

Even though Kresser didn’t know that it was performed in pigs, and even though it’s supposed to be done to identify how to get people the best nutrition who are hungry, I thought that that was one…like, to your point, I still think Kresser had a great point, which is that there’s a variability in how these amino acids in these different foods, the bioavailability of the protein is very different. And Wilks won that but I don’t know how because I think he has the worst of that argument. What did you make of that?

Dr. Aaron: Yeah, I think it’s very well-accepted that the bioavailability of amino acids vary significantly, you know, between plant and animal-based products. I think you often see people saying they can’t get the correct amino acid intake by following a vegan diet, but I would say that’s not true, although you can. It would just be difficult. I think it’s much, much easier to get that amino acid intake from a more bioavailable form by eating meat. It’s much, much easier. So yeah, it was also…that sort of got caught up, but it’s quite well accepted that there’s not big variation.

John: Yeah, yeah. And within that variation, these types of conversations kind of give the message that, you know, you give 50 people these foods and they all absorb the exact same amount of the amino acids and they get the exact same building blocks for proteins and muscle on it. It’s just clearly not the case. I think, I talked about this last episode. They’ve done the alpha-linoleic acid tracer studies to see what percentage of the alpha-linolenic acid that they’ve given, which is a short-chain plant-based omega-3 fat. When they say that flax seeds have “omega-3,” it’s alpha-linoleic acid, and the body has to convert it into the long-chain. The good stuff like the EPA and the DHS that gets in the brain. When you’ve done these tracer studies, they’ve shown that the conversion is not uniform. It’s not even close. There’s a wide variety of the way that people will convert the short-chain to the long-chain omega-3 fats. And I’m sure…I don’t know if there’s a study that’s been done. I mean, I think the DS scoring is kind of the way that they’ve studied it. It’s like an animal way of studying it. I’m sure if you looked at 50 people, and you fed them a peanut butter sandwich like they talked about, you fed them beans, some of those people would get a ton of the amino acids from the beans, and some of them would get very few.

Dr. Aaron: I think that’s going to just be… It’s like to say the huge variation based on, you know, like the expression of transporter genes in the intestine, and basically other things like the gut microbiota, which we don’t talk about from a genetic angle, but that’s gonna impact on how plant protein, in particular, is going to be digested, you know, if you’re actually able to break down the plant matter to get those amino acids out.

But I guess the problem is that we can’t do these studies very easily in people. So there are things that the DS score is the one that replaced the CDAS [SP] score, so they’re the best ones that we have right now. And if you do follow those scores through, you can sort of see that animal products are a better source of protein, if that’s all you’re looking to get. If not better, a small concentrated source of the essential amino acid.

John: Yeah, more bioavailable. Wow. Okay, so that was…we did it. We went through the Wilks-Kresser debate. I was fired up on this one. I thought that was a fascinating debate, both from a substance standpoint and also just from the personal relationships that are involved in, like you said, stylistically between Wilks and Kresser. Clearly, Wilks got the better of the style and definitely one on style points. But I think the sad thing for me for Kresser is that he’s every bit up to the task of debating and holding his own against Wilks. It just, like, you said, it just seemed like he didn’t come ready to bring the same level of fire that Wilks kind of came into the room with, and I think that kind of doomed him.

Dr. Aaron: It’s shame that it was set up to be so combative as well, because I think, you know, almost feel like listening to two guys talking about it and saying “Oh, you know, good point, well, have you thought about this? Have you thought about that?” Would have been a more informative thing and more interesting, and possibly, would have allowed for a debate, whereas I feel like that a lot of the problem of deep-dive podcasts, when you have two conflicting people, as they like to say it, comes about point scoring, and it’s not about, you know, talking through, and try and reach, like, an agreement between two people. It’s about basically winning, and I don’t think that’s the right way to approach it.

John: It’s about flexing on people.

Dr. Aaron: Yeah.

John: That’s a big phrase I’m going to use a lot these years. Actually, Ray is sitting next to me here, sound engineer for the show. And he’s the one that kind of got this term into my brain of terms of, like, flexing. We were talking about some previous stuff we’ve done and, you know, people just come on, they want to flex. And we have enough of that with our political climate. I feel like out there today, I hate to kind of end on this sort of like trite, kind of Kumbaya type of a thing, but I’m just going to go ahead with it anyway, which is like, everybody out there is being programmed, I think, with our media to kind of like, dislike, and really villainize anybody that disagrees with them. It’s like Twitter algorithms, social media algorithms. And that’s one thing for politics. And it’s not healthy for politics, either, I don’t think, but it’s just kind of the way the politics is. But I think that culture is really bled into our food conversations. And the people that lose out, when they hear a flexing podcast or a flexing blog, are the people for whom the information that the flexor is giving, it doesn’t apply to them. So, you can have somebody out there telling you how great butter is for you. And guess what? For most people, you know, 60% of people, I don’t know, 57%, whatever the case, yes, butter is fine, it’s good for you.

But then, the people at home who don’t understand that it’s not good for them, and they’re having some bad stuff happen to them. It’s like that’s who loses out, are the people that are really at home in earnest trying to find solutions to some of these issues. Hopefully, we have somewhat of a…it’s an imperfect system, but still, I think a good system for giving people somewhat of a tool set for that. And hopefully, more and more of those types of…

Dr. Aaron: We’re going to become happy in 2020, I think.

John: Hippies in 2020? I mean, the thing that’s so funny is, man is, like, I’m already kind of like a quasi hippie. Like, I’m sort of like a… Like, I’m a hippie. I can definitely speak bro. Like I’m fluent in bro. But like, I’m really, my heart is…I’m really…I have really more of a hippie heart. So I think I’m already there but I’m going to drag you in there with me, I guess.

Dr. Aaron: No. I give more of a thoughtful vibe, but I think it would definitely improve [inaudible 01:01:40] around things like, well, like you say, everything, not just nutrition, like everything at the moment.

John: Yeah, there was a guy we had on our cannabis show we just did. He was basically advocating for putting CBD and cannabis in drinking water, really good quality. I mean, you know, you could…I don’t know the solution, but at the end of the day, let’s just…I don’t know, let’s cut back on the nutrition flexing in 2020. And let’s try to, I don’t know, let’s listen to each other, man.

Dr. Aaron: Yeah, sounds like a good plan.

John: Let’s have it be peaceful out there. All right, Aaron. Well, thanks for joining as always. Thanks for bearing with me there on some of those rants. I appreciate it, and we’re gonna do… Did you buy an ordering yet?

Dr. Aaron: No, no, I was gonna get one for Christmas. I just didn’t get around to it. Possibly a New Year purchase.

John: I’ll say, well, man, I’m actually more of a WHOOP Strap guy.

Dr: Aaron: Yeah, well, as you’re through that, and amongst the [inaudible 01:02:35], it’s about you found a different one. So, you know, I’m just using you as my guinea pig to see which one you recommend.

John: I like the WHOOP Strap a little bit better because the WHOOP Strap to me feels more like aspirational, and it feels more kind of like you have a challenge of like kind of getting your athletic performance up and then the sleep goes along with it. It doesn’t feel as much…the ordering to me it was like a bit of a verdict. Like, you wake up and it’s like verdicting you. It’s like dropping the gavel on your day every day. It’s like boom, readiness score. Whereas the WHOOP Strap feels like, “Okay, you have a project.” The project is to kind of get better aerobically, move more. I like it better. I’m probably also liking it, but I’m actually getting much better sleep data with it. But we can, also with that, we can form teams. So like me, you, Taylor, like, you know, Ray’s. We could all form like a WHOOP Strap team and kind of like…it’s like a weekend warrior athletic team. We can kind of see each other’s stuff and, kind of like motivate and stuff, which I think is kind of cool.

Dr. Aaron: I’ll try to think how badly my sleep score would be at the moment. But probably the bottom of that leave, if we had to leave.

John: I’m not so sure that we’d be able to, like, see everything about you. I just think it might be like movement, you could probably regulate it. Ray is sitting here saying his sleep score would be in the tank, too. I don’t know. Mine’s…I’m pretty caffeinated, too, right now and kind of tweaked out. I gotta get out of New York. I’m headed out to try to build up on the power curve here a little bit. But anyway, all that aside, thanks for joining. And we’ll see in future episodes, my friend.

Dr. Aaron: Hope to meet you soon.

John: All right, buddy. The “Gene Food” podcast is our attempt to synthesize the latest developments in the fields of genetics, nutrition, and medicine, and offer you practical tips and stories you can use in your own unique health journey. If you enjoy this podcast, you can find more information online at mygenefood.com.

John O'Connor

John O'Connor is the founder of Gene Food, host of the Gene Food Podcast and a health coach trained at Duke's Integrative Medicine Program. Read his full bio here.

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