Everyone will be familiar with the discomforting feeling that creeps across their body when an impending threat looms. That threat doesn’t have to be immediate or physical.
You don’t need to be wandering through the moonlit jungle when a rumbling growl cuts through the silence. You don’t need to be stepping on stage to give an eulogy for your neighbour in front of a hundred guests you’ve never met.
It could just as easily be a threat of an event in the distant future, such as the breakaway train of existential thoughts where you arrive at the horrifying conclusion that you’ll never be able to move away from your parents and get your own house.
As those thoughts begin their spiral into anarchy, the heart trips over itself, the breath quickens, the skin goes cold, and you’re left frustrated with the knowledge that it’s going to take at least an extra half hour to fall asleep.
These are feelings of anxiety, and for most, they’re just stock features of modern life. They’re transient, and most of the time, don’t overstay their welcome.
But for the unfortunate folk, anxiety is elevated from a passing feeling into a chronic disorder. That sense of impending dread is etched into your brain. Everything you do, and every reality you imagine, is weighed down by consequences. It can be immobilising, preventing you from making any progress because you’re wrapped up in those physical symptoms.
This is anxiety, the condition, and it’s approaching epidemic levels in the UK population. In 2013, there were a staggering 8.2 million cases of anxiety in the country. In any given week in England, 6 in 100 people will be diagnosed with general anxiety disorder. These aren’t rookie numbers, and with no sign of the recession ending anytime soon, they’ll only get worse.
What’s Causing The Anxiety Epidemic?
So why are we getting so anxious these days? On the face of it, it’s pretty straightforward. Times are tough. We’re getting hit with one calamity after another, and there’s a cost of living crisis doing the rounds. But while we certainly have had reasons to stress over the future, that doesn’t explain why we’re so vulnerable to it now.
As a species, we’ve been through far worse. The triggers aren’t modern phenomenons. Ill health, poverty, loneliness, trauma, they’ve been ever present since agriculture made its way onto the scene and destroyed the paleolithic paradise.
And I use the word paradise facetiously, because our hunter gatherer ancestors still had to contend with the threat of starvation and predators. Just not to the degree where that stress became chronically elevated.
Anyway, back to the world that followed the dawn of agriculture. It’s been stressful and miserable for the majority of people. That’s simply the nature of having a social hierarchy in place. But the fact that anxiety, like most mental disorders, has surged in the past few decades, suggests that we’re getting worse at defending ourselves against it.
Much like diabetes. Much like obesity. It’s not just mental health that’s been under assault. The entire metabolism is.
The Usual Band-aids
The treatments for anxiety are usually either psychotherapy and medications, or a mixture of the two. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is the gold-standard psychotherapy option, and it has been shown to be pretty effective, although there are no studies extending past the first 12 months. That being said, the founders of CBT borrowed their ideas of breaking negative patterns from stoic thought, and let’s just say I’m the biggest fan.
Unfortunately, while CBT has been shown to produce results, it is time intensive, requiring 1-2 hours of work every day, and doesn’t necessarily fix the underlying cause of anxiety. Meaning you could end up fighting an unending war of suppression.
Then there are the likes of antidepressants and beta-blockers, which can often be used to suppress the symptoms of anxiety. With the usual side effects of turning you into a vegetable.
The issue with medication as a treatment is that fighting symptoms often has little effect on treating the cause of those symptoms. It may sometimes be necessary in the short-term, just to keep your head above water and stop a breakdown in its tracks, but you’d be taking on a host of side effects for what could potentially be the rest of your life.
And that’s unfortunately how the healthcare system likes to run things. A patient cured is a customer lost. It’s much more lucrative to keep them as regular subscribers for whatever drugs their pharm buddies are trotting out.
There is a third potent treatment for anxiety. It’s not one you’d hear too much about, and it’s highly unlikely to be recommended by your local doctor. This treatment takes place further upstream to both psychotherapy and pharmaceutical interventions, striking right at the heart of the issue that is powering the epidemic.
Why The Culprit Is Metabolic Dysfunction
I’ve previously made the case that metabolic dysfunction is the driving force of modern disease, and that’s an umbrella with plenty of room for mental disorders like anxiety. To understand why, we’ll have to take a quick tour through biochemistry.
By metabolic dysfunction, I mean the mitochondria, because there’s no separating the two. The mitochondria aren’t just the powerhouses of the cell, they’re the master regulators of the metabolism. Unfortunately, mitochondrial DNA also happens to be more vulnerable to damage compared to our nuclear DNA, and that damage can lead to disorder and disease over time.
Damage comes in the form of reactive oxygen species (ROS), which is a completely natural mechanism that acts as a signal for the body to produce energy. When allowed to run rampant, ROS causes structural damage to the mitochondria through oxidative stress, which can ultimately result in metabolic dysfunction.
This means insulin resistance, energetic deficiencies, imbalanced hormones, and a whole lot of inflammation. The body is in a constant state of stress, with little capacity or breathing room for repairing damaged tissues.
In the case of anxiety, overexcitable mitochondria leads to a system that’s constantly on the precipice of fight and flight. That hyperactivity increases the generation of ROS, which spells more inflammation and more damage to the mitochondria. Damaged mitochondria then create more issues with energy production, leading to more ROS, ensuring that the wheel of metabolic destruction keeps turning.
Since the mitochondria hold the keys to cortisol production, and regulate brain function by supplying the energy needed for neurons, it makes sense as to why metabolic dysfunction either exacerbates or causes anxiety.
One study found that treating highly anxious mice with a mitochondria-specific antioxidant alleviated that anxiety. Now we could attempt to do the same with humans, but supplements tend to lack efficacy and demand side effects.
Fortunately, we have an alternative to psychotherapy and pharma, one that comes without the side effects, and one that treats the cause rather than the symptoms. We can heal the mitochondria, and thereby alleviate the anxiety that normally ensues.
The Carnivore Fix For Anxiety
Carnivore and keto do tend to get separated into their own respective diets, but they can actually be used interchangeably. Carnivore, by virtue of its ability to put you into a state of ketosis, is a ketogenic diet. It’s just the most potent version of keto, due to its absence of seed oils and plant toxins.
With nutritional ketosis, come an array of benefits specific to repairing and revitalising the mitochondria.
Reduces inflammation – Beta Hydroxybutyrate (BHB) is the primary ketone, and can act as the preferred fuel source for your gut bugs, while sending signals to turn down inflammation in the intestinal tract.
1. Increases antioxidative defences through mitohormesis
Hormesis is when you improve cellular function by inducing a moderate, but not extreme stress. Think of it like subjecting yourself to bouts of intense lifting, but for healthier mitochondria rather than bigger biceps.
Nutritional ketosis is a stressful state, and that’s what people often hold against it when claiming dangerous long-term consequences. But there is clear evidence that the stress of ketosis ultimately ends up improving the resilience of the mitochondria, by upregulating enzymatic pathways such as AMPK, PGC-1α, FOXO and NRF-2. All the classics that various longevity supplements claim to stimulate. Resveratrol, for example, works by activating NRF-2 and SIRT-1. So does ketosis, except this time you get to activate those pathways without risking DNA damage.
2. Increase energy efficiency
Excess ROS is often brought about by subjecting the electron transport chain (ETC) in the mitochondria to more energy than it can handle. Given that the biggest culprit tends to be the rapid supply of sugar, and that ketones themselves are more efficient as a source of fuel, a ketogenic diet would result in reduced oxidative stress compared to a high carb alternative.
3. Mitigates ROS through mitochondrial uncoupling
One major mechanism by which ketosis lowers ROS is through mitochondrial uncoupling, which involves electrons flowing back on the ETC, to be wasted as heat. This means less traffic along the ETC, and thereby less ROS production. As a sweet bonus, the body also increases the metabolic rate and accentuates lipolysis, making ketosis and saturated fat valuable tools for enhancing fat loss.
4. Adds more capacity through mitochondrial biogenesis
This is the holy grail of mitochondrial health and one of the best ways to arrest the incessant progress of ageing. Mitochondrial biogenesis is the creation of new mitochondria cells, and both ketosis and exercise are potent tools for activating that switch.
To sum all that biochemistry up, the state of nutritional ketosis upregulates antioxidative defences while increasing the function and number of mitochondria. Making it an undeniable force for combating the consequences of metabolic dysfunction, such as an anxiety disorder.
Beyond The Mitochondria
That’s not the end of the conveyor belt of carnivore’s many benefits, because alongside those mitochondrial perks, a carnivore diet provides more anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) effects that help mellow you out without depleting energy levels like an antidepressant would.
1. Improves the GABA to glutamate ratio
You can think of GABA as the brakes of the brain, and glutamate as the gas pedal. An anxious brain is going to be imbalanced in favour of glutamate, leading to hyperexcitability. Bringing balance to these neurotransmitters can therefore be critical to managing the symptoms of anxiety. Glutamate can be lowered by removing the sugar trigger, while ketones have been shown to increase GABA production.
This is what gives ketosis its mellow high, where you’re relaxed and content without sinking into a state of lethargy.
2. Eliminates inflammation created by sugar, seed oils, and plant toxins
Inflammation and oxidative stress often go interchangeably, but you can think of oxidative stress as one mechanism that can lead to a chronic state of inflammation, which puts you into that state of perpetual fight or flight. So you’ll want to limit or even purge foods that fuel that inflammation.
High blood sugar is toxic for the body, and it doesn’t take a lot of sugar to reach that point when you’re metabolically dysfunctional and glucose intolerant.
Seed oils increase oxidation by virtue of being rancid on arrival, but also include plenty of other toxic compounds such as HNEs, while high concentrations of Omega 6 are inherently inflammatory.
Plant toxins are a wide range of defence chemicals in the plant kingdom, each of which attempt to meddle with the system of predators in their own ways. Gluten, as a classic example, leads to leaky gut and thereby compromises the immune system.
A carnivore diet naturally omits all of these issues, thereby promoting an environment where the body can heal itself without having to constantly fend off new threats.
3. Alleviates gut dysbiosis
The gut-brain axis has built itself a solid reputation in recent years, especially with its effect on anxiety and depression. Gut dysfunction is often put forward as the cause of some mental disorders.
The theory here is that imbalances in microbiota populations in the gut lead to inflammatory cytokines being released, often penetrating the blood brain barrier. The presence of rogue molecules in the brain result in impaired brain function.
Unfortunately, while we have a potential mechanism on our hands, we don’t have solid proof that cytokines and company are necessarily the creators of an anxiety disorder. As a second, we also don’t quite know what to do about it. Probiotics are the classic solution that get promoted in biohacking circles, but they largely tend to be ineffective, and amount to a stab in the dark.
I’ve already made the case in a previous article that a carnivore diet is the ideal bedrock for healing a dysfunctional gut, since it provides a respite from inflammation, purges the bad bugs, and supplies the necessary components for repairing a fractured intestinal lining.
3. Provides the building blocks for antioxidants
There are plenty of plants and plant-derived compounds that get touted as the miracle antioxidant to help you stem the ageing process. But none of them have been proven to target the mitochondria, where the main battle is taking place. And their effect is miniscule compared to the potency of the body’s own antioxidants, glutathione and uric acid. Both of which are synthesised via ingredients available in abundance in the carnivore diet.
Will Carnivore Fix Your Anxiety?
None of this is to imply that diet itself is enough to conquer your anxiety disorder. There is still plenty of room, and need, to incorporate lifestyle habits and mindfulness practices that pull you away from the fire. But what carnivore can do, is build the platform that gives you the space and energy to commit to those techniques.
It quells the flames of oxidative stress and reinvigorates the mitochondria, which in turn play the decisive role in regulating healthy brain function. You’re going straight to the source of the stream that eventually turns into the torrent that makes you panic every time you think of your upcoming fitness test.
By healing the hyperactive mitochondria, you’re pulling away from the constant state of flight and flight. You’re simply going to be less inclined towards anxious thoughts, because the usual trigger is no longer there.
So fixing anxiety may not necessarily be as simple as eating steak on steak, but it could well be the catalyst for getting you to finally become the master of your own mind.
Mastering The Mind – Building The Apex Brain