,The Dr. Kelley Story
Part 5: Stefansson, Red Meat and the Autonomic Nervous System
Dr. Gonzalez speaking:
Vilhjalmur Stefansson was one man I wish I could have met, but he's been dead for a while. Stefansson was an American who was trained at Harvard in anthropology. He got tired of hanging around Cambridge trying to decide what to do with his life and one day packed up and went up to the most remote regions of the Arctic Circle to study Eskimos. Up to that point, no white man had ever lived with the Eskimos. Now Stefansson did not believe in armchair anthropology. He lived with the Eskimos, he took an Eskimo wife, he studied their culture, their life-style, their hunting techniques, and he studied particularly their diet. Now the Eskimo diet stunned Stefansson. It shouldn't have when you think about it, when you think about what the Arctic Circle is really like, because the Eskimo diet is nothing except a meat diet. It's a two month summer which is not much of a summer. There are no fruits, no vegetables. There is no soil, just tundra. No vegetarian foods at all. All there are are lichens, and humans can't digest lichens. All there is is fatty red meat - caribou, seal, polar bear, whale, fish, salmon. There's nothing else. If humans were going to live up in the Arctic Circle, prior to all the junk food shipped in, all that was available was meat. All the Eskimos could eat was meat. Stefansson thought about this, because he knew enough biology to know at that time, it was believed that humans could not live on meat and even then believed that meat was one of the three great evils of humankind. So he looked at this very carefully, and he said, "Here is this whole group of people who are not only eating meat, but are thriving on it." And they were among the healthiest people that Stephenson had ever observed. They had no cancer, no heart disease, no diabetes, no obesity, they didn't even had a word for depression in their vocabulary because they didn't know what it was. They seemed to be universally happy people.
Stefansson discussed this diet with his biochemist friends at Harvard. It was determined that the all meat diet that the Eskimos were following was 80% saturated fat. Now there are Executives at the American Heart Society who would drop dead of a heart attack if you suggested a diet of 80% saturated fat. The normal American diet is about 30% - 40% and the American Heart Association recommends 20 - 30%. Here was a whole group of people thriving on a diet that's 80% saturated fat!
Stefansson spent ten years there, and when he came back to the U.S., he lived in New York. He wrote a series of ten books documenting his experiences. Several of those books specifically dealt with the Eskimo diet. When those particular books were published, dealing with the diet, a controversy erupted. It was deemed absolutely impossible that human beings could live on meat. Meat was ugly, unhealthy, caused heart disease, caused all kinds of toxic reactions. Stefansson was called a fraud. You know, logically, you think, what the heck were they going to live on? There is nothing else up in the Arctic Circle but meat anyway. But people didn't put two and two together. I guess they figured they had some magical source of vegetables and fruit but all they lived on were meats. This controversy raged for five years. There were front page articles in the New York Times. Because Stephenson was a very well known figure at that time. He was this wonderful romantic anthropologist who'd disappeared in the Arctic Circle for ten years and married an Eskimo, and the newspapers carried front page articles for years on this controversy about meat.
Finally Stefansson dared the New York City Medical Society. He said, "I'll go into a locked ward at Bellevue Hospital for a year and you feed me nothing but red meat. 80% saturated fat, I'll guarantee I'll come out healthier than I went in." The eminent Professor Tolstoy at my alma mater, Cornell University Medical College, said "Let's do it." So for a year, Stefansson lived in a locked room at Bellevue Hospital with one of his explorer colleagues, and the two of them lived on nothing but raw meat, 80% saturated fat. At the end of that experiment Stefansson's cholesterol levels had dropped several points. He was in excellent health, his weight had dropped, his triglycerides were virtually non-existent, and nobody could figure out what had happened. There were a series of about 15 articles in the medical journals discussing this experiment. About thirty people read those.
Even in those days, it didn't agree with what people wanted to believe. When Kelley read Stefansson's work, he said, “My wife isn't an Eskimo, why should she need to be on red meat?" He said, "I can understand an isolated group of people who need to be on red meat, living up in the Arctic Circle, but Suzy's not an Eskimo.” And then he thought and he thought and he thought, and he went back to the library. Being a genius is hard work, you have to keep going back to the library.
So he went back to library, and he realized that about 20,000 years ago there was an ice age. It came down to about to the level of New York City. Long Island is the terminal murrain for the last ice age, that's a pretty low latitude to come down. There are lots of people who are Europeans who essentially were living in Arctic-Circle -like conditions 20,000 years ago. If you're from Northern Europe, your ancestors had nothing to eat but large fatty animals, because the Arctic Circle was moved down several thousand miles, and the off-spring, many of us from European areas, are people who survived because they could utilize meats very efficiently.
His wife Suzy was of Northern European descent. Her ancestors, some 15,000 years ago, survived because, like the Eskimos, they could live on 80% saturated fat. And that's the diet Suzy thrives on today, even though she's not an Eskimo. So we have to think about geologic history when you make determinations about dietary selection.
Now Kelley had his two diets - his vegetarian diet and his meat diet. And very quickly he realized that there was a third category. Eventually he had ten subcategories, 90 variations of the sub-types, so it got very complicated. But he realized very quickly that there were three general categories of people. Vegetarian types - people who do very well with fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains, and do terribly with animal proteins. Carnivore types - people who do extremely well with meat, particularly fatty meat, red meat, beef, lamb, pork, some poultry, some fatty fish like swordfish, they always need fat, the carnivores do extremely well on fat. They enjoy other foods like root vegetables, and other certain vegetable products. But they do absolutely terrible if they eat salads. If you see somebody at a dinner table who you serve them a green salad and they gag, you can presume that genetically they're a carnivore, because their body is telling them that's not the right food for them. Diets for balanced people are somewhere in between. There again, three basic types. Kelley was a very observant man--now this was a very big observation, to realize that there are three types of people, general basic types, I mean three types of diet. Then he realized that each one of those types were susceptible to a particular type of cancer.
Kelley had a wonderful laboratory - it was his office, he was seeing thousands of patients with all types of cancer, so he had a wide patient base on which to base his observations. He noticed that the vegetarian types, the people who did well with the fruit, vegetable green diet, tended to get the hard tumors. These are the very traditional tumors of the lung, liver, the pancreas, the colon and the breast and the brain. Hard tumors. The carnivore types tended to get the blood tumors: the lymphomas, the leukemias, the melanoma. Melanoma, though its not a blood tumor, almost invariably occurred, in Kelley's observations, among people who did well on the meat diet. Balanced people were somewhere in between, somewhat susceptible to either the hard tumors or soft tumors.
Now Kelley thought and he thought and he thought, he said, "This is a particularly important observation, that certain types of people who do well on certain types of diets develop certain types of cancer and don't develop other types." And he wondered if there was anything physiological that might explain this, he said, "If I can figure out what it was, I might learn something fundamental about cancer." And he thought and he thought and he thought, and he observed and went through the records of all his thousands of patients, and he wondered if there were certain tendencies.
He noticed that there were certain vegetarian patients, there were certain qualities that seemed to be almost universally distinctive. These patients tended to have a fast pulse. They tended to need only a little bit of sleep, only four or five hours of sleep. They tended to be very irritable emotionally. They tended to do very well in the mornings, less well at night, they tended to have a very strong endocrine system.
The carnivores were the opposite. They tended to be a little more lethargic and laconic, and seemed to need about eight to ten hours of sleep. They did terribly in the morning because they didn't start waking up until about one or two in the afternoon. They tended to have a slow pulse, they tended to have very good digestion.
Balanced people were somewhere in between. Normal pulse, six to eight hours of sleep, did well at any time of day. He noticed that there were different psychological and physical and physiological correlates with each type, and he kept thinking and thinking and thinking about the possibility that if something biological could explain this, he might understand cancer a little bit better.
So he did what he always did, he went back to the library, and he learned about the work of Melvin Page. Now Dr. Melvin Page was an eccentric dentist who worked out of St. Petersburg Florida. Page, during the forties and fifties, like Kelley, had determined that different types of people need different diets. And his explanation was in autonomic physiology.
Now I'm not going to get technical, but the nervous system can be divided into two basic--we need to have a little background right here. The easiest way to divide it is into the conscious nervous system and the unconscious nervous system. Now the conscious nervous system is the nervous system you use when you to drive a car, do your crossword puzzle or a math problem. The unconscious nervous system is the nervous system that controls physiological processes about which we don't have to think: heart rate, secretion of enzymes, secretion of hormones, digestion processes. We don't have to think about digestion, we don't have to think when we digest food, it just happens, it is automatic. Traditionally, scientists thought that the unconscious processes-- the physiological processes of secretion, digestion and heart rate--were beyond conscious control. Of course, we know now through biofeedback experiences that this is not true, but in general it's a good useful dichotomy.
The unconscious nervous system in physiology is known as the autonomic nervous system. It in itself can be divided into two parts, the sympathetic and the parasympathetic. Again, I'm not going to get too technical but we have to know these terms. The sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous system tend to work in opposition. The sympathetic nervous system, for example, tends to speed up heart rate, the parasympathetic tends to turn it down. The sympathetic system tends to block secretion, pancreatic enzymes, the parasympathetic system tends to decrease them. The sympathetic system blocks parastalysis in the intestinal tract, the parasympathetic tends to decrease them. The sympathetic system tends to activate the endocrine system, the parasympathetic tends to turn it down. These two systems work in opposition, and every second of our lives to keep our physiology exactly where it should be, and to do the process that's necessary for that moment. Now Melvin Page suggested that there were certain people whose sympathetic nervous system was overly developed and overreactive. And in those people the parasympathetic nervous system was correspondingly weak. In other people, the parasympathetic system was strong, but the sympathetic system was weak. In the third group, the two systems were equally balanced. Kelley immediately recognized that these were his vegetarians, carnivores, and balanced people.
Vegetarians tend to have a very strong sympathetic nervous system and a very weak parasympathetic nervous system. Carnivores, the meat eaters, have a very strong parasympathetic system, but a very weak sympathetic system, and balanced people are somewhere in between.
So you may say, so what, it all sounds very fancy, it sounds like a science lecture. But, it really is important to understand this and how it relates to three important minerals. Calcium, magnesium and potassium.
In the vegetarian diets that a sympathetic system patients were loaded with potassium magnesium, these are very alkalinizing nutrients and we now know, through orthodox neurophysiology that potassium tends to stimulate the parasympathetic nerves and magnesium tends to block sympathetic function. So if you're dealing with a vegetarian who has a very strong sympathetic system and a weak parasympathetic system, a vegetarian diet would tend to tone down the strong system and build up the weak system and bring them into balance.
Meat is very acid forming. We'll talk about carnivores for a second. Meat tends to produce acids in the body, meat is loaded with sulfates and phosphates. In the body, as any second year medical student knows, sulphates and phosphates turn into sulphuric acid and phosphoric acid. There's an enormous load of free acid in a meat meal. Now this had been measured, and it's an extreme load on the body. The quickest way to acidify the bloodstream is to eat red meat. Red meat is very acidifying.
Kelley said, “what does that have to do with autonomic physiology?” We now know from studies in emergency rooms that sympathetic and parasympathetic function is very cued to the Ph balance. We know this from experiences with medical residents. I think of some experiences when I was a resident, the traditional therapy for a patient who walks in with a heart attack is to fill him up with calcium and fill them up with bi-carbon, you load him with bi-carbon, heart attack patients go into acidosis, acidosis does awful things, we thought, you've got block the acidosis and fill them up with bicarbonate. The only problem is, a lot of patients were dying from heart attacks. I can remember some from my own internship, patients were dying because we used too much bicarbonate. When you use too much bicarbonate, you turn off the sympathetic nervous system. This is the stress nervous system, the one system you want functioning in a period of stress like a heart attack, is the sympathetic nervous system. When you block its function, patients can go into fatal arrhythmias, fibrillation and can die within seconds. And it took thousands of patients to die from overzealous interns pushing bicarbonate before we realized that this was not an ideal therapy. You want the Ph slightly acid because if you get it too alkaline and the sympathetic turns off, and you can lose your patient.
This has been documented in the literature, and Kelley, even back in the sixties and seventies when he was doing his research, realized that rudimentary physiology was dependent on Ph. In an acid environment ,the sympathetic nervous system is turned on. Parasympathetic system turns off. Carnivores, remember, and I know it gets a little confusing sometimes, had a strong parasympathetic system and a weak sympathetic system. If you eat red meat, you stimulate the body acids, you stimulate the sympathetic system and turn down the parasympathetic system and you restore balance.
Kelley began to realize as he studied thousands of his patients that when he brought the autonomic nervous system into balance, which is what he was doing with his diet, the tumors would go away. It was that simple. When he tuned down the sympathetic system and brought up the parasympathetic system in a hard tumor patient, the tumor sometimes would go away in days. Similarly, if you have a patient with leukemia or lymphoma and you put them on a red meat diet, you acidify the blood stream and you're speeding up the sympathetic system and tuning down the parasympathetic system, and the tumors would go away. He saw this in his own practice. And then often he'd treat a patient for months and months and months and get no progress at all, and then one day the tumor starts shrinking as if it were melting away like an ice cube on a hot day. And he said, it's always autonomic physiology.