The intermittent reminder of just how misled and unaware the public is of basic nutritional principles that can save their lives is an encouragement to continue writing about them.
I spoke to an elderly woman whose husband’s Alzheimer’s has progressed to hallucinations and childlike cognition. She and her family are wealthy and have come together to support him, yet the “best care around” from medical doctors has been medication that apparently calms down the agitation that started when he got sick. In other words, the best that mainstream medicine has to offer for Alzheimer’s, even to the wealthy, is a tranquilizer as the brain continues to deteriorate.
The woman was shocked and excited when I told her about the possible aid of coconut oil for dementia patients. I informed her of the news story that circulated in 2012 about the neurologist, Dr. Mary Newport, who fed coconut oil to…
We have much to learn from older physiology textbooks. They are often a source of invaluable knowledge which has been lost/abandoned over the last decades of the 20th century.
A book such as McGavack’s The Thyroid, that provides traditional medical knowledge about thyroid physiology, can help to dispel some of the current dogmas about the thyroid.
– Ray Peat (TSH, temperature, pulse rate, and other indicators in hypothyroidism)
(In this short article, I pulled a few quotes regarding vitamin A from the aforementioned book.)
The relationship between Vitamin A and Thyroid
Vitamin A seems to have a very close, if nonlinear, relationship with thyroid function. When deficient, it will limit thyroid function, and in excess, it will suppress it. In the western world, vitamin A deficiencies are quite rare, in part because it is ubiquitous in our food supply, but also I think because the vast majority of the population has become hypothyroid over the last decades.
Quotes from McGavack (1951):
In experimental or clinical conditions associated with an increase in the amount of thyroid hormone, as, for instance, in thyrotoxicosis, there is simultaneously an increased need for vitamin A (Sure and Buchanan, 1937; Logaras and Drummond; 1938; Wegelin, 1939; Remington, Harris, and Smith, 1942; Mandelbaum, Candel, and Millman, 1942; Interrelations between thyroid function and vitamin metabolism, 1944).
Conversely, thyroidectomized animals apparently need less vitamin A than normal animals (Remington, Harris, and Smith, 1942; Drill, 1943; Wiese, Mehl, and Deuel, 1948).
A lack of vitamin A initially produces in experimental animals hypertrophy of the thyroid (Lipsett and Winzler, 1947), which if sufficiently long continued gives way to an atrophy that is usually more marked in the male than in the female.
In some respects the action of vitamin A and the thyroid hormone are mutually antagonistic. If vitamin A and thyroid substance are administered simultaneously, the ability of the thyroid hormone to raise the basal metabolic rate is markedly decreased.
…in hyperthyroidism there is a definite increase in the requirements for vitamins A, B, and C, which, if not met, will result in a relative deficiency.
Vitamin A seems to play fundamental roles, notably in steroidogenesis, and as thyroid function increases, so do the requirements of an individual for vitamin A and other nutrients. It’s quite possible that nowadays most people don’t require more vitamin A than they already get, in part since their requirements are probably very low because of their sluggish thyroid.
In hypothyroid states and in thyroidectomized animals the ability of the liver to convert carotene to vitamin A is decreased or lost (Drill and Truant, 1947a, b; Kelley and Day, 1948), and the capacity of the liver for the storage and mobilization of this vitamin is disturbed.
The well-known ability of thyroxin to mobilize glycogen from within the liver can be modified of even checked completely by the use of vitamin A. Wegelin (1939) believes that this is due to a storing effect of vitamin A.
In summary, it would seem that hypothyroidism and thyroidectomy interfere with the conversion of carotene to vitamin A, decrease storage in the liver, and reduce the requirements for this vitamin, but do not interfere with its utilization. On the other hand, when there is an excess of thyroid hormone, as in thyrotoxicosis, the requirements for vitamin A is increased (…)
A big meal of beef liver (which contains A LOT of retinol) can suppress thyroid function, but at the same time it can probably have a synergistic effect if the requirements of the individual eating it are elevated. So context matters greatly. A glass of fresh carrot juice can be energizing and replenishing for someone with optimal thyroid function, but it can further suppress metabolism in many people. If a low thyroid state is maintained for years against a western diet, there is the possibility that vitamin A could accumulate in the liver and tissues and cause problems. The overarching idea is that nuance and context are important. I think vitamin A is absolutely essential for truly optimal human health, but it is probably necessary to think of it in relation to thyroid function.
As was mentioned in the previous article, Grant Genereux has written extensively on the topic of the ”toxicity” of vitamin A, and has, at the very least, managed to seriously question its ”essentiality”. (https://ggenereux.blog)
From my perspective, it seems that much of the toxic effects attributed to vitamin A are really caused by the polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs). It is well known that the accumulation of PUFAs increases the need for vitamin E, which prevents their oxidation. I think this relative deficiency of vitamin E induced by the presence of the PUFAs simultaneously renders vitamin A susceptible to oxidation. Here is an audio excerpt from a Ray Peat interview where he expands on this idea of vitamin A toxicity (start around 3:08 for the most immediately relevant section):
‘’At a certain very high level, vitamin A autocatalyzes, it stimulates its own oxidation and degradation. And the symptoms of vitamin A poisoning become similar to vitamin A deficiency. Both of those are prevented by adding vitamin E which prevents the breakdown.’’ – Ray Peat
Expending on this idea, there is a particularly enlightening section in Ray’s The problem of Alzheimer’s disease as a clue to immortality – Part 2 article on his website (1):
Vitamin A’s true nature is frankly, still poorly understood. But there is clearly some interaction at play with other compounds. Grant Genereux’s work is important because it questions the fundamental ideas about what a ”vitamin” really is, and clearly highlights that vitamin A is not always beneficial, and needs to be examined within a larger context. There are conflictual reports on the physiological roles of vitamin A, especially concerning steroid (hormonal) production. Some research articles have reported that it is necessary for the conversion of pregnenolone to progesterone (2), for example, while others suggest that vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is able to compensate for deficiencies of vitamin A. (3) There is probably a fundamentally important interaction between all the vitamins, but vitamin C has been known to ”spare vitamin E in tissues by regenerating alpha-tocopherol from its oxidation products”. (4) This may mean that vitamin C protects vitamin E which in turns protects vitamin A. Whew!
To reiterate, I suspect that vitamin A can accumulate in all the tissues, if for some reason it cannot be utilized in metabolic processes (i.e. low thyroid function). The accumulation of the PUFAs will destroy and therefore increase the need for vitamin E. For the same reason that cholesterol can become elevated when thyroid is low, vitamin A might start to accumulate and oxidize and lead to different pathologies, especially in a state of vitamin E deficiency. Therefore it seems reasonable to consider vitamin A within a broader relationship with the other nutrients like vitamin E, C, K and even minerals like zinc. (5)
Beyond this, there is evidence which points towards a basic, fundamental role for vitamin A, specifically at the level of mitochondrial energy production. (6) This will be explored in a future article.
Grant Genereux has written a couple books on the supposed toxicity of Vitamin A. His most recent, Poisoning for Profits, is a well written and researched piece arguing that vitamin A is a toxin, behind most auto-immune diseases. It’s become somewhat of a hot topic in the health/nutrition community over the past year. I don’t believe vitamin A is toxic, and I don’t think it’s helpful to look at it in isolation as the culprit in anything, but it’s important not to dismiss claims outright.
Danny Roddy discussed this ”trendy” topic of Vitamin A toxicity on a recent podcast. Here is a quote I pulled from the interview:
‘’I think that vitamin A has to be thought about in relationship to thyroid. (…) It’s a co-factor along with the LDL cholesterol for the steroid synthesis of pregnenolone, progesterone and DHEA. And so, I don’t think it’s a toxin (laughs), I think it’s a very strange (idea). But also, I don’t doubt that people restricting Vitamin A in their diets (get) improvements because if a person is hypo-metabolic, the extra vitamin A can be thyroid-suppressive. Again, if a person doesn’t have their thyroid figured out or functioning at higher rate, they might be just chronically suppressing their thyroid function with just eating liver or something like that. I do have a few references that say vitamin A is similar to the unsaturated fatty acids and Ray has expanded on the structure of vitamin A being unsaturated or something and closely aligning with lipid peroxidation which is one of the bad aspects about the PUFAs. And so again, I don’t doubt that limiting vitamin A has some therapeutic effect for people that are like profoundly low thyroid. My focus would be more on increasing the thyroid function, and maybe like the vitamin D as well rather than getting rid of vitamin A, which I think is a little bit strange.’’
So this quote is just a direct transcription of an informal discussion, but it touches on several of the key aspects of vitamin A. There is conflicting information about the true role of vitamin A, but several older articles seem to indicate that it is necessary to produce the most important hormones of the human body. However, taking large amounts of liver for example can have adverse effects. Most of the time it can increase the metabolic rate but when it is not needed it will suppress it. It’s noticeably helpful in summer, a higher amount seems needed, as Ray Peat has mentioned before:
“For several years, when I had an extremely high metabolic rate, I needed 100,000 (vitamin A) units per day during sunny weather to prevent acne and ingrown whiskers, but when I moved to a cloudy climate, suddenly that much was too much, and suppressed my thyroid. The average person is likely to be hypothyroid, and to need only 5,000 units per day.” (2)
This might explain why accutane has such drastic effects on acne but is nonetheless linked with more troublesome side-effects later on. Appropriate doses of vitamin A seem essential for an optimal metabolism, but excessive doses can bring on a variety of issues. Grant Genereux links autoimmune issues to a chronic and progressive ”poisoning” of tissues with vitamin A. I’m personally very skeptical of autoimmune problems as an umbrella term because it seems very trendy in the medical world these days. My preliminary understanding of this is that vitamin A can accumulate in the tissues if thyroid function is not adequate, which leads to a degenerative state with an impaired metabolism and suboptimal hormone production. Obviously there’s a lot more to it than that and I’m going to try to figure it out.
Figure 1: Steroid synthesis with vitamin A/thyroid (Ray Peat)
(1): Divine Superconductor Radio. 22. Sugar, Dairy and Metabolic Health
Surprisingly, there is a good deal of research showing real results for hair regrowth in men from a variety of approaches. Outside of the typical folk remedies and conventional drugs which are dangerous, it seems possible to regrow hair with a with localized therapies. Here are 5 applications with references.
1) Liquid caffeine solution. You can make your own formula using caffeine powder if you’re a chemist, but caffeine powder is surprisingly dangerous and there is an affordable product out there. (Alpecin Liquid). Just put it on your scalp after showering in the morning and leave it there, easy. It’s just as effective as minoxidil, without the negative effects.
2) Red light therapy.It’s good for just about everything. Check out Vladimir Heiskanen’s review for more general info. With respect to hair loss, it’s been shown to improve hair count in men with so-called Androgenetic Alopecia (AGA). Just buy a red light bulb (660-830nm) and shine it on your head a couple times a week, it’s good for a lot more things than just hair, including brain health.
3) Topical lard leads to significant hair regrowth. This one is a bit of a stretch as the sample size is n=1. But for people with diffuse hair loss, this is very inspiring. The study refers to actual lard. I see no reason to believe there is anything special about lard. Good lard is basically just saturated fat. If you want to make your own lard and lather it on your scalp, go ahead, but coconut oil is my recommendation. At the very least it’s an amazing topical: antibacterial, antifungal and hydrating to your scalp skin. Put it on your scalp at night and it will fully absorb.
4) Topical DHEA/Progesterone/Testosterone. A bit more advanced stuff but still easy. Protective hormones regrow hair, even testosterone! The androgens theory of hair loss is ridiculous, as even in the 1960s topical testosterone was shown to regrow hair on bald heads, which flies in the face of the modern theory. Since they are freely available are both precursors of testosterone, I recommend a combination of DHEA and Progesterone. I recommend Progest-E or Health Natura’s Progesterone. DHEA creams are available online. Maybe a good idea to use both and mix with the coconut oil before applying on your head at night for easier application. The dose isn’t too important, a little goes a long way.
5) Gentle scalp stretches. Just 4 minutes of scalp stretching daily increased hair thickness. The goal is to relieve muscle and tissue tension, which is a key characteristic of bald scalps. There are more involved massage therapies out there, including that of Rob S. English and detailed on his website (perfecthairhealth.com) Rob is a nice dude, and also has a boat load of testimonials and pictures of hair regrowth and is scientifically rigorous and courteous.
There’s a lot more to say about this and hair loss ultimately isn’t just a localized problem. It’s a serious sign of things going wrong. To quote Ray Peat:
Hair loss, like obesity or hypertension, should be taken seriously, as an indication of a systemic metabolic problem. The metabolism of the hair follicle contains clues to aging, tissue regeneration, and cancer. (September 2017)
The therapies above don’t really address the systemic causes of hair loss and other related metabolic diseases, but have been proven useful nonetheless.
(1)Dhurat et al. (2018). An Open-Label Randomized Multicenter Study Assessing the Noninferiority of a Caffeine-Based Topical Liquid 0.2% versus Minoxidil 5% Solution in Male Androgenetic Alopecia. Skin Pharmacol Physiol. 2018 Jan; 30(6): 298–305.
(2) Lanzafame (2013). The growth of human scalp hair mediated by visible red light laser and LED sources in males. Lasers Surg Med. 2013 Oct;45(8):487-95.
(3) Thangaraju et al. (2013). Beneficial effect of lard in Androgenetic Alopecia. J Rational Pharmacother Res. Vol 1 No. 3 July-Sep 2013
(4) Papa & Klingman (1965). Stimulation of Hair Growth by Topical Application of Androgens. JAMA. 1965;191(7):521-525
(5)Ogawa et al. (2016). Standardized Scalp Massage Results in Increased Hair Thickness by Inducing Stretching Forces to Dermal Papilla Cells in the Subcutaneous Tissue. Eplasty. 2016; 16: e8.
Key idea: Muscles are well equipped to oxidize fat, as opposed to other tissues, which absolutely need sugar to function.
Losing weight is not a mindless process of restricting calories. The hip approach for several decades already has been to ”burn fat”, but I don’t think there’s anything safe about that process of ketosis (restricting carbohydrates to shift to fat burning). (1)
Fasting is even worse, as Ray Peat put it so simply in a recent podcast, for most people, a fast is basically a ”100% pure PUFA diet”, simply because of our modern world, and the rampant use of these vegetable and seed oils in everything, our fat tissues are filled with these easily oxidized unsaturated fats and those become the fuel source whenever blood sugar drops. It’s a frightening thought when we think of how carbs and sugar have been demonized over the decades. Low sugar, high PUFA is one hell of a combo.
In a low-blood sugar state, cortisol proceeds to break down connective tissues for energy, and if your face has started sagging in the past few years, that’s a tell tale sign, as is accumulation of fat around the midsection, the classic high cortisol shape. Truly, one could say that from an evolutionary perspective, a low-blood sugar state is a state of stress, and an indicator of scarcity of resources, which prompts the accumulation of fat as a precautionary measure.
Simply put, a safe way to reduce weight is to get healthier, eat lots of easy-to-digest carbohydrates (fruits, simple sugar, honey, well cooked potatoes, white rice, etc.) raise your thyroid function and by extension rate of metabolism, eat saturated fats and slowly build muscles with easy exercise, while aiming to lose 1-2 pounds a week at the most. With a high rate of metabolism, your muscles will safely burn the excess fat at rest, while you keep on providing abundant energy (carbs) for your other tissues (i.e. brain).
The core issue with a vegan diet has to be the lack of easily digestible protein. This issue can be compounded by a reliance on commercial, packaged ‘vegan’ products.
However, a vegan diet is probably fine in a state of low stress. Say you’re a healthy adult who’s getting plenty of sun, and doesn’t have to deal with most stresses of modern life (high PUFAs, EMF pollution, darkness etc.). Then a vegan diet focusing on digestible foods (meaning: no raw vegetables or unsprouted grains) could potentially be doable. Such a diet would necessarily include cooked potatoes and tubers, coconut oil and milk, ripe fruits and juices, mushrooms, some cooked vegetables, rice, some sourdough bread, spices, honey etc.
The key remains the thyroid and how you’re able to produce energy to mitigate the stress of living. Protein is highly important in a state of illness or stress, but less so in a well functioning organism. Say your pulse is constantly above 80 and your body temperature is above 98 upon waking up. Then your thyroid is functioning efficiently.
The obvious problem is that very few of us live in a state of low-stress, especially after our 20s. High intake of protein in the form of gelatinous cuts of meats, offal, high quality milk and cheeses has been shown to be very protective against stressful situations (being especially recommended for soldiers in combat situations). Modern life activate the fight or flight response in most of us on a regular basis. Obviously fixing your environment and removing the stressors can be an invaluable step, but chronic exposure to several stressors, including mere thoughts (Why Zebras don’t get ulcers, Robert Sapolsky) can lead to chronic state of stress and a degradation of bodily functions, all of which is made obvious by a reduced rate of metabolism.
In Paul Pitchford’s Healing with Whole Foods, which is largely focused on the foundations of a fully vegan diet, the value of high quality protein such as goat milk, honey or even meat is recognized as invaluable in states of illness. Supplementing with thyroid hormone, (Cynomel and Cynoplus), focusing on limiting PUFAs and limiting stress can probably allow a vegan diet to be successful. But we cannot ignore the value of high-quality animal products in time of need. Children, in particular would benefit greatly from a higher protein content and of course breastfeeding. This would give them a great start on life.
As mentioned in the previous note, the main guidelines of eating according to Ray Peat’s ideas is to eat the foods which promote an optimal rate of metabolism (as indicated by body temperature and pulse which should tend towards 98.6F and 85 respectively)
Other important considerations involve a sufficient amount of protein (80-100g for most people), a high calcium to phosphate ratio, very low polyunsaturated fats (around 4g per 2000kcal), and limited starches and grains. Above all the foods must be easily digestible.
Grass-fed dairy (cheese, butter, milk), eggs, gelatinous cuts of meats and organs, along with shellfish are nutrient-rich and high protein foods. Dairy contains saturated fats and lots of calcium which helps with the Ca:P ratio. Shellfish (mussels, oysters, shrimps etc.) contains various trace minerals and vitamins and a good amount protein. Liver provides a lot of Vitamin A as Retinol (which can be readily used by the body).
It’s difficult to replace these foods. But there are still several foods/elements of a Peat-type diet which promote the metabolism and are vegan:
Ripe, juicy fruits and juices (Watermelon, OJ etc.)
There are many issues with trying to devise a vegan diet which can keep body temperature and pulse at an optimal level. However, I think there are possibilities. Beta-carotene, for example, is not converted to Vitamin A in an hypothyroid state, but when the thyroid functions well, it can be an adequate source. (McGavack, 1951) This can explain that how carrot juice seems to be helpful in some cases. It may offer a substitute for the vitamin A found in liver, provided the thyroid function is adequate (In fact, Max Gerson used thyroid supplementation along with carrot and other vegetable juices for cancer treatment.) Egg shells can be another valuable supplement to provide sufficient calcium in the absence of dairy.
That being said, it is important to recognize that high quality animal products can be extremely therapeutic, and that if you’re already in a state of illness and maladaptive stress, they can be necessary. Ray Peat has mentioned (From PMS to Menopause) that one of his first recommendations is to start supplementing with Progesterone to stop the degenerative effects of stress and illness, along with a high protein diet to stimulate the process of repair. There is a valuable section on the topic in Paul Pitchford’s seminal Healing with Whole Foods.
In one episode of Generative Energy (hosted by Danny Roddy on youtube), Ray Peat mentioned that high dosages of vitamin K2 (40-50mg a day) were quite effective at regulating blood pressure numbers over 1-2 weeks. This is especially important if your systolic/diastolic difference is quite large, like a 50-70 difference.
For the first time in my life, I’m getting consistent readings of around 150-70. So I will experiment with K2 and let’s see if it proves useful.
Experiment update: It does work, BP back to normal.
Note: Health Natura has a very potent k2 product. It’s impossible to get a therapeutic dose of k2 with the mcg doses found in common k2 supplements https://www.healthnatura.com/
I first heard of Vitamin B3 and its therapeutic effects from reading the works of Abram Hoffer (1917-2009). He’s quite famous in the field of orthomolecular medecine for his treatment of psychiatric disorders with nutritional therapy. (i.e. large doses of vitamins and minerals). Vitamin B3 seems to have a profound calming effect. Niacinamide is the preferred formulation for relief of anxiety, restlessnesss and any kind of stress really. A dosage of 3000 mg, divided in 250mg doses throughout the day, seems to be quite effective. (Cutting tablets works well here)
Therefore it’s not surprising that niacinamide would be so helpful for the wide range of conditions diagnosed as ”ADHD”. Not being able to focus on tasks and consistently switching from one thing to an other, stuck in the superficial, is not a recipe for rewarding and deep work. (To coin the phrase popularized by Cal Newport)
A therapeutic trial of niacinamide in multiple divided doses of 250-500 mg throughout the day for anywhere between 1000-3000mg per day is evidently very safe and could do wonders to increase productivity. As a treatment of overactive children, it would surely be safer than Ritalin or similar drugs. As always, start small and progressively increase the dosage until symptoms are gone.
Niacin (another form of B3) is also effective but causes an histamine flush on the skin that I don’t personally find comfortable at all. It is nonetheless harmless and the flush does goes away after a few days. Once reason to take Niacin instead of Niacinamide is that Niacin also offers powerful cholesterol-reducing benefits.