The Carnivore Diet for SIBO & Gut Health Issues: Yay or Nay?

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Written By

Lauryn

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Expert Reviewed By

Dr. Lauryn Lax, OTD, MS

Dr. Lauryn, OTD, MS is a doctor of occupational therapy, clinical nutritionists and functional medicine expert with 25 years of clinical and personal experience in healing from complex chronic health issues and helping others do the same.

Carnivore Diet - Egg, Fish, Beef, Pork, Chicken

Animal-based carnivore diets are so hot right now with many proclaimed benefits—from reducing inflammation to autoimmune disease remission, improved metabolic health and decreased bloating.

But is the carnivore diet really good for gut health and improving gut conditions like SIBO, leaky gut and constipation? Read on and you decide.

The Carnivore Diet & Gut Health Connection

What we eat impacts how we feel.

Eat Dorito’s, Cheerios and Big Macs and feel like Dorito’s, Cheerios and Big Macs (low energy).

Eat simple, clean, fresh, one-ingredient foods without a label (think: grass fed meats, wild-caught fish, fresh produce, etc.) and feel clean, fresh and alive.

Likewise, what we eat shapes our gut microbiome.

Studies show plant-based dieters have a completely different gut microbiome profile than meat-based eaters. Switch their diets and the gut dramatically changes in less than 3 days.

So, it’s no secret that a carnivorous, meat-based diet can alter your biome and effect your gut health.

In fact, the effects of the carnivore diet are a BIG reason why many folks report feeling “better” when they switch to a therapeutic animal-based diet. With dietary restriction comes less room for “error” to feed and foster whatever (if any) gut imbalances, yeast overgrowths or bacteria imbalances that were in the gut previously.

However, it is important to not confuse diet symptom relief with healing your root. There is a difference.

Gut problem relief and gut health improvement on a carnivore diet is often a sign that there is something “deeper” going on under the hood that the restrictive diet may be masking or attempting to correct.

The Most Common Gut Health Issues

Some of the most common general “gut health issues” that I see in my clinical practice  include:

  • Gut dysbiosis (especially insufficiency dysbiosis)
  • Leaky gut or metabolic endotoexmia
  • Candida and yeast overgrowth
  • SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth
  • Low stomach acid
  • Low digestive enzymes and pancreatic insufficiency
  • Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
  • Gallbladder congestion
  • Parasitic or bacterial infection

It’s safe to say that at least 1 in 2 people (if not more) have some sort of gut dysfunction, given that 60% of all Americans have a lifestyle and gut-health related chronic condition.

If you have any one of these gut issues, this may also explain why many carnivore dieters feel better when they transition to a carnivore diet, particularly considering that most bacteria and yeasts feast on carbs and plants as their preferred fuel source. In other words, it may not be broccoli or apples that are “causing” your issues, instead your underlying gut issues are exacerbated when you eat plant foods.

My client, Vanessa,  is a perfect example. 

The SIBO-Gut Imbalance-Carnivore Diet Conundrum: Vanessas Story

Vanessa, 55, was a Hollywood hairdresser who came to me with the chief complaints of bloating, constipation, insatiable sugar cravings, hormone imbalances and weight loss resistance—she could not lose the last 10-20 pounds for the life of her!

Over the past 20 years, she’d tried it all—clean eating, South Beach, Atkins’, low fat, paleo, vegan, vegetarian, keto. Nothing helped.

Until…she found carnivore through a popular podcast.

Smoothies and salads were quickly replaced by ribeyes and pate. Instead of batch cooked sweet potatoes, veggie chicken soups and her favorite paleo spaghetti squash casserole, she resorted to batch cooking chicken thighs and burger patties. And she threw out her ginger teas, greens powder and farmer’s market pecan butter. She was going all in!

Within 2 weeks, she was magically down 5 pounds, no bloating, no cravings. She was shocked. She walked by a plate of cookies on the movie set, and did not wince or think twice.  She felt satisfied, no brain fog and a renewed energy she had not felt in years. Obviously something was working…until it did not.

Fast forward 10 weeks in, and things began to go south. Vanessa went to her primary care doctor for her annual check up and came back with elevated Hashimoto’s antibodies, a high homocysteine and glucose level and a 600 total cholesterol— the highest cholesterol markers I’ve ever seen in a patient in my career to date.

On top of this, her weight loss had stalled, her energy was back to ground zero, and the bloating and constipation began to creep back in—especially if she ever even thought about eating something green or colorful.

She felt stuck. Perhaps like some of you.

The truth is, Vanessa was no longer benefitting from carnivore diet—something that helped her therapeutically relieve her symptoms of what was really going on under the hood.

She finally took my advice to run some gut microbiome testing that I’d been suggesting for over 6 months and low and behold…Vanessa had SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth), candida and SIFO (small intestinal fungal overgrowth) and significant dysbiosis (gut bacteria imbalance).

Combine all these together and these explained the real reasons why the carnivore diet was initially ‘helpful’ for improving her gut health, metabolic health and overall wellbeing.

The bottom line: Balance is king. 

While the carnivore diet can help many folks improve their gut health and “re-balance the gut” in multiple ways, a carnivore diet is really meant to be a therapeutic (ie. Short term) diet to help re-shape the gut biome.

If a restrictive diet (of any sort) goes on for too long, what was once a productive and healthful diet, can quickly turn non-productive, further disturbing gut health and gut bacteria balance if it goes on for too long.

In the remainder of this article, let’s briefly discuss 3 “pros” of the carnivore diet for gut health and 3 “cons” of the carnivore diet, and hopefully we can point you in the direction of gut health balance and the right diet approach that you need for your gut microbiome right now. 

3 Pros of the Carnivore Diet for Gut Health

#1. Relieves Bloating, Gas & Constipation

As aforementioned, the #1 food source of gut bacteria is carbohydrate—especially plants and prebiotic fibers.

However, if you have bacterial overgrowth or gut microbial imbalances, a “good thing” (carbs) can become a not-so-good-thing (hence why many carnivore adherents label plants as “toxins” to the body—they don’t feel good, the gut bacteria in these folks cannot digest plans optimally).

This is why the removal of plant foods can promote bloating, gas and constipation relief almost instantaneously.

An argument one may make about plants is that plants themselves are what cause dysbiosis. However, the research simply does not support this—at least if all other variables for a pristine gut are in place (ie. Good quality sleep, hydration, quality food sources—not sprayed by glyphosate or pumped with antibiotics, low environmental toxic exposures, etc.).

Also, on this note, there is a difference in cooking vs. raw foods and their impact on digestion. Raw veggies simply require more digestive fire and enzymes to break down—just like raw meat and cooked meat also digest differently in the body too. If you are ‘low on digestive fire’ (low stomach acid, low enzymes, eating too fast, etc.) from chronic stress, then of course your body is not going to digest certain foods—particularly raw vegetables and complex carbs—very well. Comparing raw vegetables to cooked vegetables is like comparing apples to oranges on how the body can digest these. No human was intended to eat a raw sweet potato (thankyou fire!). 

#2. Helps Mend a Leaky Gut 

Carnivore diets are rich in amino acids—proteins that are the building blocks of all our tissues, particularly intestinal tissue.

This is perhaps one of the biggest reasons why folks with autoimmune disease (known for leaky gut) tend to do so “well” on a carnivore based diet.

They are nurturing their leaky gut and giving the gut a break from overwork. 

#3. Calms Down Inflammation

Speaking of mending a leaky gut, some other common “benefits” that many carnivore dieters report have included:

  • Clearing up eczema
  • Sending Hashimoto’s and arthritis into remission
  • Improved sleep, mental clarity and energy
  • Reducing IBS and diarrhea
  • Kicking the constipation and bloat

All great things!

However, the reason why these are ‘mending’ in the first place? Something is changing (or being masked) in the gut microbiome.

If a carnivore diet with eczema eats carrots or spinach and instantly flares again, is it because carrots or spinach are toxins for everyone? Or is it because something in their gut or immune make up personally cannot tolerate carrots or spinach?

What would it be like to both use the carnivore diet therapeutically to relieve your ill health symptoms, while concurrently rebuilding the gut microbiome therapeutically with antimicrobial herbs, probiotics, prebiotics and digestive support aids to help it get back to baseline?

Failure to fully support the gut may be the reason why any cons exist for some folks on a carnivore diet who, like Vanessa earlier, end up regressing on the carnivore approach. 

3 Cons of the Carnivore Diet for Gut Health

#1. May Provoke Gut Dysbiosis, SIBO &/or Bloating

Simply put, diet restriction restricts and diminishes certain bacteria, while promoting and exacerbating others.

The best research models of the impacts of a restrictive diet on the gut microbiome is conducted in anorexia subjects—characterized by a Wild West of dieting tactics: keto, vegan, animal-based, low fat, low calorie, grapefruit-only, you name it!

98% of all eating disorder subjects develop a functional gut disorder—IBS, constipation, SIBO, enzyme insufficiency, etc. Likewise ARFID (avoidant restrictive food intake disorder) and orthorexia models share common gut “problems” due to their  restrictive eating habits.

Even more, research finds that the gut microbiome disturbance does NOT “normalize” even after weight gain and eating disorder recovery occur.

Bingo: the reason why restrictive diets “fail” to work long term (or keep you stuck on the same diet) is because the gut microbiome remains dysbiotic!

Although the carnivore diet is not technically an eating disorder, the parallels in cutting out entire food groups are oddly similar to disordered eating. 

#2. Fosters Metabolic Inflexibility

A key sign that the carnivore diet may not be the panacea you’re looking for is if, after a 30 day reset, you introduce real food carbohydrates and plants back into your diet and find your old symptoms (skin breakouts, autoimmune flares, gut issues) quickly return. Or worse, you discover that you’ve become even more intolerant to foods that previously never really bothered you (Beets? Chard? Carrots? White rice and sushi? Oh my!). This is called “metabolic inflexibility”—the inability of the gut to adapt to a wide variety of whole foods due to significant dysbiosis created from restrictive dieting.

Basically it works like this:

You restrict foods/ food groups

Change in metabolism (the utilization of energy) and digestion / decrease in gut microbiome

Temporary improvement in symptoms

Continue to restrict

Metabolism and digestion adapt as they are no longer “challenged” and exposed to a variety of foods/ depleted gut microbiome

Negative symptoms

Get off new diet

Old foods cause issues

The gut microbiome is designed to thrive upon a balance of all three macros—proteins, fats and fiber (ie. Carbs). Just like a plant needs water, soil and sunshine to survive and thrive, these needs are non-negotiable. While you can get carbs from a chicken breast or your body can extract fat from a steak, chicken and steak are primarily proteins, just like squash is a carb and avocado is a fat.

If we cannot handle (at least some) of these macronutrients from the pure source, then something is up with your gut, affecting your metabolism.

A great “test” of metabolic flexibility is the ability to tolerate a wide variety of foods without feeling “wrecked.” Food is NOT an enemy! 

#3. May Create Hormonal Imbalances 

Gut imbalances and hormone imbalances go hand-in-hand.

This is because a vast majority of your hormones are regulated and activated in the gut and digestive system.

For example, the “estrobolome” (estrogen balancing bacteria in your small intestine) plays a big role in breaking down excess estrogens as well as supplying the  body with essential estrogens for mood, fertility, immunity, bone health, mental clarity, energy and beyond. And a healthy gallbladder plays a big role in clearing excess xenoestrogens and endocrine disruptors to keep your thyroid happy and PMS symptoms at bay.

If your gut is a mess from restrictive dieting for too long however, you can guess what happens in the hormone department as well.

Anecdotally, I’ve found low carb diets seem to effect women more than men due to the impacts on thyroid and estrogen levels.  In fact, compared with age-matched men, premenopausal women with a normal menstrual history (normalized estrogen levels) have enhanced insulin sensitivity per pound of bodyweight (translation: women can handle carbs better than many men due to estrogen). Researchers speculate this is why Type 2 diabetes is less common in premenopausal women.

Moreover, studies in mice fed a ketogenic diet show that the guys experience a 40-50% reduction in their ability to metabolize carbs and a renewed preference for fatty acids; whereas the female mice still require carbs and don’t forget about it to feel optimal.

Translation: carbohydrates may be essential particularly for women to maintain hormone balance. Carnivore diets do not take this into account even if glucose (carb sugar) can be created from chicken and steak!

Thyroid hormones is also super sensitive to carbohydrate restriction, and thyroid levels may be decreased on a carnivore diet. This may be good for some folks (especially hose with thyroid autoimmunity) however, too little thyroid hormone comes with its own consequences as well. “Low T3 syndrome” (low active thyroid hormone) can result in a loss of period, reduced workout capacity and progress in the gym, lowered metabolism, less energy and increased anxiety. 

The Gut Love” Carnivore Diet: Sample Day of Eating 

What do you get when you take an animal based diet and pair it with a “gut centric” (fiber and color) approach? You get the Gut Love Carnivore Diet, of course—a blend of some of the easiest-to-digest plants and higher protein intake! 

Here’s a peak at what an animal based diet may look like with a healthy microbiome in mind.

PRE-BREAKFAST

16-20 oz warm lemon water

Celery juice (8-12 oz)

Desiccated liver capsules 

BREAKFAST

Gut Love shake: quality protein powder, filtered water, pecan butter/almond butter, pink sea salt, 1/2 green tipped banana, optional: dollop coconut yogurt or full fat Greek yogurt or colostrum powder 

LUNCH

Broth & Bowl: Chicken thighs or wild caught salmon with cooked veggies (soluble fibers: summer squash, carrots and beets, mushrooms, dark leafy greens) drizzled with extra virgin olive oil & sea salt, kimchi, cup of bone broth

DINNER

Protein, Greens & Color: Grass-fed beef (ground or steak), 1/2 avocado, sweet potatoes or winter squash, dark leafy greens sautéed in ghee, sea salt 

Summary

No one ever did a study showing that balance is a bad thing.

While the carnivore diet can help many folks improve their gut health and “re-balance the gut” in multiple ways, a carnivore diet is really meant to be a therapeutic (ie. Short term) diet to help re-shape the gut biome.

If a restrictive diet (of any sort) goes on for too long, what was once a productive and healthful diet, can quickly turn non-productive, further disturbing gut health and gut bacteria balance.

If you feel best with an animal-based diet approach, raise a glass (and perhaps add a side of greens with that).

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