Vitamin C

vitamin C

One of the most common questions people ask when they first hear about the all-meat diet is, “Where do you get your vitamin C?” Since a vitamin C deficiency leads to scurvy, a very serious and ultimately lethal illness, it is a perfectly understandable and legitimate line of inquiry.

None of the long term practitioners of an all-meat Zero Carb diet that I have interviewed take any supplemental vitamin C. None of these individuals have experienced any symptoms of vitamin C deficiency, even after 2-18 years of eating this way. If you wish to read the dietary details of some of these individuals, please see my page with links to all of the Zero Carb Interviews that I have published to date.

There appears to be an alternative biochemical pathway for preventing scurvy that occurs when one is eating a fat-burning ketogenic diet, as opposed to a sugar-burning glucogenic diet. While the mechanism of action is not entirely clear, it is considered to be an established fact. Dr. Stephen Phinney has speculated that the blood ketone beta-hydroxybutyrate may itself be the anti-scorbutic factor.

Vilhjalmur Stefansson, an anthropologist who lived with the native Inuit tribes of the Arctic and ate their traditional all-meat diet for almost a decade, agreed to spend a full year under the observation of physicians in Bellevue Hospital in New York in 1928-29 – eating nothing but meat – to prove that an all-meat diet was health-sustaining and capable of meeting all of the nutritional needs of the human body. His diet did not contain any dietary sources of vitamin C. He did not develop scurvy any other vitamin deficiency diseases during the course of the one year study. Here is a summary of the study results:

1. Two men (Stefansson was joined by Andersen,a colleague and friend, in the study) lived on an exclusive meat diet for 1 year and a third man for 10 days. The relative amounts of lean and fat, meat ingested were left to the instinctive choice of the individuals.
2. The protein content varied from 100 to 140 gm., the fat from  200 to 300 gm., the carbohydrate, derived entirely from the meat, from 7 to 12 gm., and the fuel value from 2000 to 3100 calories.
3. At the end of the year, the subjects were mentally alert, physically active, and showed no specific physical changes in any system of the body.
4. During the 1st week, all three men lost weight, due to a shift in the water content of the body while adjusting itself to the low carbohydrate diet. Thereafter, their weights remained practically constant.
5. In the prolonged test, the blood pressure of one man remained constant; the systolic pressure of the other decreased 20 mm. and the diastolic pressure remained uniform.
6. The control of the bowels was not disturbed while the subjects were on prescribed meat diet. In one instance, when the proportion of protein calories in the diet exceeded 40 per cent, a diarrhea developed.
7. Vitamin deficiencies did not appear.
8. The total acidity of the urine during the meat diet was increased to 2 or 3 times that of the acidity on mixed diets and acetonuria was present throughout the periods of exclusive meat.
9. Urine examinations, determinations of the nitrogenous constituents of the blood, and kidney function tests revealed no evidence of kidney damage.
10. While on the meat diet, the men metabolized foodstuffs with FA: G ratios between 1.9 and 3.0 and excreted from 0.4 to 7.2 gm. of acetone bodies per day.
11. In these trained subjects, the clinical observations and laboratory studies gave no evidence that any ill effects had occurred from the prolonged use of the exclusive meat diet.

For further details and a complete discussion of this very interesting clinical study, please see the paper “Prolonged Meat Diets with a Study of Kidney Function and Ketosis” by Walter McClellan and Eugene Du Bois, published on February 13, 1930 in The Journal of Biological Chemistry.

Stefansson and his comrade Andersen did eat some of their meat cooked “rare” in this year long study. They also included some organ meats (liver, brains, kidneys), as well as raw bone marrow from time to time. Therefore, it is certainly possible that a small amount of vitamin C was present in these raw or lightly cooked animal foods. It has been shown that when a person’s diet is very low in carbohydrate, the vitamin C they do consume is much better absorbed than when eating a diet high in carbohydrates – so a much smaller amount might be sufficient to prevent scurvy.

Stefansson wrote a 3-part series for Harper’s Monthly in 1935-36 describing the diet and health of the Arctic Natives he lived with, learned from, and studied titled “Eskimos Prove An All-Meat Diet Provides Excellent Health.” Stefansson also wrote a book detailing what he learned titled “The Fat of the Land.”

Fred and Alice Ottoboni also explain,

“From the viewpoint of the clinician, perhaps the most important finding about ascorbic acid activity is its competition with glucose within the body. In 1975, Mann proposed that, because of their structural similarity, ascorbic acid and glucose might utilize the same membrane transport. This extremely important concept was eventually confirmed experimentally, and ultimately led to an understanding of how glucose and ascorbic acid compete for transport by insulin and entry into cells.”  Please see their article “Ascorbic Acid and the Immune System” in The Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine, Volume 20, Number 3, pg. 179-183, 2005

Gary Taubes also mentions this in his book Why We Get Fat:

“The vitamin-C molecule is similar in configuration to glucose and other sugars in the body… It is shuttled from the bloodstream into the cells by the same insulin-dependent transport system used by glucose… Glucose and vitamin C compete in this cellular-uptake process, like strangers trying to flag down the same taxicab simultaneously. Because glucose is greatly favored in the contest, the uptake of vitamin C by cells is “globally inhibited” when blood-sugar levels are elevated… In effect, glucose regulates how much vitamin C is taken up by the cells, according to the University of Massachusetts nutritionist John Cunningham. If we increase blood-sugar levels, the cellular uptake of vitamin C-will drop accordingly… Glucose also impairs the re-absorption of vitamin C by the kidney, and so, the higher the blood sugar, the more vitamin-C will be lost in the urine. Infusing insulin into experimental subjects has been shown to cause a “marked fall” in vitamin-C levels in the circulation.”

Additionally, an all-meat diet may reduce the need for vitamin C in completely different way altogether, as explained in the blog post Why Meat Prevents Scurvy:

“Meat [also] prevents [scurvy] because it bypasses the need for vitamin C. Vitamin C is required to form collagen in the body… Vitamin C’s role in collagen formation is to transfer a hydroxyl group to the amino acids lysine and proline. Meat, however, already contains appreciable quantities of hydroxylysine and hydroxyproline, [thus] bypassing some of the requirement for vitamin C. In other words, your vitamin C requirement is dependent upon how much meat you do not eat.”

However, the fact remains that most of the Zero Carb-ers I have interviewed do not consume any organ meats or raw bone marrow, and many seem to prefer their meat cooked longer than “rare.” The best case in point is The Andersen Family. They have been eating a diet comprised almost exclusively of ribeye steaks cooked medium to medium-well for almost 2 decades. They take no vitamin C (or any other supplements for that matter), and they have never shown any symptoms of scurvy or other vitamin deficiency diseases.

22 thoughts on “Vitamin C

    • The Andersen’s all had blood work not too long ago when they changed insurance providers and every thing came back great. Apparently none of them have issues with the amount of iron they are consuming. However, it might be wise for anyone doing this diet to be tested and make sure they do not have iron storage issues.

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      • However, the problem with over absorption of metals in the body is their storage in the brain, not the blood. It can be that these blood tests do not reveal how much metals are in the brain. Alzheimer’s disease is said to be caused by metals stored in the brain, particularly the oxidation of these metals in the brain. Although The Anderson’s have been eating mostly meat for two decades, that may still not be enough time to evaluate their disposition to developing Alzheimer’s.

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        • All valid points. However, I believe that high insulin and high blood sugar are much more involved in Alzheimer’s disease than are heavy metals, though the two might have some sort of synergistic effect. So, low or zero carb would eliminate at least part of the equation.

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          • Hi. Wouldn’t the high levels of protein in these diets lead to glucose production, raised insulin levels, and consequently vitamin C intake through GLUT 4 channels? I am wondering about vitamin C uptake (and recycling in the cell) if there are persistenly low levels of insulin, as in lchf diets.

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          • No, higher protein does not covert to more glucose. That process is demand driven, not supply driven. There is no vitamin C in muscle meat, so there it seem that on an all meat diet we don’t need it. The reason why this is remains a mystery.

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  1. Good point about collagen – and it can be expanded further. Ascorbate is also required to synthesize carnitine and creatine. No prizes for guessing which foods supply those. Captain Cook was one of the pioneers of the fight against scurvy, travelling around the world in the 1760’s and 1770’s without any cases. He identified 3 foods as having anti-scorbutic properties – fresh greens, fresh fruit, and fresh meat. Any one of these 3 was sufficient. He also fed his men sauerkraut when these fresh foods were not available. Carnitine deficiency is said to cause the fatigue and depression associated with scurvy.

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  2. Pingback: My First 45 Days on Zero Carb by Lynn Marie Miller | Eat Meat. Drink Water.

    • Hi Kelly, yes there is a big reason. Unfortunately many people in the vegan community have been harassing the Andersen’s for their dietary practice, through social media as well as their private home mailing address. They were concerned for the safety and wellbeing of their children. We hope to do an interview with just Charlene in a few months after things calm down.

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  3. Wow, thank you Esmee. That is a shame. I understand their cause, and sadly they are too closed minded to understand ours. Looking forward to seeing the interview with Charlene. Take care, Kelly

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  4. Hi Im a severe sal and amine person, I now have cfs too ,im about to try to get meat an fish back in my diet ,I eat so much sugar, hoping for a future with some more energy….:)

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  5. Hi Esmee,

    Is there any research on possible essential fatty acid deficiency on an all-meat diet? Or an imbalance in omega3 to omega6 fat ratio? I read that higher amounts of omega6 fats lead to inflammation and that there are not many omega3s in red meat, especially commercially produced, however many of those interviewed on your site eat commercially produced meat, take no supplement for omega3s and somehow have no inflammation? I’m also curious about possible magnesium deficiency as there does not seem to much of magnesium in meat either…

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    • There is actually a fair amount of magnesium in meat. Two pounds of Chuck roast has 185 mg of magnesium and only 50 mg of calcium. Beef is very low in omega 6, however chicken and pork are somewhat higher. This is due to the fact that cows are herbivores, while pigs and chickens are omnivores. They have very different digestive systems. When beef is raised on grains (high in omega 6), very little of it gets transferred into the fatty tissue of the animal. But when pork or poultry is raised on grains, quite a bit of the omega 6 present in the grains gets transferred into the fatty tissue of the animal. I believe this may be why many people find pork and chicken to be far more inflammatory than beef. Longer term Zero Carbers like The Andersen’s have thrived on a beef only high fat diet. In fact, they not only healed Lyme disease, but they went on to produce two very healthy boys who also eat only fatty beef. This tells me that an all beef diet is certainly healthy and nutritionally complete in the long term, as they have been eating this way for almost 2 decades now.

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      • Hi Esmee, another question I have is where the Andersens would get folate from. I’ve read folate is mostly available in green vegetables, beans, and liver. Do the Andersens eat liver, if they do not eat vegetables?

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        • The Andersen’s do not eat liver and they do not eat eggs (yolks are another good source of folate), but they suffer no deficiency symptoms. So, it may be that once plant foods are removed from the diet, our requirement for folate goes down. It would be interesting to see what their blood levels are of folate, but they will not submit themselves to any tests like this unfortunately. It would be fascinating to know.

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          • I totally understand their not wanting to have testing; I think the medical community is something to be avoided as much as possible. I don’t think M.D.s are much help whatsoever when it comes to chronic conditions…they are mostly useless.

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  6. I read recently that meat does conatain vitamin C, as long as it’s fresh (ascorbate in it’s natural for is easily broken down when exposed to oxygn or light). I am looking for the source where I learned this (it seemed very legitimate). The name was not ascorbic acid but something a little different from that. I found it while researching vitamin C deficiency in cats. I will look for the source again and post it if I find it.

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    • Please do. I know long term ZCers who eat well-cooked meat and still experience no symptoms of scurvy. An all meat diet may prevent scurvy by some mechanism other than vitamin C. Vitamin C deficiency has never been proven to be the cause of scurvy, though has been shown to cure scurvy.

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  7. My husband and I did the Spectracell Vitamin test about one year after stopping a Vegan Diet and eating a mixed diet. (We are now LCHF – 5 years) We felt that the results reflected inadequacies we either expected or were not surprised by. That was 5 years ago. Would love to repeat it but as it is not covered by my insurance…it is at the bottom of my list. Regarding Vitamin C. Dr. Richard K. Bernstein, Diabetologist, (My husband has Type I Diabetes and we began following his protocol 5 years ago.) does not recommend Vitamin C Supplementation. He found that high doses created High BG readings. When I heard his comments on that he thought it had to do with the BG strip being sensitive to the Vitamin C. I know better now since reading the above mentioned article, Ascorbic Acid and The Immune System” (thank you Esmée La Fleur) and the most likely culprit is competition for the insulin pathway. I have never had a serious weight problem and erroneously thought I was immune to Insulin Resistance. NOT TRUE! I had my HbA1c checked and I was 5.9. Again Bernstein recommends under 5 and 4.6 ideal. I have been LC since seeing my numbers. I noticed that when I take Vitamin C which is recommended for varicose veins…my blood sugar elevates by 10-20 pts. I had a busy day a few months ago and never took my vitamins…noticed perfect BG. I stopped for several months and my BG has stayed normal. I am considering 0 Carb to try to remove the last vestiges of IBS. Thank you all for the information and inspiration provided here.

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