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The Melanie Avalon Biohacking Podcast Episode #133 - Max Lugavere

Max Lugavere is a filmmaker, health and science journalist and the author of the New York Times best-selling book Genius Foods: Become Smarter, Happier, and More Productive While Protecting Your Brain for Life, which is now published in 8 languages around the globe. He is also the host of the #1 iTunes health podcast The Genius Life. Lugavere appears regularly on the Dr. Oz Show, the Rachael Ray Show, and The Doctors. He has contributed to Medscape, Vice, Fast Company, CNN, and the Daily Beast, has been featured on NBC Nightly News, The Today Show, and in The Wall Street Journal. He is a sought-after speaker and has given talks at South by Southwest, TEDx, the New York Academy of Sciences, the Biohacker Summit in Stockholm, Sweden, and many others. Max is excited to release his sophomore book, The Genius Life: Heal Your Mind, Strengthen Your Body, and Become Extraordinary, a lifestyle guide to living happily and healthily with proven, research-based lifestyle tactics, available now.



2:05 - IF Biohackers: Intermittent Fasting + Real Foods + Life: Join Melanie's Facebook Group For A Weekly Episode GIVEAWAY, And To Discuss And Learn About All Things Biohacking! All Conversations Welcome!

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Join Melanie's Facebook Group Clean Beauty And Safe Skincare With Melanie Avalon To Discuss And Learn About All The Things Clean Beauty, Beautycounter And Safe Skincare!

Genius Foods: Become Smarter, Happier, and More Productive While Protecting Your Brain for Life

The Genius Life: Heal Your Mind, Strengthen Your Body, and Become Extraordinary (Genius Living, Book 2)

11:05 - Max's Personal Story

15:05 - having the risk factor

20:40 - Dietary and lifestyle factors

21:30 - environmental pollutants; fine particle matter

24:35 - DRY FARM WINES: Low Sugar, Low Alcohol, Toxin-Free, Mold-Free, Pesticide-Free, Hang-Over Free Natural Wine! Use The Link dryfarmwines.com/melanieavalon To Get A Bottle For A Penny!

26:20 - protein build up in the brain

28:05 - amyloid hypothesis & other possible causes of dementia

28:30 - cholesterol

30:15 - APOE4 Gene

35:10 - variances in APOE 

37:15 - dietary fats, specifically saturated fat

The Melanie Avalon Biohacking Podcast Episode #108 - Dean & Ayesha Sherzai

41:10 - vegan approach to brain health

43:10 - choline

44:15 - Creatine

46:05  - SUNLIGHTEN: Get Up To $200 Off AND $99 Shipping (Regularly $598) With The Code MelanieAvalon At MelanieAvalon.Com/Sunlighten. Forward Your Proof Of Purchase To Podcast@MelanieAvalon.com, To Receive A Signed Copy Of What When Wine!
The Melanie Avalon Biohacking Podcast Episode #38 - Connie Zack
The Science Of Sauna: Heat Shock Proteins, Heart Health, Chronic Pain, Detox, Weight Loss, Immunity, Traditional Vs. Infrared, And More!

47:40 - Furan fatty acids

49:40 - the problem with isolating nutrients

50:30 - Taurine

52:00 - types of fuel for the brain

56:10 - ketones affect on alzheimer's 

57:20 - medium chain triglycerides

58:00 - insulin degrading enzyme

1:00:50 - mindset & wobbly furniture

Genius Kitchen: Over 100 Easy and Delicious Recipes to Make Your Brain Sharp, Body Strong, and Taste Buds Happy


Melanie Avalon: Hi, friends, welcome back to the show. I am so incredibly excited about the conversation that I'm about to have. A little backstory on today's show. A few years ago, I read a book called Genius Foods: Become Smarter, Happier, and More Productive While Protecting Your Brain for Life and it was incredible. It touched on so many things that I personally study, and explore, and think about, and implement all under the overarching theme of brain health. It was amazing. I started following the author, Max Lugavere and since then he has recently released another book, The Genius Life, which is a follow up, Heal Your Mind, Strengthen Your Body, and Become Extraordinary and also, that was amazing. I was dying to have him on the show especially because I follow a lot of his content and I feel we're the same person or at least we do a lot of the similar stuff. So, it was really an honor to finally be connected and I'm kind of in shock that we're finally talking here now. Max, thank you so much for being here. 

Max Lugavere: Melanie, thanks so much for having me. What a treat? 

Melanie Avalon: All right, so to start things off, I do imagine that a lot of my audience is very familiar with you. They've asked me a lot to have you on the show. But for those who are not, could you tell them a little bit about your personal story. It's a very emotional, and beautiful, and sad story that led to what you're doing here today. So, could you tell listeners a little bit about that? 

Max Lugavere: Yeah, absolutely. I'm a health and science journalist and I've had a lifelong passion for fitness and nutrition and medicine as well. Actually, I started college on a premed track. But my career path changed when I've realized that I also had a love for storytelling and I had a creative spark in me. About halfway through college, I pivoted to a double major in documentary filmmaking in psychology. That led to me getting a job as a generalist journalist, try saying that three times fast. Working for a TV network in the United States that was co-founded by Al Gore. It was like MTV meets CNN, or Fox News, or whatever your favorite news outlet is. It really was a nonpartisan network that sought to empower young and passionate storytellers. Young people that had something to say in the era before YouTube, really, if you can imagine such a time. I did that when I graduated college, and I got to work with some amazing storytellers, journalists, I got to cover topics that were really serious, and intense, and really light, and fluffy. But it was an amazing time and I got to really hone my chops as a storyteller and as a communicator, somebody who was wielding a really powerful microphone. I learned how to be delicate with delicate topics, essentially.  

I did that again for six years. That was a remarkable experience for me. But the turning point in my life really came when I left that job in my personal life, my mother, at the age of 58 started to show the earliest symptoms of what would ultimately be diagnosed as a form of dementia. I'm the first born in a very small family. I have two younger brothers, and I've always been incredibly close with my mother, and when my mom first started to show these symptoms, it was like a bomb going off in my world. It was the most unsettling thing and all of my anxiety and my neuroses led to me ultimately moving back to New York, which is where I'm from to be with her and to take her to doctor's appointments to physically be there with her, because I'd had this lifelong passion for reading fitness science and nutrition, and I thought that I could play a role in helping to see what was going on with her and perhaps even maybe help her in terms of her symptomology and just get answers ultimately. So, I started going with her to doctor's appointments and doctor's office after doctor's office.  

What we experienced was the same thing. It was always diagnosed and adios. But we didn't even have the luxury of really getting a firm diagnosis until a few years into her symptoms. It was really at the Cleveland Clinic in 2011, where we took her to finally get some kind of solution to what was going on with her, some semblance of an answer, and it was there for the first time that she was diagnosed with a neurodegenerative condition, and she was prescribed drugs for both Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease at the same time. Again, she was very young, she was 58, she was spirited, she had all the pigments in her hair, she was somebody who you would look at and you would say, "Oh, this is a woman who's in the prime of her life." But it was that weekend that we started to have to give her drugs that are prescribed for both of these conditions, Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease conditions for which there has never been a single survivor. To me, it was the line in the sand where or another metaphor that I like to use. It was a singularity in my life, which is a term used primarily in astrophysics, but it was the point of no return, where I realized that I had to do everything that I could, to learn everything that I could about these conditions and the lifestyle factors that might have contributed to my mother developing this condition, both for her sake, but then also to potentially prevent it from ever happening to me.  

Because I realized that I had the fortitude to know that I now had a risk factor, even though this was never brought up in any of those doctor's offices and I've never seen a neurologist, personally, for my own health. I realized that I now had something that could-- I had a risk factor, whatever it happened, whatever it may have been that could potentially lead me down the very same path. I became obsessed, I became fixated with diving into the medical literature, learning everything that I could, leaving no stone unturned, talking to anybody who would be kind enough to talk to me. That was a journey that began, I guess, at this point about 10 years ago. Again, I was a journalist, I became a health and science journalist, really out of love, and passion, and aptitude, I think for understanding science. I started with the medical literature, which we live in a time, it's amazing. Everybody has access to PubMed. I read every book that I could find, I watched every TED Talk and ultimately what I decided to do was exploit my media credentials, because as I mentioned, I was on TV. It all comes full circle, where I realized that I had the ability to reach out to some of the scientists who were publishing the primary literature that I was reading to ask them questions, specifically, so that I could learn more.  

It became my life's purpose and mission to learn as much as I could, digest it, assimilate it, and share it out with the world at large. That led to all of these incredible opportunities that have been so grateful to have had, I went on to become a core expert on The Dr. Oz Show, the Rachael Ray Show. I wrote two books, which you've mentioned in my podcast, The Genius Life, where I cover these kinds of topics routinely. I always take the perspective of-- my lens is really curiosity. I don't know everything, but I certainly at this point have learned a lot. It really is my mission to just to keep learning, and to keep questioning, and to ultimately share what it is in learning with people of all ages, really, because if you have a brain, you are at risk. 

Melanie Avalon: Wow. Now, listeners can see why it's a really touching and beautiful foundation for everything. I, as well, my background was film and theater in LA at USC, and everything came full circle when I had my own health issues, and I love just having all of that come together. But going back to everything you just talked about now, so, I'm haunted by what you've said with there being no survivors for this condition. Often in this world we talk about, in this world I mean the biohacking health sphere, we talk about agency and the ability to all of these health conditions to really take charge of your health and reverse conditions. When it comes to dementia, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, is there something there that is beyond our agency? It sounds like once you're on the path to it, is there a point of no return and if so, what is the mechanism of action behind that? 

Max Lugavere: Yeah, it's such a good question. Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease at first, I want to preface by saying, we don't know everything, I certainly don't know everything. 90% of what we know about Alzheimer's disease alone has been discovered only in the past 15 or so years. We are just starting to really unravel the etiology of that condition, let alone the more niche forms of dementia like my mother, for example. She didn't have Alzheimer's disease. She had a form of dementia that affects one in five people with dementia called Lewy body dementia, which is basically it's akin to having Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease at the same time. But what we do know about Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease is that, most noncommunicable chronic diseases, they begin years if not decades before the presentation of symptoms. That very clearly offers us a window of opportunity to intervene and to change course when it comes to our cognitive destiny.  

Again, we don't know everything, but we do know a lot about the predisposition that your average American has conditions like type 2 diabetes to obesity. These are conditions that are largely considered lifestyle conditions because they trace back to what I believe is ultimately a toxic food supply, the standard American diet, and what could almost be described as equally toxic are our standard American lifestyles. The fact that we're so sedentary, the fact that we're chronically stressed out and under slept, and that we're exposed to myriad environmental toxins on a routine basis. There are all these different factors. It's very obvious as I'm speaking that they play a contributing factor to the etiology of these brain conditions. But it's really now for the first time that we're starting to have concrete evidence. it's always good to have evidence. It's important to have scientific data. When it comes to Alzheimer's disease, we know that there are various dietary and lifestyle factors that can dramatically increase your risk. For example, type 2 diabetes is largely a lifestyle condition. We now know that if you have type 2 diabetes, your risk for developing Alzheimer's disease increases between two and four-fold. You have between a double and quadruple times risk-- That's between a double and quadruple multiple in terms of risk for developing Alzheimer's disease if you have type 2 diabetes, which so many people in the United States have, about one in two people if not more at this point. Right there, that offers us some kind of clue to look under the hood and to check on our metabolic health, if preventing Alzheimer's disease is something that we care about.  

There are also other factors of the modern lifestyle. I've mentioned environmental toxins. Fine particulate matter in our cities, like, these are particles that are orders of magnitude smaller than the width of your human hair. They're completely invisible to the naked eye, but they're comprised of particles like magnetite. We now know that we inhale these particles that can pierce the blood-brain barrier and they can stimulate an immune response in the brain that causes the aggregation of the proteinopathies that we associate with Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease. Proteinopathy is basically when proteins become dysfunctional. The most commonly known protein, when it comes to neurodegeneration is amyloid beta, which is the protein that clumps and forms the plaques that we associate with Alzheimer's disease. Parkinson's disease, it's another protein called alpha-synuclein. But we know that just air pollution can lead to these kinds of pathologies, which are so closely tethered to this terrible condition, Alzheimer's disease. There are all these things that we can do and I believe that the sooner we start, the better, because again when you show up to the doctor's office with that first symptom, this is a decade's long disease process that is already well into motion. Parkinson's disease, for example, this is another very common neurodegenerative condition. Most people are familiar with Michael J. Fox. He's the most well-known celebrity with Parkinson's disease. By the time you show up to the doctor displaying the first symptom, half of the neurons that are affected by Parkinson's disease, half of them is already dead, they're already gone. To me it's just we need to be doing everything that we can. The beautiful thing about the recommendations that I make that they're not exclusive to protecting the brain. The brain is intricately reliant on the health of the body. It's not that there's one brain diet that's going to benefit the brain, but leave the cardiovascular system in the dark. Everything is so intricately connected. 

I think that my background as a quasi-creative person really allowed me the foresight and the ability to be able to connect those dots between all these different fields, because medicine, I think one thing that it suffers from, especially in the United States is that it really takes this reductionist approach. We expect the cure for Alzheimer's disease, because of the neurological condition to be in the brain. But what if it wasn't? What if the answer to preventing this terrible condition, which currently affects 15 million people in the United States alone? What if the answer was in the body? What if it had to do with our metabolic health? What if it had to do with our cardiovascular health? Now, these are not insights that I'm not the only person talking about this, but it is still-- medicine suffers from this reductionist approach and I think it's really important to take a more holistic view, especially if you want to move the needle on these kinds of multifactorial conditions. 

Melanie Avalon: I cannot agree more. I am exactly on the same page and, okay, I have some granular follow up questions about everything. In all of these brain conditions, you were talking about the different protein buildups, the amyloid and the one that was in Parkinson's as well. Is that always there, some protein buildup or can you have one of these conditions and not have that? 

Max Lugavere: Yeah. We all produce these proteins. Amyloid beta, we make it throughout the day. In fact, when we sleep that's when our brains cleanse themselves of these proteins to the degree that on just one night of shortened sleep, you see an increase by about 30% of amyloid in cerebrospinal fluid, which we suspect is related to a greater chance that it's going to aggregate and hang around in the brain, which we don't want to happen. We all make these proteins, and they're not proteins to be afraid of. We just want to understand what is causing them to aggregate and clump. Many scientists for many decades thought that amyloid was the causal player that when it arrived in the brain, we have to do everything that we can to flush it out and to get rid of it once it clumps together and forms these plaques. That's been called the amyloid hypothesis and that's really guided pharmaceutical drug discovery for the past few decades. But Alzheimer's disease drug trials have an abysmal fail, 99.6% of Alzheimer's drugs fail. I think that the reason for that and this is what the data is starting to show is that amyloid--  

Yeah, it's there at the scene of the crime, but it's a symptom. It doesn't seem it's the cause. The cause is something deeper. It's metabolic dysfunction, it's inflammation, it's chronically under sleeping. There are probably innumerable potential causes. I've just listed off a few. But yeah, it's not something to be afraid of. It's just something to question and to take a step back, and to ask where this is coming from, and what's causing it to clump, and form these plaques. It's very similar. An analogy that I often draw is with cholesterol. Cholesterol, there's no doubt that cholesterol is there in occluded arteries that have atherosclerotic plaque, like cholesterol is there. But what caused the cholesterol to be there? Is cholesterol necessarily the bad guy? Cholesterol is a vital, waxy substance that we produce in our own bodies and brains. If it were removed from each of our bodies in its entirety, we would die. We need cholesterol. What's making this otherwise good compound go bad, it probably has nothing to do with the cholesterol itself, but other dietary and lifestyle factors that cause it to end up in our arteries. So, the same thing I think goes for amyloid. 

Melanie Avalon: I was just going to make that analogy about the cholesterol. You answered my question without me even phrasing it correctly. Yeah, I was wondering, is amyloid the causal role there? Because one of the things that you mentioned in your book is we can cure Alzheimer's in rodents, but it just doesn't translate to humans necessarily, and I was really fascinated by that. What role does the APOE-4 gene play? I was really fascinated to learn how it's actually the oldest variant in humans. So, what are your thoughts on the genetic role? 

Max Lugavere: Yeah, super interesting. APOE-4 is the most commonly-- it's the most well-defined Alzheimer's risk gene, about one in four people carry it. I carry a copy. There was a time when I didn't even-- Somebody told me that I shouldn't share that I carry a copy because it might sometime down the line be considered a preexisting, but it's so common, one in four people carry it. Genes are not destiny, especially when it comes to Alzheimer's disease. Having it increases your risk for developing the condition between two and 14-fold. But there are some parts of the world where that risk gene is just as prevalent, but risks are much lower. Really to me, what I think this is, it comes back to epigenetics, the interaction that our genes play with our environment. You mentioned that APOE-4 is considered the ancestral version of the gene, it's the oldest. What I think that that suggests is that, it might make carriers of the APOE-4 allele, really the canaries in the coalmine for the modern Western way of life. It may make us the most vulnerable to the preponderance of ultra-processed foods of sedentary lifestyles of chronic stress of under sleeping.  

Again, it's not destiny. If you have it, I would urge you to get on board with this Genius Foods lifestyle or whatever it is that's going to bring about your healthiest self, whatever diet lifestyle is going to work for you. Everybody's different and everybody has their own preferences. But yeah, it's not a gene to be afraid of. What it does in Western populations is it tends to be associated with dyslipidemia. Problems with lipids like LDL cholesterol and things like that. It tends to be more proinflammatory in the context of the standard American diet, which we know is a proinflammatory diet in and of itself. But again, yeah, I wouldn't worry about it. I wouldn't really make the recommendations that I would make to somebody with APOE-4 allele, either one or two copies. It wouldn't be all that different from what I would recommend to anybody. Really, it's to cut back on the ultra-processed foods to integrate healthful fats into your diet, to exercise vigorously on a routine basis. The one modification that I think I would probably suggest is to minimize exposure to an excessive amount of saturated fats.  

Now, I'm a big advocate for the consumption of grass-fed beef, I personally consume dairy products, all those things but there's some evidence that APOE-4 carriers, their livers just don't do as good of a job recycling their LDL particles, which are the lipoproteins that are most closely associated with heart disease. We know that cardiovascular health is crucially important to brain health. One of the mechanisms, if not the mechanism by which saturated fats, so consistently are able to raise levels of LDL cholesterol in the blood is that, they reduce the number of LDL receptors on the liver. These LDL receptors on the liver, what they do is they basically pluck up LDL particles that are in circulation, disallowing them to become small and dense. We've all heard that and I'm sure you've covered it, Melanie. It's really the small, dense LDL phenotype that we want to be cautious of, not the large, fluffy buoyant LDL particles. Those seem to be benign. Not demonizing LDL here in any sense but for APOE-4 carriers, it seems is saturated fat. 

Basically, there's already a plumbing problem with the recycling of these LDL particles, and saturated fat can make it even trickier. What I recommend is, if you're going to eat beef, try as best as you can to steer towards more grass-fed pasture-raised options, which are going to be leaner anyway, wild fish as opposed to farmed fish, and I also generally will minimize the consumption of butter and things like that. Butter is actually a unique fat, which we could talk about just for a little bit because I think it's cool, so butter is churned cream, but unlike churned cream butter, the churning of cream actually disrupts what's called milk fat globule membrane, which is how we get such a dense, delicious product, the product that we call butter. But that may actually make the fats in butter more atherogenic. For people with the APOE-4 allele, I typically recommend consuming butter in moderation, not going overboard with it, putting in your smoothies, in your coffee every day and stuff like that. 

Melanie Avalon: With APOE-4 being the original variant, the variants that transpired since then, were they adapting for a--? Because it sounds with APOE-4, you are not as good like you were saying it, processing the saturated fats or it might be more problematic for the brain. The variants that happened since then, were they to help us deal with fat better or were they something else? Because you've talked about in the book how the populations that were early agricultural societies were less likely to have it, but that sounds that's a dietary change to carbs rather than dealing with more fat. What happened with the variants and how the body adapted? 

Max Lugavere: It's such a good question. I think it's both. I'm just going to speculate here to some degree. But yeah, our diets changed during the first agricultural revolution. Our diets became a lot more consistently grain based. Yeah, we started eating a lot more grains, wheat, corn, rice, things like that. But our fat consumption also very likely changed as well, because if you consider the fat content of wild game, wild game is incredibly lean. If you've ever had elk or venison--  

Melanie Avalon: It's so good.  

Max Lugavere: Yeah, it's great, but it's very lean. It is nowhere near as fatty as a cow, which is a human creation. We've made cows. Cows are the domesticated end result of ox or bison. Don't quote me on that. I don't know actually what we've bred to create cows but what I do know is that cows are incredibly fatty. Even grass-fed cow is way fattier than anything that you would be able to hunt for yourself like wild game wise. That leads me to believe that the fat content of our food also changed. Now, there are certain populations that do really well with high fat diets like the Inuit. They're they eat whale blubber primarily, and it's a very carnivorous diet. Again, I'm pro-animal products. I eat lots of grass-fed beef myself. But I think that our diets changed in terms of the carbohydrate content and the proliferation and the processing of grains, but then also in terms of the fat content when we started to domesticate and practice animal husbandry, so I think it's both. Again, that's my opinion and a little bit of speculation there. But to me that would be consistent with what we know about how APOE-4's responds to two modern diets. 

Melanie Avalon: Talking more about the role of dietary fats in the brain, people will often say, especially in the low carb and keto world, they'll say saturated fat is very important for health, and we'll give the example of how x percent of the brain is made of saturated fat. But the saturated fat that we eat doesn't become the saturated fat in the brain correctly. Isn't it created endogenously? 

Max Lugavere: Yes. There have been a number of trials. There's one in particular that I cite in Genius Foods, where the circulating saturated fat is not really an issue. The number one way to increase circulating saturated fats is not to eat saturated fat, but it's to eat lots of lots of carbs and sugar. We create fats in our liver. It's a process called lipogenesis. But yeah, you do need a certain amount of saturated fat. It's important for hormone synthesis. There are some saturated fats that are actually quite good for you like, stearic acid, which is the primary form of saturated fat found in dark chocolate, and it's also found as the name suggests in beef. Like the word, fat, even saturated fat can be broken down into myriad different types of saturated fat. Each one having a different effect ultimately on the body, there's palmitic acid, there's myristic acid, stearic acid seems to be the most beneficial of the saturated fats that I'm familiar with.  

When it comes to curtailing saturated fat consumption, yeah, you don't want to eat a low-fat diet. Low-fat diets have been shown to reduce testosterone, which both men and women need for wellbeing, for sexual performance, function, and body composition, myriad other important factors. But I think that there's a cap, we live in a time where it's so great that we're finally out of the low-fat dietary dogma era. But the pendulum has now swung in the other direction, where people are seeking these incredibly high-fat diets. If you're on a ketogenic diet, a very high-fat diet might be suitable for you. But if you're on a half-assed version of a ketogenic diet, where you're not really bringing your carbs down all that much, you're just eating a lower carbohydrate diet, but then you're spiking up your fat intake, I don't think that that's necessarily good for you. To me, that's just another breed of the standard American diet. 

Of course, when it comes to fat consumption, the only fats that you really need to consume on a daily basis are the omega-3 fatty acids, which I recommend getting in their preformed state. You can get a very small amount in grass-fed beef, but primarily, I would say, eating wild fatty fish, super crucial on a fairly regular basis. Or, you could supplement with it. If you're on a plant-based diet, you could take algae, oil, and alike. Yeah, again, I'm APOE-4 carrier, I use butter in moderation, but it's not my go to stable, just because I genetically am probably prone to hyperlipidemia. If I personally had low or if I had normal to high levels within that range, I would feel totally okay but it could potentially shoot up into the high, high range, and I just don't think it would be negligent for me to suggest that that was okay in the face of all the evidence that suggests otherwise. 

Melanie Avalon: Yeah, you've just touched on one of the things I feel so strongly about and I think with the whole rise of-- well, first originally the low-fat diet and then now high-fat keto, I think people often do this thing where they want to do either low fat or low carb, but they don't go quite low fat enough or they don't go quite low carb enough. They get into the situation with keto, for example, where they're adding all these fats, but it's what you just said. If the carbs aren't quite low enough, that's a very dangerous metabolic state to be in, at least I think for a lot of people, where you have massive amounts of fats, but you're not low carb enough to be running primarily on a fat burning metabolism.  

Then on the flipside, you might be going super high carb, low fat, but not quite low fat enough. You have all of this carb intake, but you have some fat in the system creating energy toxicity build up on that side, so I just feel this happens with a lot of people. But I think my audience, one of the complaints, I don't know if it's a complaint, but I'm always throwing different opinions at them with guests. I recently had on the Sherzais, they run, I think the Alzheimer's Institute at Loma Linda. I'm not sure exactly what the school is called. So, they're all about a low-fat vegan diet. Their book is called The Alzheimer's Solution. Do you have thoughts on that, the vegan approach? 

Max Lugavere: Absolutely. There's zero evidence that a vegan diet is promotive of brain health. There're lots of evidence to the contrary. We can take our sides when it comes to grass-fed beef. I'm of the opinion that grass-fed beef is a health food and that it benefits brain health, and I can back that up with my reasoning for that but if you're not as a neurologist promoting the consumption of at least fish, then you are not sticking with the science. You have diverged from the science and you're now talking out of your butt, essentially. Those two neurologists, they mean well, and I respect them, but the recommendations to me are mind blowing. Now, I'm not that familiar with them. I don't know if they are promoting the consumption of fish or where they stand on that, but I will say that the vegan diet is not optimal from the standpoint of the brain far from it. Yeah, I think it is a disservice to people. There have been studies to show that in older adults, the consumption of choline is associated with a fairly dramatic risk reduction for Alzheimer's disease.  

Choline is most abundantly found in animal products, egg yolks, beef, foods like that. It's an incredibly important conditionally essential nutrient that serves as the backbone for acetylcholine. And the word, acetylcholine, that choline at the end of it is the suffix is we get that from our diets. We synthesize a small amount of it in our bodies, but we need to get choline from our diets. The Institute of Medicine, we have daily an adequate intake for it. It's very difficult to get from vegetables, even though it is found in vegetables in very small amounts. Yeah, 30% risk reduction for people who consume the most choline. Choline is most abundantly found in animal products. Animal products also provide a bevy of really important nutrients that are plug and play to our biology from zinc to vitamin B12, to preform omega-3 fats, to creatine. Creatine, many people are familiar with because of its association with physical performance, and bodybuilding, and sports, and stuff like that. It's a vitally important nutrient that we need for good brain health. When they supplement vegans and vegetarians with synthetic supplemental creatine, they've seen improvements in their cognitive function. That is a non-trivial data point to me. 

You don't see that improvement in cognitive function in omnivores. Omnivores are already getting their creatine needs from their diets, but vegans and vegetarians are not. Creatine is exclusively found in animal products. These are called carni-nutrients. There's carnitine, there's taurine. To me, it's unquestionable that an omnivorous diet is optimal. In fact, it is the omnivorous diet that created the human brain. There's no hunter-gatherer group throughout alive today certainly, but in the historical record that subsisted exclusively on vegan diets. Veganism, today is it's a modern luxury. I just think it's a very privileged thing to suggest. Now, there is evidence that just to be clear that meat consumption is associated with worse health outcomes, but that's because you have to understand what's called healthy user bias. When you zoom out at the population level and you look at meat consumers in this country, they tend to consume more calories, they tend to eat more fast food, they tend to smoke, they tend to have other unhealthy lifestyle habits. That association is there. But when you control for those factors and you take people, there was just a study that was published that showed this that, when you control for diet quality, meat has no negative impact, whatsoever. So, I think that this is really important and yeah, it needs to be understood. 

Melanie Avalon: We are on the same page. I really do like interviewing people, who are really, really vegan though, because I'm just so fascinated by where they're getting their ideas. I want to know because it's such a huge movement. I'm interviewing Neal Barnard soon. So, that will be an interesting conversation. Speaking of the fish, I learned something in your book that I've had never heard of it before and I haven't seen it anywhere else since then. Can you talk about the role of F fatty acids? I had never heard of those before. 

Max Lugavere: Furans? Yeah, they're basically these tagalong chemicals that fight oxidative stress that I believe if I recall correctly, because I know exactly the infobox that you're talking about. Those were identified with the New Zealand green mussel, the green-lipped mussel or something, which they basically isolated the essential fatty acids or certain fats from these muscles. They gave them in a clinical trial to this group, and they found that the fatty acids weren't able to impart the health benefits that they saw from the consumption of Whole Foods. There was this German chemist that isolated these furan fatty acids, and he was able to show that they were incredibly beneficial. They sniped oxidative stress like a boss. Oxidative stress, of course, underlies many chronic disease states. 

The main reason why I included that, that's a mechanistic early. It's not the thing where I would recommend people going out to look for these furan fats in supplement form, but the reason why I bring it up is really because I think what a lot of people try to do in nutrition is, they practice nutritionism, which is the attempt to break food down into its constituent nutrients. The idea is that if we're able to do that as a species, then we can basically provide these nutrients in isolation and create ultimately the perfect food. But what we find, I think, over and over again, which has mystified nutrition scientists is that, these isolated nutrients don't always impart the same health benefit as they do when they're in their whole food form, which leads to the obvious conclusion that there are countless chemicals in our food that benefit human health, whether we've identified and described them, and studied them or not. That to me is a wonderful argument against veganism, and against also supplementation, and against creating these fake meal replacement powders like Soylent and trying to play a cat and mouse game with the nutrients that we think that we need for our bodies. 

We have our essential nutrients, we know that, but there are other nutrients that are not accounted for in the list of essential nutrients that benefit human health. I've mentioned creatine. Creatine is a perfect example of that. Taurine, you won't die without consuming taurine in your diet. You're not a cat. For cat, taurine is essential. But for human, it's not essential, but there is lots of data out there that suggests that taurine is actually really beneficial to our cardiovascular systems. Where is taurine found? It is found in organ meats, it's found primarily in animal products. That's a nutrient that you're just completely missing out on entirely if you were to go on an exclusively plant-based diet. To me, again, it's humorous. It doesn't make logical sense. But that's not to say that you can't do well on a vegan diet. There are certainly are many people that are and that are doing it. What really riles me up is those that are suggesting this diet for the population at large and suggesting erroneously that it's better, that it's more optimal than an omnivorous diet. 


Melanie Avalon: Yeah, it makes me very nervous. That was the huge takeaway about the F fatty acids was, we think that we can like you just said, look at a whole food and find the specific ingredients, and that they are doing whatever health benefit they're doing. But you've talked about with the F fatty acids that maybe that's an example of a reason that taking supplemental forms of EPA, DHA might not actually-- I think you were comparing it to the whole foods form and how supplements might not always measure up, because we might not take into account like the destruction of these F fatty acids, for example. That's all really fascinating. As far as actually fueling the brain, so, when I interviewed the Sherzais, they are not fans of ketones for fueling the brain or they prefer glucose. What are your thoughts on a brain fuel on glucose versus ketones versus something else? I think about a lot and I don't hear people talking about but you talk about it, lactate. 

Max Lugavere: Yeah. Well, I'm not an advocate of chronic ketosis for your average person. I think ketosis has to be talked about in the context of brain health. If they are shunning it like that, again, that to me is very responsible, because there's a lot of research now happening where they're looking at the impact of the ketogenic diet as a therapeutic diet in the setting of Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease. We know that it's been used very successfully for certain types of treatment resistant epilepsy for the past century at this point. I don't understand the attitude of being down on what you're not up on. It's a diet that many people enjoy adhering to that have seen all kinds of success in terms of weight loss. Again, in terms of its ability to be used as a therapeutic diet, the research is very promising. Does your average person need to be on a ketogenic diet? No, absolutely not. It's comparable.  

I think it's analogous to, if you have type 2 diabetes, the dietary recommendations that I would make for you would be different than somebody I would make who is not yet metabolically ill. There's a difference. I think to their credit, the ketogenic diet gets thrown around a lot. It's now used as a marketing claim on myriad packaged processed foods that they're slightly better for you than non-keto products. But I do think from an ancestral standpoint, it does make sense that a human would be in ketosis at least some part of the year, if not some part of the month, if not some part of the day. What I think is so great about ketones aside from the fact that they can be used to fuel the brain is that they're not just a fuel. Glucose, when it comes to the brain, it's just a fuel. It's a fuel, it's like gasoline for the brain. It's reliable, but it burns dirty. 

Ketones on the other hand, not only do they burn clean, but they have all kinds of other downstream benefits. They actually act as signaling molecules in the brain like beta-hydroxybutyrate. They've shown that, when ketones are elevated in serum, they can lead to an increase of blood flow to the brain. I want to say by about 20% shown in rats, but it's feasible that we'd see some increase in blood flow to the brain as well as humans. But ketones have been shown to boost levels of BDNF, brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which is been called "Miracle-Gro" for the brain. It helps to ensure the survival of our existing neurons, it helps promote the growth of new ones, it's really crucial for the characteristic known as neuroplasticity, the ability for brain to change over time. Ketones have all of these side hustles that I think make it such an important class of compounds. 

I think we have to continue studying and we have to be talking about if we're talking about good brain health. I'm not saying that we all need to be in ketosis all the time, but if you're eating a lower carbohydrate diet and you're active, there's a good chance that you're going to wake up in a mild form of ketosis. If you routinely engage in intermittent fasting or time restricted eating, which now there's all this research coming out showing us how beneficial that can be from a number of different standpoints, you're going to probably be in mild ketosis some of the time. I think it's really the chronic deficit of ketone availability to the brain that may play a role in the etiology of these conditions.  

Now, the role of the ketogenic diet as a preventative diet for Alzheimer's disease, I don't think that you need to be in ketosis for life to prevent Alzheimer's disease. I just want to be very clear with that. But that research I believe is starting to happen and we're starting to see the role that ketones have in terms of protecting brain health, but when it comes to somebody who already has Alzheimer's disease, we have to talk about ketone production and the ketogenic diet. It's a very difficult diet to adhere to, but the Alzheimer's riddled brain, it basically loses the ability to create ATP from glucose. Normal, typical fed conditions, your brain, 100% of its energy is coming from glucose. But an Alzheimer's brain, its ability to generate ATP is diminished by about 50% from glucose. But its ability to create energy from ketones is completely unperturbed. So, you can basically keep the lights on by consuming a diet that supports ketogenesis or possibly by consuming ketogenic foods like medium chain triglycerides or there's an FDA approved medical food product made of medium chain triglycerides called Axona. 

This is right there. It is a medical food, FDA approved for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease. It's not a miracle cure or anything like that, but I think it's very hopeful and it tells us the value that ketones have to the brain. So, if you're not in support of that line of research, I think you've got your head buried like an-- Who are the birds that do that? Ostriches. You've just got your head in the sand. 

Melanie Avalon: It's a double whammy the potential health benefits because you talk about insulin-degrading enzyme or-- could you talk about insulin-degrading enzyme and how it has multi purposes. 

Max Lugavere: Insulin-degrading enzyme, it's the enzyme in the brain that as its name suggests it breaks down insulin. Insulin in the brain is used for energy production, it's used as a signaling molecule. But insulin-degrading enzyme which exists in the brain to breakdown insulin, also it has another role. Its role is to breakdown amyloid beta and to keep amyloid beta soluble, so that it can be flushed away. The problem is when insulin is chronically elevated, insulin-degrading enzyme doesn't work as effectively. This is obviously very precarious from the standpoint of the brain because we want to be doing everything that we can to make sure that amyloid is getting flushed away with good sleep. But also making sure that we don't have chronically elevated insulin is another way that we can support having a pristine brain. There's some debate, "is the way to avoid chronically elevated insulin to avoid carbs, or is it just to not become insulin resistant?" I think that my perspective on that, it's very moderate. I'm pro healthy sources of carbs. I'm not anti-carb. 

Primarily, the most common driver of insulin resistance, which is going to lead to chronically elevated levels of insulin is being overweight or it's consuming too many calories. I think that the way to rein that in is to strike a balance in terms of the energy that you consume and the energy that you burn off every day. But that becomes increasingly difficult with the standard American food supply, which is just saturated with ultra-processed foods that drive their own overconsumption. It's very tricky, but I think that eating a healthful diet, one that it's primarily comprised of Whole Foods, minimally processed foods. And also, I'm a big fan of eating a lower carbohydrate diet and using carbohydrates as a performance enhancing tool. So, earning your carbs is what we tend to say in the fitness community. I'm a big fan of that and that's going to basically also keep your insulin area under the curve as low as possible as well. 

Melanie Avalon: Well, I bet listeners are dying to know specifics about all this. I'm just going to have to refer them to your books. Friends, if you get Genius Foods and The Genius Life, it goes deep, deep, deep into all of this, the foods, so many things we didn't even remotely barely touch on. There's just so much content there. Sauna, and cold, and noise pollution, and the effect of your furniture, there's just-- I learned that wobbly furniture-- If you have wobbly furniture, you're more likely to break up with your significant other, which is [laughs] a fun fact. But then I was thinking does that apply to, the chair I'm on right now is am one of those wobbly things, so that you're never-- it makes you constantly adjust your position, I wonder if that applies might be different? 

Max Lugavere: I don't know. That section is basically all about how we are influenced on a completely subconscious level by our environment. We create our environments. Our environments play a role in creating us. There have been studies that have shown, small studies, interesting, but I'll caveat by saying that they're small. But that have shown that people, their values tend to change depending on the environment that they're in, and this was displayed in a particular study with respect to wobbly furniture when they put couples at tables that were wobbly. They showed them pictures of celebrity couples. They found-- This was a randomized control trial. They took groups, they randomized them, stable furniture, wobbly furniture and they found that the group that was sitting at the wobbly table was more inclined to believe that the same photos of celebrity couples that they painted the outlook of those relationships with a more pessimistic view. 

Melanie Avalon: It's crazy. For listeners, you'll have to get the book. You also touched a lot on the role of mindset and that's perfect, because the last question that I ask every single guest on this show, and it's just because I personally realize more and more each day how important mindset is. So, what is something that you're grateful for? 

Max Lugavere: Oh, man. Melanie, well, I'm grateful to have had this conversation with you. I think we've covered some really cool topics. Yeah, dusted off some of the catacombs of my own knowledge. It's been a while since I talked about the New Zealand green-lipped mussel. Thank you for asking me about that. I'm grateful that my work has gotten out there and resonated with people, and I'm able to do what it is that I love for a living. It makes me immensely happy. The feedback that I get on a daily basis, I just feel so lucky. I'm aligned with my purpose. That's a feeling that I didn't always have. It was a long way to get to this point, and obviously there was a lot of tragedy in my life with regards to my mother. Yeah, I'm happy that it's resonated that people are responsive to my work, and that I get to go on cool podcasts with big followings like yours, and it just makes me feel really fulfilled. So, very grateful for that.  

Melanie Avalon: Well, thank you so much. I cannot say it enough. I am so grateful for the work that you're doing. It's had a huge effect on my life. I know it's affected so many people. I just know my listeners are absolutely going to love this so, so much. I can't thank you enough. This episode we're recording it, when listeners here it will have been a while ago. We're airing it in March and I believe you will have, I think just released probably this week, because I think we're going to try to sync this for the release of your book, a cookbook. Listeners can get if they want to start making the actual meals to hopefully benefit their health, and their brain health, and all the things. So, congrats in advance on that. 

Max Lugavere: It's called Genius Kitchen and I'm super excited. It's my first cookbook. It's two books in one. We have a bunch of really epic recipes that I'm super proud of, all grain free, gluten free, made with the most nutrient dense and accessible foods on the planet. But as I mentioned two in one, the first half of the book is, I break down every single food component. I talk about in a very dogma freeway, what you should be stocking your genius kitchen with, and what you should be aiming to avoid, and then I go into food prep methods, and how to optimize digestion, and all that stuff. So, it's a very robust cookbook. I'm super excited for it. 

Melanie Avalon: Oh, I can't wait to read it. That is really exciting. Well, congrats in advance and hopefully, we can bring you back on in the future, because like I said there're so many topics and you're doing really amazing things. 

Max Lugavere: Thanks, Melanie. We'd love to.  

Melanie Avalon: All right. Thanks, Max. Bye. 

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