This week we have the pleasure of hearing from Kurtis Frank. In his own words:
“Kurtis Frank graduated from the University of Guelph with a bachelor’s degree in Applied Human Nutrition. His research work on Examine.com began while still a student, and upon graduation in spring of 2012, gathering and analyzing research on supplementation and nutrition became his fulltime job.
A recreational bodybuilder and powerlifter, Kurtis has a passion for dietary supplements due to a desire to harmonize the discord between the preventative and rehabilitative potential of some dietary supplements and the seemingly lack of interest of the medical community in incorporating dietary supplements in to preventative medicine. As an addendum to this, a great many supplements with inefficacy or insufficient data need to be purged before the diamonds in the rough can be exposed.”
The Slim Is Simple.org Non-Profit Nutrition Education Effort
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[Audio Starts 00:23]
Jonathan: Hey everyone, Jonathan Bailor back with another bonus Smarter Science of Slim podcast. I got to tell you I’m, as a listener, forget about being a host, as a listener, I am excited for today’s show, because we are joined by the lead researcher at examine.com. I wasn’t familiar with examine.com until recently, but I am going to get more familiar with it, because it is an online compendium – and I just love that word – a compendium of information on dietary supplementation and health whose goals are to become an up-to-date and comprehensive database on all topics of health and wellness.
The coolest thing in addition to being super, super, super science based – maybe even too science based for some listeners – but very science based, is that the way they make their money is totally indirect. They are truly independent researchers. There is no one paying them for their recommendations, and there is no subscriber fees.
I actually want to talk a little bit about how they make money, because as you and I all know, how people make money greatly influences sometimes their opinion about what we put in our mouth and do with our body. Fortunately, examine.com is trying to break away from that. We have none other than the lead researcher from examine.com, Kurtis Frank. Welcome to the show, brother.
Kurtis: Hi there.
Jonathan: Kurtis, examine.com… unbiased. What lead to the inspiration to create this compendium of independent unbiased supplementation research?
Kurtis: It was a stroke of luck for the most part. I was just thinking out loud on a public forum that I wanted a huge database to put all my research in that I could revisit at any time. It was just collected there for me, but it’s available for the public as well. So other people could just access it, get their thoughts, see what I’ve researched and save themselves some time. Then I just had all these other out there ideas, and I thought it was just completely impractical.
Then I was contacted by my now co-founder at Examine, Sol Orwell, and he was like, “Yo, I can make that happen.” We just got together, made examine.com and we have been working at it ever since.
Jonathan: Kurtis, you might be the only other person – there’s like me, you, John Keefer, there’s a few other folks – do you just read thousands of studies in your spare time for fun?
Kurtis: Yes, I can’t really distinguish between work and spare time anymore. I just wake up, caffeine, get to work, keep on going. I’ve crossed that line where I no longer get stressed and tired from reading studies. It just is, so I keep on going.
Jonathan: I love it. Well, Kurtis, take us through the typical – so you had this passion, you were just reading studies, take us maybe through the chronology of you, crazy passionate about science supplementation and the existence of examine.com, and then also throw in key numbers like number of studies you’ve read, number of visitors to your site, blah-blah-blah.
Kurtis: So the history of Examine?
Jonathan: Sure, and you. Because you, in many ways, you are Examine, from what I understand.
Kurtis: I’m blushing. But yeah, basically before I got started at Examine, my history basically could be summed up as: I started off obese, out of shape and became not obese and out of shape. I am actually a trained dietician, despite that I love the idea of putting a pill in your mouth and changing your body. It’s just as close as you can get to putting cheat codes into life. But when I looked at the supplement industry as it is I was completely… the opposite sensation was there.
It seems a lot of people love the idea of putting pills in their mouth to change their body, and ninety percent of what was out there is either ineffective, over marketed when it shouldn’t be, or just the thing in your pill is not actually what’s on the label. I really wanted to harmonize that balance. If I see someone who loves supplementation, I should be elated at that fact rather than concerned about their health because of the state the industry is in.
Because of that, I just started to get research on supplementation. I went to university for dietetics mainly because I didn’t get into pharmacy initially. I can go to pharmacy for Masters, it doesn’t matter. Then I just got to Examine. I thought that’s the best way to educate the public about supplementation and further my own research at the exact same time. I’ve just been working at it since.
Jonathan: Kurtis, I love that story because it shows an interesting irony, one that I’ve experienced as well. Tell me what you think about this. Something as scientific and brain based as examine.com, often the intestinal fortitude necessary to do that and to create that and to do all that research, to do that very logical undertaking, comes from a very emotional place. It sounds like a place of pain that you experienced that on some level you said, “I don’t want others to experience the same pain.”
Kurtis: That would be a little bit accurate. I haven’t experienced as much pain as I have seen pain. I’ve seen a lot of case studies where, let’s say there is a popular supplement like Kava Kava or maybe Black Cohosh. With these supplements, as soon as they receive a certain amount of popularity, you will always find case studies of liver damage with them.
Not because the herb is bad, but because somebody just put some cheap filler into their supplement, someone took it, got hurt and blamed what was on the label. It happens with scary precision. If it gets 100 million dollars per year, people are going to start spiking it just to make a buck.
Jonathan: Interesting, interesting. Kurtis, the thing I want to share with the listeners here, and certainly you can speak to this better than I can, is what impressed me the most about examine.com in addition to the breadth and depth of the research is – the site is legit, it has a bunch of information on it. Obviously there are people that have to be working full time on the site. Then the question comes, okay, well then how is this getting funded?
You guys have an incredibly unique way of financing yourselves, and that is really important, because as you know and as you talk about a lot, whoever’s paying the bills often times can influence what we hear about eating and exercise. How do you guys pay the bills?
Kurtis: When we started off with Examine, we had a little link on the top of each page. Let’s say you go to the page on Raspberry Ketones. I’d recommend you don’t, because they suck. At the very top you would see a link ‘By from Amazon’. We link to Amazon.com, .ca mostly, and some other search engines as well. We never link to a particular brand, we just link to the general website where you can then do a search which has already been implemented.
If you click the Raspberry Ketones buy link, you will be on Amazon.com, and the search for Raspberry Ketones is already done. From there, if you buy something from Amazon, we get a small cut because we referred you. That was initially our only stream of income, and it was a very bad stream of income for the first two years of existence. Ever since we started selling our little PDF e-book, that started to become a source of income as well.
Eventually in the future, I can’t say this with a 100 percent certainty, but we may actually start to phase out the Amazon.com links just in favor for the e-book or whatever independent source of income we might come across.
Jonathan: Kurtis, I want to highlight this for the listeners, because for those of us who are in the industry get how radical and awesome this is, but it might not be immediately obvious unless you work in the industry. Examine.com, obviously a massive amount of work is going into the company here, and not only are they not selling pills, potions and powders, but they’re not even recommending specific brands they are in bed with and yadda yadda. They’re just saying you want to buy Luciene? Okay, we will do the Google search for you. Is that correct?
Jonathan: Then certainly they will sell an e-book or something like that, which is – I just want to salute you, Kurtis, because so much of the medical, nutrition and health industry has been driven by making money, and because of that, healthy has become very unhealthy. I appreciate that, and I hope you guys are able to keep that up over time.
Kurtis: Well, I am in a little position right now just fresh out of university, and when you are in university, you get by on less than five digits a year kind of thing. I am at this moment in time desensitized to the concept of earning the big bucks, because as long as I can eat, I am completely happy with that.
Jonathan: Kurtis, I love it, I love it. So tell me a little bit about – so much is talked about supplements these days. Supplement, supplement, supplement, but one of the things you point out is that there are foods which could almost be thought of as supplements given how acute their effects are. Can we talk about that a little bit?
Kurtis: Sure. Which ones?
Jonathan: Which do you find to be the most compelling for the most common goals I’ve seen, which are fat loss, energy improval, and maybe some lean muscle tissue development?
Kurtis: I can’t actually think of any foods for lean muscle growth aside from more.
Jonathan: Okay, that’s a great answer. I love that, I love that.
Kurtis: There are two, in particular, I find really good for health. The first one will be shorter for me to explain, so I will get that out of the way first. It’s called Nigella Sativa, which is what the Examine entry is under, but they are essentially black cumin seeds, not related to cumin at all. Tastes like pepper, not related to pepper at all. It’s a spice used in India, but it is also a medicine there. The active dose is literally two to three grams of the seeds.
Enough to just season a piece of meat. In general, it has weak to moderate beneficial effects on almost everything. It’s anti-cancer but not in a remarkable way like some chemo therapeutics would be. It does boost the immune system to a mild degree. It is anti-diabetic, and that one’s a bit more impressive than the other ones. Reduces cholesterol, not enough to write home about, but it’s another added benefit.
There is one study I saw where it was just given to obese men with a lot of visceral body fat like the whole hard belly, and it improved all their health parameters just a little bit, but their wellbeing went up. The authors didn’t really know what the heck happened; it just did. It’s a great spice to just have in your house, season food and get a little bit healthier each day. It’s the definition of a healthy food.
Jonathan: Kurtis, is it such that, could you just put it in a tablespoon and take it – forget my dosage is probably all screwed up, but could you put a teaspoon of it in a smoothie, or just like mix it with water?
Kurtis: Well, it tastes like black pepper, so I’m not sure putting it in a smoothie might be the best thing. You can have a pasta dish or whatever and just throw on two or three grams and eat it.
Jonathan: What is it called again?
Kurtis: Nigella Sativa or you can find it in an Indian grocer called black cumin seeds.
Jonathan: Alright, I love it. What else?
Jonathan: Wahoo! I love garlic.
Kurtis: I love garlic so much right now.
Jonathan: Raw garlic, cooked garlic? Does it matter?
Kurtis: Any form of garlic except when you cook it before slicing it up. It’s weird.
Jonathan: Okay, so do not cook whole cloves of garlic?
Kurtis: It’s easy to explain but weird to put your head around. There is one main molecule in garlic called Alliin. It’s pretty stable. It just chills there. Then there is an enzyme called Alliinase. These things all sound alike so it’s confusing. They’re just sitting there doing nothing until you cut or crush the garlic clove, then Alliinase will act on Alliin to form Alliicin. Whenever Alliicin is formed, and it’s just spontaneous combustion to a thousand different molecules, and those are all the molecules that give you health benefits.
If that little spontaneous combustion does not occur, then you don’t really get the health benefits of garlic. The only way that cannot occur is if you heat excessively or boil the clove before cutting it, because that will destroy the enzyme but leave the main parent molecule intact.
Jonathan: Gotcha. This is going to sound really dumb, but given that most of the time we don’t hear about cutting food causing chemical reactions, which is what sounds like is happening here… let’s say I take a clove of garlic, and I cut it in half. Okay, that’s scenario A. Scenario B, I cut it up into seven pieces. Scenario C, I put it in a blender and pulverize it. Am I getting better and better as I go down that spectrum?
Kurtis: Depends. Are you cooking it afterwards, or are you just eating it?
Jonathan: Let’s say both.
Kurtis: If you are cooking it afterwards, the more you crush it up, the better. If you are eating it, no big deal, because your teeth are crushing it up.
Jonathan: But generally speaking, the more it could become like a garlic paste…
Kurtis: Yes, the more surface area you expose it to, the more of the reaction you get.
Jonathan: So you and I should go into business creating like a garlic peanut butter of sorts where it is just…
Kurtis: You could just put garlic cloves on the counter and smash it with the cutting board. That would work quite well.
Jonathan: I like my idea of garlic and jelly sandwich better. That sounds delicious.
Kurtis: Yeah, but consumers need to eat it.
Jonathan: Alright, Kurtis, so we’ve got black cumin seeds, we’ve got garlic. Anything else on the list?
Kurtis: I could talk about garlic more?
Jonathan: Okay, yeah, keep going.
Kurtis: One thing that really surprised me about it: its immune boosting properties. Whenever you are talking about the immune system or just increasing immunity, that in and of itself is a really vague and kind of meaningless term. You have to break it down into parameters. Do you want to prevent getting sick? If you are already sick, do you want to get better faster? Or do you just want to reduce the symptoms?
So there’s different ways you can attack it. Echinacea, for example, it reduces how long you are sick for, but it does not really reduce the frequency of sickness nor the severity of symptoms. Garlic is really potent at preventing sickness from occurring basically. Two studies, both of them are independent from each other, but one is supported by the producers of a supplement.
Basically the equivalent of around twelve grams of garlic gloves a day, raw weight, will reduce cold frequency by about sixty percent. For every 100 people that get sick in the placebo group, forty in the garlic group get sick. Same effect size in both studies, so it just seems that having one clove of garlic three times a day with meals can have that much of a reduction in the rate of sickness. Doesn’t do much when you are already sick, but it just prevents you from getting sick.
Jonathan: Kurtis, so if we wanted to use garlic, let’s say you’re Jonathan Bailor, and you’re lazy when it comes to cooking, and if it comes down to it, I would literally just take garlic, mash it up and combine it with water and drink it. If I am going to use this almost like a medicine, less like a food and more like a supplement, how should I dose it? Should I take a half cup of it at three times a day? Obviously that’s too much, but what would I take?
Kurtis: Should I take you to the bank on saying lazy? Because you can actually get a lot of benefits from just taking one clove, eating it and then having your meal and brushing your teeth after. That’s all you really need to do.
Jonathan: In terms of frequency and dose, it’s just like get a clove’s worth of garlic into your body after mashing it up either with your mouth or with some other device per day?
Kurtis: Three times a day, usually. I just say when you’re cooking breakfast, pop in a garlic clove, then eat your breakfast. Maybe have one when you get back from work or school and have one after dinner.
Jonathan: For people like me who don’t know what a clove of garlic is, what is the gram – see this is like one geek talking to another geek, listeners. I am like, “Can you describe that in grams please?”
Kurtis: It’s around four to five grams for a clove of garlic. Ideally you’d want nine to twelve grams of garlic overall through the course of a day. Assuming a clove is about three to four, that’s about three cloves.
Jonathan: Oh, Kurtis, I feel like we are having a geek moment right now. The listeners might just be like Oh my gosh move on, move on. We’re having fun, though. Anything else about garlic, Kurtis, or should we move onto another food?
Kurtis: Garlic as a food product – this is sort of survey research, like correlational, so don’t take it at face value – but it does have a lot of anti-cancer properties. People who eat ten grams of garlic a day relative to those who do not tend to have reduced risk of, I believe it is stomach, prostate and colon cancer. Not an amazingly reduced risk but enough that the food product actually does reduce the risk of those things.
Jonathan: Fascinating, fascinating, fascinating. Alright, so Kurtis, I am just checking our time here, and I can tell we are geeking out, because I want to keep – we have gotten through one eighth of one of the talking points. We are totally going to have you back, because this is glorious. If you’ll come back. But the one thing I do want to ask you is if you could recommend, just for the everyday person who — when I say everyday, I mean they are not training for some major event, they are trying to be happy and healthy and do what they do in this world to the best of their ability — what are the three foods or supplements you would highly recommend?
Kurtis: Oh dear, this one’s going to be weird. Can I actually avoid the really common ones? Like I know everyone knows about fish oil and vitamin D. That’s already in my recommendations, but if I recommend those two right now, I only have one good thing to talk about. So let’s pretend we talked about fish oil and vitamin D already and fall into my next favorite three.
The first one is something called Berberine. B-E-R-B-E-R-I-N-E. It has an interesting history, because it was found independently in eight different herbs that were all said to be anti-diabetic. It turns out that Berbeerine is anti-diabetic, so yay common thread, and it’s basically metformin. Metformin’s an anti-diabetic drug which is probably my favorite pharmaceutical in existence. It reduces elevated blood glucose but cannot induce low blood glucose. In general, it does reduce fat mass in people who are obese and unhealthy – not so much lean people, I think.
It partially mimics caloric restriction. Not the best, but it’s potently anti-diabetic, reduces triglycerides, reduces cholesterol a little bit and works well with anything that’s like a statin, then just makes you a bit better.
Jonathan: Can you spell it one more time for us?
Jonathan: Love it. That was number one, what is number two?
Jonathan: Okay, love it. And remember that is mashed up garlic.
Kurtis: Yes. Because when I said Berberine works well with things that are like statins, garlic is a statin. That may sound weird, but it kind of is. Garlic itself does reduce cholesterol, LDL and increases HDL in the ten to fifteen percent range. It’s quite potent at that stuff. Garlic and Berberine work well together and the stuff that Berberine does not do, garlic does really well. So those two things independently with a healthy diet can do so much for the body.
Jonathan: Love it. So Berberine, garlic and what’s number three?
Kurtis: Oh dear, so many to talk about. I’ll go with Spirulina. It’s a fun history with me, because I started researching Spirulina because I thought it was some weird, hippie, green thing, and it became one of my favorite supplements after that.
Jonathan: How similar is Spirulina to maybe the more popular green powder, wheat grass?
Kurtis: Oh, God, they are totally different. If you think of Spirulina as a vegetable replacement, it’s totally not. It’s basically a drug. You know how there is inflammation in the body and oxidation in the body, and they are both kind of seen as bad, falsely, I guess?
Kurtis: Those two systems can interact with each other. One of the main ways it interacts is – one of your immune cells – it’s called the neutrophil – circulates the body, checking it out. If it sees bacteria it does something called oxidative bursts, which is basically a machine gun of super oxide radicals in killing any bacteria that gets in the way. It’s pretty awesome. But at the same time, if the neutrophil is not working properly, it does that to your tissue, and that’s how inflammation can cause oxidative damage.
Spirulina just straight up inhibits that process. The one enzyme that mediates the shot gun effect, Spirulina just stops.
Jonathan: Spirulina, assuming it’s not this magic mana from the gods designed specifically to do that, what is the thing or component in Spirulina that interacts with the body to cause that?
Kurtis: Okay, Spirulina is forty percent protein by weight, and one percent of Spirulina by weight in the protein fragment is something called c-phycocyanin. Don’t really need to worry about it too much, but basically it looks like the bile acids in the human body. Bile acids naturally do that whole inhibitory thing. People who actually have elevated bile acids in the blood, I believe it’s called Gilbert’s Syndrome — it was called disease until we realized they are healthier than us.
It’s called Gilbert’s Syndrome, and we believe that Spirulina can mimic it to a certain degree, because it’s mimicking elevated bile acids. Whoever has Gilbert’s Syndrome has a longer life expectancy, lower chances of cardiovascular disease, reduced obesity, reduced risk of dementia, just all the good stuff.
Jonathan: Interesting. I’ve got to tell you I’m pretty excited about having a little Berberine or a little black cumin seed, a little garlic and a little Spirulina smoothie later tonight. I think I might give that a shot.
Kurtis: Be careful. Spriulina stains everything green.
Jonathan: So how do you take it? Do you take it in capsule form?
Kurtis: No, I also brush my teeth afterwards.
Jonathan: See, there you go, and that’s just things working out, because you need to do that with the garlic anyway.
Jonathan: I love it.
Kurtis: Promoting dental health indirectly by bad tasting foods. Or bad breath inducing, green teeth pasting foods.
Jonathan: Kurtis, obviously this has been a phenomenal interview, because we are only scratching the surface, and this is brilliant, so we are going to have you back for sure. What is next for you and examine.com?
Kurtis: We’re basically moving static at the moment but on an upward slope. We’re just going to keep getting more people aware of examine.com, publicize us a little bit, have more people benefit from our information. Personally speaking, I need to go back into the database, because there are a bunch of herbs that I did about one and a half years ago that while they were good at the time, my standard of information has gone up, and I am ashamed of those pages. I need to fix them up. I am forever caffeining forward into the database, making the information a bit better as possible.
Jonathan: I love this. It’s you, and it’s Sol, so when we look at examine.com, we are basically looking at the HTML version of you?
Kurtis: That is actually accurate, and I am blushing again.
Jonathan: If you could turn Kurtis into HTML, it would be examine.com. I love it, I love it. Well, Kurtis, thank you so much for joining us today. We’ll obviously have you back on the show. This is just brilliant, and I salute you for getting out there and getting the independent science based research in such a sketchy area. So thank you, sir.
Kurtis: Thank you, too.
Jonathan: Listeners, I hope enjoyed this conversation as much as I did. Please forget me geeking out a little bit, but it’s fun. Nutrition is fun. Our guest today was the brilliant Kurtis Frank who is the founder and lead researcher over at examine.com, and remember, this week and every week after, eat smarter, exercise smarter and live better. Chat with you soon.
[Audio Ends 27:33]
Jonathan: Wait, wait don’t stop listening yet.
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