Today I want to talk about Brian Johnson, or as he is more commonly called, the Liver King.
You may have seen the over the top videos of a brawny, shirtless man wandering the streets of New York with a weighted sled, rucksack, and kettlebells in tow as he strolls down Broadway; or you may have seen him devouring a bulls testicle while after a grueling, and also shirtless, workout of the ski urgh, rowing machine, and various dumbells, barbells, and random weighted objects. This is Brian Johnson, or rather the Liver King, who has taken the internet by storm and garnered attention each in the forms of awe, appreciation, controversy, and malice.
The @liverking now has over 2 million followers on Instagram and he is as controversial as he is popular. Some of his more divisive beliefs include a condemnation of many of the trappings and comforts of modern society – which he claims are harmful, and his diet which consists almost exclusively of raw meat and animal organs.
He has adopted an admittedly absurd and over-the top but undeniably attention-grabbing persona in the Liver King, and some of his philosophies may not be 100% backed by science. Nevertheless, it would be wrong to dismiss all of Brian Johnson’s claims as the Liver King. In this discussion I will review some of Liver King’s core tenants in what I hope is an objective manner, to demonstrate that behind all the posturing, screaming, flexing, and caricature of a persona, that the Liver King makes some valid statements which when followed can improve the quality of our lives.
Beginning on his website, liverking.com, LK’s mission statement is: “every man, women, and child has the right to be strong, healthy and happy. To live life with robust energy and biological resilience. To go from mere existence in life, to discovering that which makes life worth living.” Ok, so we are off to a good start. His mission closely resembles my own mission for Happy Together, therefore this warrants further discussion. His focus is on biological and physiological health and believes, correctly so, that prioritizing physical wellness creates the opportunity for health and happiness in our social, mental, spiritual, and emotional lives. When one pillar of our total wellbeing suffers, the temple of our existence cannot stand. Focusing on physical health, as LK has done, is an excellent first step to building complete wellness.
The path which LK has laid out to his followers involves what he calls the “9 Ancestral Tentants” which he says are “designed to bring out the best versions of ourselves, by re-aligning our lifestyle, diet and behaviors with a Primal way of being.” Let’s look into those tenants to see if there are valid points or if this guy really is just a poser and a wind-bag as some of his social media haters would claim.
Per the website: “The first tenant of Ancestral Living is Sleep, because it trumps everything else! It’s the time when body and brain detox, recover, rebuild and restore.” He adds in advice that you should view natural sunlight first thing upon waking so that you may maintain a healthy circadian rhythm, and to avoid eating 4 hours before bed to properly regulate neurotransmitter, digestive, and hormonal responses.
Nothing in this tenant is controversial and in fact it is strongly supported by modern science. Early ancestors would not have had to be deliberate about rising early to view the sun, because this was part of their natural sleep-wake cycle. Modern humans need to be more intentional about when we go to bed and when we rise, because we keep ourselves up late with distractions, sleep in late, and many of us neglect to spend time outdoors getting natural light through the eyes. Most of us either work remote and can move from bed to the home-office without setting foot outdoors or we quickly shuffle from the shelter of our home, into transportation and into an office. Either we fail to get the necessary light exposure to moderate circadian rhythm as well as immune function benefits we get from vitamin d synthesis and we fail to maintain a healthy sleep cycle that mimics the day-night cycle of the sun and earth. Furthermore many of us get poor quality sleep when we do sleep, or don’t get enough because we live in a culture where sleep deprivation, being sacrificed for working ourselves to exhaustion, is a badge of honor. Sleep is where our cells heal, where our hormones are balanced, where our brain is restored, and our immunity is boosted. Improper sleep will quickly collapse the quality of your health.
I would recommend listening to LK here and try to take a 20-30 minute walk outdoors first thing in the morning, even if it is cloudy, so that you get a decent amount of sunshine to regulate your sleep cycle. Supplement this with a set bed time that allows you to get sufficient quality sleep, and so that you can rise appropriately early to attack your day.
Verdict on Tenant 1: Great Idea
“The second Ancestral Tenet is Eat because we evolved eating the whole animal.”
Nothing at this jumps off the page as completely ludicrous, but when we examine his posts and videos, we understand that when LK means the whole animal, he means the WHOLE ANIMAL Some of his most popular content typically involves him eating raw animal organs including but not limited to liver, brain, heart, and perhaps most shockingly: testicles.
Liver King, and many others, believe that a carnivore diet (a diet of only meat) provides ample nutrition provided of course that the animal from whence the meat and organ is harvested is of good health (this might be the biggest struggle in modern society – to find a truly healthy animal to eat). I personally don’t follow a carnivore diet, but I know a number of people who do, and who have seen tremendous improvements in both objective and subjective measures of health. I don’t know about nutrition to make any advice here, other than to say: consult with your doctor or a dietary professional before engaging in a carnivore diet, or any other diet, especially if that carnivore diet includes raw food. My best feelings come from eating lean meats, fruits, vegetables, and nuts, as part of a balanced diet, which though it differs from LK’s diet, it does cut out most of the harmful ingredients in modern food. The key thing here isn’t just what the Liver King is eating, it is what he is NOT eating which is processed foods.
In discussing the raw food in LK’s diet, should point out that fire was discovered and implemented tens of thousands of years ago back during prehistoric ages so eating raw food doesn’t necessarily reflect a true “ancestral” tenant which he is so fond of. Eating cooked foods allowed our ancestors to properly digest certain foods, and to consume greater quantity of food, while also eradicating the risk of certain bacteria that could easily wipe out a primal prehistoric human just as it could you or me. I understand that Liver King probably enjoys the challenge that exposure to potentially harmful pathogens would provide in allowing his immune system to grow and strengthen, but my biggest suggestion here is that you cook your meat, but LK is not wrong in the least to suggest we alter our diet to become healthier and happier.
Verdict on Tenant 2: Slightly Controversial because of the raw food, but we could all stand to eat less shit common in the modern diet
“The 3rd ancestral tenant is to move. What you do with your body is just as important as what you put into it. By maintaining a ‘healthy level of movement,’ one develops a healthy approach to consumption, where instincts become far more identifiable and beneficial.”
Again, nothing controversial here. Think about your average day. Most of us spend 6-8 hours in bed, 8-10 hours sitting at a desk, 1-2 hours commuting (while sitting), and 3-4 hours vegetating on the couch before we go to sleep. Assuming the high end of each activity, that leaves at most 1 hour of time for movement, but realistically most people will find a way to remain sedentary during that activity as well. The fact is, modern humans move less, much less, than our ancestors whose bodies evolved to run, walk, hunt, fight, squat, and crawl. Now we are confined to simply sitting or lying down almost interminably, and the results are chronic degradation of our muscles, joints, bones, and our physical well-being. This becomes mental distress , low self-esteem, headaches and general chronic poor physical health. To correct this course, we must be more intentional about moving our bodies.
Even those of us who think we are active are probably not as active as we imagine. A 90-minute vigorous workout will not be enough to offset the remaining 22.5 hours of sedentary living. In addition to regular rigorous exercise 4-7 days a week, we should all adhere to tenant 3 and move more which can be done such as scheduling 5–10-minute blocks where we will get up, walk, and stretch or drop to the floor for some pushups to break up prolonged periods of inactivity. It doesn’t matter how you move, just move. Make it easy by doing so in a manner that is enjoyable to you.
Verdict on Tenant 3: Great Idea
“The fourth Ancestral Tenet is Shield because we need to avoid dangers just like our early ancestors did, but instead of running from lions, nowadays we run from seed oils, excessive wifi, EMFs, and man-made poisons.”
Some of this, like abstaining from toxic foods, while other parts garner visions of a man in a tinfoil hat. While some might argue that wifi, EMF etc are harmful, I think that the evidence that such exposures are truly harmful is not yet backed or widely supported by the scientific community.
I suppose we could stretch this out and say that if you are avoiding WiFi or EMF then you are likely spending time outdoors, and moving (tenant 3), generally preferred to spending time locked up sedentary and indoors, but I have a hard time stating with certainty that exposure to WiFi is a major threat to society. While perhaps not a threat to our existence, we could all stand to put our phones down more often.
Verdict on Tenant 4: Somewhat Exaggerated
“The fifth Ancestral Tenet is Connect. Our early ancestors were in constant contact with the earth 24/7/365. The earth has a slightly negative charge which provides a grounding force for our electrophysiology. With the advent of rubber shoes, cars, houses and elevated beds, we no longer come into contact with this grounding force. Think about it, when was the last time you had your bare feet planted on the earth for any real duration?”
Much like tenant 4, I am not convinced that the issue of being disconnected from earth is as big a deal as it is made to be. However, it is indicative of other potential concerns. If we are connected to the earth we are presumably outdoors, likely moving our bodies as nature intended and not locked into technology.
There are those, many of whom I respect, who suggest that contact with trees or with the earth can have a eugenic effect. I will plead ignorance and admit I must educate myself further as I pass my verdict on this tenant. I would say being connected to the earth is likely a good thing but probably not a cause for alarm for most, and probably plays a relatively small role towards our well-being when compared to other tenants.
Verdict on Tenant 5: Somewhat exaggerated
“Comfort is not good for the organism. This is why the sixth Ancestral Tenet is “Get Cold.” In modern times, we simply put on some clothes, turn up the heater, or avoid the cold altogether by staying inside. No one likes that uncomfortable frigid feeling that comes with cold, especially when we have access to warmth 24/7.”
There is a great deal of evidence validating LK’s statements on the value of cold. Andrew Huberman, David Sinclair, and other noted scientists have recently discussed at length that cold exposure is better for the following reasons: cold exposure triggers hermetic stress which is good for longevity; builds mental fortuity as we compel ourselves to do something we don’t want to; it boosts metabolism and metabolism supporting hormones; increases alertness by boosting dopamine; and enhances our ability to deal with mental or physiological stress.
LK is 100% correct, modern humans spend almost the entirety of their existence in a state of comfort that was enjoyed few and far between by our ancestors. Moderate levels of stress are what David Sinclair calls hermetic stress and are good because they encourage the cells of our body to optimally function. Cold exposure is perhaps the single greatest example of hermetic stress.
Verdict on Tenant 6: Great Idea
“The seventh Ancestral Tenet is Sun for the natural production of Vitamin D. This prevents tooth decay, increases immunity and improves overall health. The vitamin D produced in the body from midday sun exposure works synergistically with the other fat-soluble vitamins A and K which helps us to remineralize our teeth, support key metabolic factors, improve energy metabolism and optimize immunity.”
We have alluded to the benefits of sun exposure in previous tenants such as tenant 1 due to the association of healthy sleep cycles and sun exposure.
There is a wealth of scientific studies and experiments showing the numerous benefits of sunlight. It comes with the obvious caveat of not over-exposing ourselves to the sun. Sun exposure is associated with greater immunity, greater happiness, decreased anxiety and depression and more. Nearly every cause of mortality is associated with vitamin D deficiencies. Depending on our natural levels of melanin, where we are on the planet, what the season is, etc., as little as 20 minutes of direct midday sun exposure. Consult with a doctor for how much sun exposure is appropriate for you, but most of us could all stand to enjoy more sun in our lives.
Verdict on Tenant 7: Great Idea
“The eighth Ancestral Tenet is Fight. Our ancestors evolved fighting, hunting, protecting, struggling, persevering and eventually winning. And when we win, we get rewarded with a boost of dopamine and androgens. In modernity, there are not a lot of natural opportunities to put yourselves in harm’s way, to overcome real struggle, to really fight for something of value. I believe for us to really thrive, we have to possess a type of high courage to continue to fight for something meaningful, to foster an inner fire, to take real risks and to continue to create ways to win. This is how we avoid falling into a rut.”
I am glad that LK took the liberty of elaborating that he isn’t suggesting that we go start a street fight, but that we can simulate the neurological effects of successful combat by setting goals that challenge us and overcoming them – although you could honor this tenant by engaging in organized combat sports in a controlled environment. Tenant 8. somewhat echoes the sentiments of tenant 6, but once again, humans today live in a near perpetual state of comfort. To grow and succeed as humans, we must set difficult goals that challenge us to become a better person so that we may grow towards an ideal version of our selves and so that we enjoy the spoils of a victory won by committing ourselves to success.
Verdict on Tenant 8: Great Idea
“The ninth Ancestral Tenet is Bond. Since the inception of our species, we have belonged to a far greater purpose. Our ancestor’s purpose was guarding the perimeter from danger to protect one’s tribe, hunting and foraging to feed one’s tribe, building, tool making and weapon making to shelter and shield one’s tribe, caretaking and love making to nurture, to nourish and to grow one’s tribe, there was purpose in teaching and in tradition, and in play, that cultivate traditions and deepen social bonds. That kind of purpose, support, care and attention decided whether people would live or die.”
If it weren’t for our extraordinary ability to bond, connect, and cooperate, human’s would likely be extinct, having succumbed to a host stronger, faster, and bigger predators. Yet here we are, and we owe a great deal of our survival and development to our social bonds.
Today, especially on what I hope is the tail end of a pandemic, our social bonds have never been weaker. The average person’s evening is spent lying on the couch, scrolling through social media and interacting with precisely nobody. The modern person interacts less with others than we ever have before. Humans are social creatures by nature, and it isn’t just our social health but our biological health that suffers when we fail to bond. The oxytocin exchanged between a mother and her baby within the first moments after birth are critical to healthy development of the child into a functioning adult. Solitary confinement is perhaps one of the cruelest forms of punishment imaginable and those who endure it often suffer irreparable damage and are rarely able to successfully reintegrate into society.
Look no further than the results of the previous two years’ World Happiness Reports, where depression and anxiety have both gone up to unprecedented levels. Most experts believe that the lockdowns from the pandemic and the subsequent isolation are responsible. In a world with already scarce social interactions, even fewer interactions have contributed mental health concerns at record levels. Bonding with others can help address these worries.
Verdict on Tenant 9: Great Idea
He may present an absurd and somewhat laughable character due to his histrionics, and while it is worth noting that he flies in private jets, and lives in a mansion, and that his impressive physique would appear to be the result of performance enhancing drugs as it is his ancestral lifestyle, but the Liver King might just be worth listening to. I am of the opinion that much of the hate he receives is by insecure individuals who feel threatened because of his in-your-face, loud approach which challenges the unhealthy trends which society now comes to understand as normal. I think that normal has come to be associated with such a low standard that anyone who challenges the norms and dares to be exceptional runs the probability of drawing the ire of his peers. Whether or not Liver King truly abides by his established tenants is irrelevant. People will look for flaws in his philosophy because it gives them validation to continue being less than ideal versions of themselves, because to challenge critically examine themselves the way the Liver King does is uncomfortable and frightening. People would rather criticize and look for an excuse not to listen rather than take the time to consider that these ancestral tenants, perhaps not necessarily needing to be followed to a T, can and will provide improvement in our sense of happiness.
Give him a follow on instagram @Liverking or check out his website: https://www.liverking.com/.
You will at the very least be entertained if not inspired, as I am.