I have not yet had time to delve as deeply into this theory as I’d like, so in a moment I’ll be directing you to other sources for your own exploration, but I wanted to give a brief introduction to the topic and a few of my own thoughts.
Back in 2014, a man named Grant Genereux (an engineer, unassociated with the science or medical fields) introduced a radical new hypothesis about the underlying cause of eczema, which he later expanded to include all autoimmune diseases and most other “diseases of Western civilization” as well: vitamin A toxicity. He even goes so far as to argue that vitamin A is not a vitamin at all, but a toxin.
He himself has now maintained an essentially no-vitamin-A diet for 7 years, both to prove a point that vitamin A is not, in fact, an essential nutrient, and to maintain the significant health benefits he’s realized by avoiding vitamin-A-containing foods. (Notably, his own diet has consisted of three foods – beef, rice, and black beans – for years, so obviously there could be mechanisms at play other than vitamin A status. Regardless, he explicitly does not recommend that others follow such a restrictive diet.)
He’s written two free eBooks that contain his hypotheses in detail, plus the associated research to back them up. Unfortunately, his blog isn’t very easily navigable, and from what I can tell, the “vitamin A detox” community lives primarily in the discussion forums on his blog. As an outsider being exposed to the concept for the first time, there isn’t a great way to get your bearings.
Dr. Garrett Smith seems to have capitalized on this gap by creating an online program/membership space called “Love Your Liver” ($99.99/year as of July 2022) that guides you through the vitamin A detox process. By contrast, I don’t believe Genereux has ever attempted to make a cent off of his work.
Admittedly I’m fuzzy on the connection between these two – I know Dr. Smith is active on Genereux’s forums, but I don’t know what level of collaboration might exist there.
As for the hypothesis itself, I’m a bit skeptical, but I’m intrigued. I’m loathe to re-categorize vitamin A as a toxin, if only based on the historical consumption of vitamin A rich foods like liver (as you know, I think there’s much wisdom in traditional food practices), but he brings up a lot of interesting research, and there are certainly anecdotal reports of success with a wide array of health conditions.
I’m also intrigued by the overlap with the bean protocol. Although the emphasis of “allowed” and “restricted” foods differs significantly between the two diets, the increasing emphasis in the vitamin A detox community on soluble fiber to help with elimination of excess vitamin A through the bile (plus Genereux’s inclusion of black beans in his own limited diet) makes me wonder if the two protocols are built around the same nugget of truth.
The vitamin A detox community has also recently addressed the topic of stearic acid, ultimately leading to recommendations to avoid coconut oil, cocoa butter, beef fat, and other highly saturated fats. This creates another parallel between the two protocols.
Given my own initial success with the bean protocol, as well as some other recent experiences I’ll share more about at some point, the vitamin A toxicity theory of autoimmune disease is currently of interest to me, and I hope to delve more deeply into the theory in the coming months.
For now, I’ll direct you to this page from Eat Beautiful for a primer on Genereux’s theory and the vitamin A detox diet. This is the first time I’ve ever been to that website and I don’t know anything about the author, so I can’t vouch for her, but from what I can tell, she’s done a lovely job summarizing all the main points, and it’s the most thorough write-up I can find online at this time.
Finally, I want to emphasize that the whole vitamin A thing is a hypothesis – keep your skeptic hat on and don’t let yourself get sucked into a new dogma with a new set of food fears. I have a great deal of respect for Genereux for the amount of time and research he’s put into this topic, and his obvious disinclination to profit from it in any way, but that doesn’t mean he’s right.
Remember that humans have been eating vitamin A- (and carotenoid-)containing foods since humans existed (and as one commenter below pointed out, we have pathways to convert carotenoids into vitamin A), so the likelihood that Genereux is correct about vitamin A being a toxin seems extraordinarily low. But that doesn’t mean that vitamin A couldn’t still cause problems in certain contexts.
In any case, I’ll update this post once I’ve had time to do my own digging. For now, if you have any thoughts or experience with a vitamin A detox diet, I’d love to hear about it! Feel free to share below.