Written by Christopher Kelly
Dec. 29, 2014
Christopher: Hello and welcome to the Nourish Balance Thrive podcast. My name is Christopher Kelly. Today, I'm joined by my resident food scientist, Julie Kelly -- she's also my wife -- and then also, my registered nurse Amelia Luker is on with me today. Hi, Amelia.
Amelia: Hi! How are you?
Christopher: Good. We're good.
Christopher: So I wanted to use this type of podcast to go over some of the questions that I get asked all the time, and the girls get asked these questions, too. The first one we thought we'd address is protein. Protein is obviously a macronutrient and it's really interesting for a number of reasons, the first of which I think is it doesn't really alter as a variable in your diet, not really compared to the others.
So you can go on a low-carb diet or you can go on a high-fat diet but you can't really successfully alter protein below the minimum requirement. That's a really bad idea. So if you don't eat enough protein, you're going to lose lean muscle mass. Bad things are going to happen. So I thought we'd talk about that today, and then we'll get into some of the problems that can happen if you eat too little or too much protein and why those things might happen.
Maybe I should start by getting the person that knows what we're actually talking about, the food scientists talk about. So what are your recommendations? So I just come to you, say, and I'm a cyclist, and I'm looking to lose a little bit belly fat and I still want to preserve my lean muscle mass. So I'm training maybe in the gym at this time of year. How much protein should I be eating?
Julie: Well, typically, I usually start by asking people to run me through what they're eating already. So I want to look at how they're doing on the amount of protein that they're eating. Typically, I find whether they're an athlete or not an athlete or just an amateur athlete, typically people are eating almost way too much protein. Sometimes that's a little bit hard to completely put your finger on the exact number so I don't usually start with an exact number recommendation, but I do start with the conversation about how much your body can really process in one sitting. So it doesn't make a lot of sense to eat more than that ever really.
So we walk through that. So for somebody that was a cyclist and they were training heavily but they had some goals like weight loss, I would consider then -- you'd probably want to aim depending on their height and weight for no more than 30 grams in a sitting, which is quite a bit. But a lot of athletes are consuming things like protein shakes and recovery beverages that have whey protein in them. They've been indoctrinated into this idea that they have to consume a ton of protein every time they work out.
So typically, it's a backing-off process when I start to work with someone. I like to get them down to what I would call a minimum, or at least -- Chris was just talking about a minimum requirement. So I don't want you to eat more that 30 grams in a sitting, and I really want it to start to come from real food, so trying to back off some of the recovery beverages and things like that, and the point of this being is I want to get to a place where we really find your ideal right amount of protein for you specifically because I feel like a lot of the recommendations that are out there are very general. They're very hard to interpret based on your level of activity, your height, your weight, and more than anything, your goals.
So your goals change a lot during a season, during the year, as you make progress based on changing your diet, et cetera. So understanding your goals and understanding where you're at currently really is huge in terms of determining how much protein you should be eating.
Christopher: Yeah, that's huge, actually, and I think that's really important as well when you're considering any study. You're on some website and it's making reference to some study that was done. "Oh, well, these people were able to put on this much more lean muscle mass as a result of taking this supplement, and everybody therefore should take..." You just really extrapolate that result out to yourself. Not only do you not know what those other people were doing, you don't know what type of athlete they were. You don't know their genetics.
So really, like Julie says, you need someone to help you through this experiment that's just all about you, just your little (n=1) experiment.
Julie: But there are some easy things that you can do to try to troubleshoot this a little bit for yourself, especially if you're not in a circumstance where you've got any extremes. So we run testing on people to uncover these hidden root causes, and so for some people, recovery, it means more than just recovering from a workout. They're recovering from some type of an infection or they're recovering from some sort of cortisol dysregulation. Perhaps they've got a lot of nutrient deficiencies. So for those people, that's what I consider a more extreme circumstance. Protein requirement is different for them.
But if you're a person that doesn't have any of those things going on -- which is probably unlikely -- but if you don't, then yeah, you can step back from all of the recommendations and advice that you've heard about protein. Understand how much you can really consume in a sitting. Start low and see how you feel, adding in up to your maximum amount. Also, playing with the time of day you consume the protein is another thing that you can troubleshoot.
So it's not that you absolutely have to have a consultant to tell you how much protein you need to be eating, but it is important to make sure that you're experimenting and finding your right amount of protein so that you are fueling your activity and you're recovering from your activity but you're not creating so much extra protein hanging around that's going to lead to other issues like blood sugar dysregulation.
Amelia: Yeah. I was actually going to add to that, that another way to troubleshoot that is to get a blood glucose meter and test yourself. A lot of meals are often mixed with different sources of carbohydrates, but try a very low-carbohydrate meal and test your blood sugar. See if there's a significant spike because if so, that may be due to the amount of protein.
Christopher: Yeah, for sure. So what are your thoughts on -- so if I were to ask the same question to you, Amelia, you're used to seeing people that are in generally worse shape than my 160-pound cyclist that's just looking to win the next bike race. So what are your recommendations to people that are maybe chronically or even critically ill for protein?
Amelia: Well, I absolutely have to say that I think that everything that was said was spot-on for a healthy population, but as people start -- as their health starts becoming impaired, there are issues with assimilation.
Now, that can happen in different circumstances. When you have a digestive infection, some sort of digestive concern, your protein assimilation is going to be lower so your protein requirement is going to be higher, and I think that the troubleshooting that Julie was talking about is very important. And then, also, another thing to consider is that as the population ages, even thinking about a very healthy, older, active athlete, their protein assimilation is going to be slightly impaired just due to age.
So again, it's a very specific circumstance, but I think the way that our system works, we individualize everything so well that we can really work out those bugs.
Christopher: I should say something about the way that protein digestion works, and I think it makes sense to look at this hierarchy that was actually first introduced to me by Stephan Guyenet. He first gave me this idea. I think it's something that not many people are thinking about but it's absolutely dead right.
So you can think of all these different macronutrients in a hierarchy, and at the top of that hierarchy you've got alcohol. Alcohol always gets burned first because we can't store it at all. So this hierarchy is ordered in our ability or our capacity to store it, and then when you think what comes next is protein.
So we don't have the ability to store protein in the same way that we can store glucose as glycogen or free fatty acids as triglycerides, so fat in fat cells. So this tells you something. You're always going to be burning whatever you're eating. So if you're drinking alcohol, you're burning alcohol. It's as simple as that.
Then next on the list, protein. So if you have an excess of protein, really the only bit that gets stored is what's in your digestion right now. So your body, all it can do with that protein is tear it down into its individual amino acid constituents and then rebuild it into some kind of tissue that then becomes an organ, and then a body system, and then an entire organism.
And that's a really expensive and long and drawn out process that takes tons of energy and transcription of the DNA and all kinds of complicated physiological and biochemical processes, and you really don't want to be doing that with protein. It doesn't make any sense to be burning it as fuel. So you really want to find that optimum amount and not go above it.
Now, so when you eat protein, the first thing that happens is it hits the stomach, and then an enzyme called pepsin activates your stomach acid, hydrochloric acids, and that starts to denature and starts the first process of digesting the protein. Then it hits the small intestine and there are a myriad of enzymes, proteases that start breaking down and pulling apart the protein into constituent amino acid building blocks.
Some of those enzymes are just in the commensal space of the GI tract and some of them are actually tightly woven into the brush border of the GI tract. So you can think of this like a shag carpet, and so the enzymes are actually in that time in between the little spaces in the shag.
So if there's anything wrong with your gut, like you have an overgrowth of bacteria or you have some kind of parasite or any kind of dysbiosis, or maybe the villi have been nuked by eating too much gluten and you didn't know about it, then that's going to greatly impact your ability to digest and assimilate protein.
Amelia: Very well said.
Christopher: Yeah. It's kind of we're in this weird setup where there's three of us speaking. Yeah.
So let me talk about what happens in there. We've just pulled apart these proteins into constituent amino acid building blocks. They're going to pass through into the enterocyte and then eventually end up in the bloodstream, and something that's important to know, I think, is that for most amino acids, the liver is really, really greedy for them. So if you eat a bunch of amino acids or protein, it's going to end up being metabolized by the liver.
Now, there are certain exceptions to these and I'll talk about those in a bit. So that's, I think, really important to know, that it's really the liver that's metabolizing these things.
I think another important thing to know about certain proteins or certain amino acids is a lot of them, they look a lot like glucose. So I want you to imagine, if you will -- I'm going to talk about the citric acid cycle now, which --
Julie: Hold on!
Christopher: Hold on, right? So the citric acid cycle is the process in your body, the metabolic pathway that converts the food that you eat and the air that you breathe into energy, and we can measure it. We can measure how well it's working on an organic acids test. It's one of the tests that we do a lot. It's a urine test.
So you can think of this -- people call it a cycle but really it's a "traffic circle." In America, they call them "traffic circles." If you're living in the rest of the world, you're probably calling it a "roundabout." This is this device that controls traffic.
The reason I think the roundabout is a better analogy is because things can enter and leave the cycle at various different exits on the way around the traffic circle. Some of these amino acids, they can enter into the traffic circle and be very easily converted into a compound called pyruvate, and pyruvate can be converted through reverse glycolysis, so this is turning something into sugar. So once you have sugar -- you might as well have eaten the sugar, right? But it's not true of all of these amino acids. Not all of them work in this way.
The best-known examples are the branched-chain amino acids. These are interesting because they're ketogenic, and what that means is they enter into the Krebs cycle -- so into our traffic circle -- and they can't get round to the glucose part so they must come out as acetyl-CoA, and acetyl-CoA is a precursor to all of the ketone bodies. So some amino acids, the branched-chain amino acids are ketogenic, whereas others are glucogenic. So that's an important thing.
So what this means is for you as an athlete, you can take branched-chain amino acids and you're not going to be hit by this thing gluconeogenesis that everybody talks about and it's not going to knock you out of ketosis.
I first came across this information -- I think it was Dominic D'Agostino and Ben Greenfield who were making the recommendation that endurance athletes should be supplementing with protein whilst they're doing endurance exercise if they're eating a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet. I started doing that without really understanding why, and now I understand it's these branched-chain amino acids which are actually ketogenic. So they're not going to knock you out of ketosis through gluconeogenesis. They're actually going to, if anything, drive you deeper into ketosis. So it's really a question of finding the right protein supplement.
Now, you can buy branched-chain amino acids on Amazon.com but they tend to be sweetened and have a lot of crap in them, and really, the best way to consume them is in a capsule form. So if you buy some branched-chain amino acids, get the capsulated type, or --
I have a supplement called MAP which I really like, and admittedly, MAP is not just the branched-chain amino acids. It's about 11 or 12 amino acids but the three main ingredients are the three branched-chain amino acids. So you can think of this as a ketogenic supplement, and that's certainly consistent with my experience where I've taken this supplement and checked my blood glucose afterwards and it's not have any impact and it's certainly not knocked me out of ketosis.
So a little bit of technical information there. Where do you want to go from here? Do you have any other thoughts about protein then, Amelia?
Amelia: I think you summed it up really well.
Christopher: Yeah. So there's something I should say here as well. Your body always has two states. There's the fed state and the post-absorptive fed state. When you're doing exercise, I think it's pretty safe to assume you're in the fasted state especially if you're an endurance athlete.
So if you're in a long bike ride, you're going to get to the point where some of these pathways, these biochemical pathways are going to start reversing, and where before you were sticking things together and storing things for later use, you're now going to be using catabolic hormones like cortisol and epinephrine and some other glucocorticoid hormones. They're going to start tearing things apart.
So for an endurance athlete, it's going to be in skeletal muscle. Particularly, there's an amino acid alanine that can be broken down from skeletal muscle in the presence of epinephrine and cortisol, and that's going to go into glycolysis to make glucose to power the energy to power your body as it moves in endurance activity.
Now, that's not what you want. When you look at some of the very fastest marathon runners, for example, they're like a running skeleton, right? I'm not sure that anyone listening to this really wants to be that person. Especially as you get older, you want to preserve as much of your lean tissue as you possibly can.
So when you're doing this endurance exercise, if you supplement, if you just -- I mean, I just carry these things in my back pocket and I just stuff a couple of them down my throat every now and again -- then you can prevent your body from going into this fasted state where it's going to start tearing down lean muscle tissue rather than use whatever protein is just coming through digestion.
So from here, I wanted to go on and talk about some of the testing that we've been doing and the ways in which -- the problems that we find on the lab work and how that can affect protein digestion.
Amelia: Yeah. One of the things that you mentioned, that muscle being so important especially as you age, I've heard it termed that muscle is the metabolic currency. So people who want to keep their metabolism high need to focus on maintaining their muscle mass especially into their aging years.
Christopher: Yeah, that's what I think is so interesting about protein in that in a way it's not really a variable that you can manipulate. So if your goal especially is fat loss, then you can't reduce the amount of protein that you eat below a certain point because if you do, you'll start losing your lean muscle mass and then your metabolism will start to drop because that's the most metabolically active protein, and then it becomes a problem that you can't overcome. Your metabolic rate is dropping and so you drop more calories and it just becomes a race to the bottom.
Amelia: And I think before we get into the testing, I just wanted to mention that this information is very good and very poignant and it's great, but one of the things that I want to mention is that when people are starting out coming from a standard American diet, sometimes just to ease them into the process, eating a little bit more protein is going to ease you into the idea of eating more of a lower-carb diet and getting your body into the fat-burning state.
Then once you're comfortable in that position, then Julie can talk with you about your diet and we can find the hidden sources of sugar, we can troubleshoot the protein, we can troubleshoot the carbohydrates and find out where we can optimize everything.
Julie: Yeah, that's a really good point. One of the other things I think maybe we should talk about as we ease into talking about the testing are some of the things that could hold somebody back from building lean muscle or building muscle mass or -- because we've worked with a lot of people now, women especially, who used to be really strong or used to have a lot of muscle and then they fell apart. We do the testing on them and we find a myriad of reasons of why they're having a hard time building lean muscle mass again even though they were able to do it in the past.
So let's talk a little bit about what some of those things that we find on the testing are that we can pinpoint that say, "This is going to hold you back from building lean muscle even if you're eating the right amount of protein."
Christopher: Oh, yeah, that's a really good point. So the saliva hormones can be a really crucial piece for this. So we have this saliva test, you just spit into a tube four times during the course of one day -- you probably heard me mention it before -- comes back with steroid hormone levels like cortisol, which I've already mentioned.
And then two that I think are really significant for protein synthesis are testosterone and DHA. So I know that the DHA actually switches on protein synthesis, and then testosterone can do similar things. So if you're walking around as a woman and you've got 15 points of testosterone and I'd like to see you at 50, then you're just going to have a really hard time putting on lean muscle mass.
That was certainly my experience when I did this. The first time I did the cortisol test, I had about 50 points of testosterone. Then I worked on my gut health, I did all the diet and lifestyle stuff, I took some supplements that were designed to support my adrenal function, and magically my testosterone popped up to 100 points, which is where it should be, and then all of a sudden I found myself getting stronger in the gym. I don't think this is a coincidence, and certainly we've been seeing the same results with other people.
How do you see that? So if it's someone that's -- again, going back over to your side, Amelia, if you see someone that maybe is in their late 50s and you're doing adrenal stress profile on them, and you see that it comes back and they've got 13 points of cortisol and the DHA is less than 1, how do you see that affect them in their lives? Obviously, they don't care too much about results in the gym, but how does that affect them, do you think?
Amelia: So what I find is that when patients come in, especially in the sick population, they really -- the lack of muscle tone, the lack of muscle structure actually really reduces their resilience. It reduces their resilience to stress, to infection, and to any procedures that may need to take place in order to assist them in their survival.
What we've found is that when the -- with the testosterone being low even in women, it can happen in what's called a "pregnenolone steal" where the pregnenolone is diverted into making cortisol, the stress hormone, and the rest of the sex hormones suffer due to that. Also, in the stressful situation it'll increase a sex-binding globulin which will make free testosterone even less available to the body.
Christopher: Okay, yeah. So I should probably say something briefly about what the pregnenolone steal is. It's another one of these biochemical pathways. The way to understand it, I think -- and I've said this before but it's such a useful analogy -- is if you've got --
Actually, Robert Sapolsky's analogy is brilliant. "If there's a tornado's bearing down on your house, then today is not the day to be painting the garage door." What that means is cortisol is a hormone that's designed to save you from being eaten or blown away by a tornado.
So if that's going on for you right now, then now is not the time to be making babies. Now is not the time to be making testosterone. Now is not the time to be making DHA. These are your anabolic hormones that are building things back up. You just want to liquidate your assets and get the heck out of there. So that's what you see.
We see this on the saliva test all the time, and reducing stress, I think, is a key component to being sure that the protein that you do eat is doing something useful like building new tissue and not doing something wasteful like being burned as fuel, as glucose.
Let's talk about the other type of testing that we do which is the stool testing in particular. It would seem like the topic de jure at the moment for us is H. pylori. So what's happened is there's the lab that we use called BioHealth Lab. They do a stool test called the 401H. It's a traditional stool culture so what this means is you're paying for the time for a microbiologist to actually look at your sample underneath the microscope. A fine job that must be. I really want to go to this lab one day and see this actually happening.
So anyway, they look at the stuff underneath the microscope and one of the many things they look for is this pathogenic bacteria called H. pylori. H. pylori is quite famous. I'm sure a lot of people listening will have heard this story, but some Australian scientist actually won the Nobel Prize for proving that stomach ulcers were caused by this bacteria.
The special thing that it does is it lives in the stomach. Previously, nobody thought that bacteria or anything could live in the stomach because it was too acidic, but it turns out this bacteria has got this neat trick where it inhibits an enzyme and it prevents you from producing hydrochloric acid as effectively as you would. So this interferes -- about 15% of the protein digestion happens in the stomach, which is not all of it, to be honest, but I think what happens is once you interfere with this first step of digestion --
It's a bit like not chewing your food. If you were to take some raw broccoli and just swallow it, how much of that would you really expect to be digested? I don't know. Maybe some of it would be eventually if you've got really good digestion. The same is true of meat. If you knock out that first step, you can expect everything downstream of it to be affected. I think that's what's been happening with the H. pylori infection.
So we're seeing tons of them now, and the reason we're seeing tons of them now is because BioHealth upgraded their test. I heard from someone yesterday that they spent a ton of time working on this over the summer. They've upgraded some equipment and they changed the way that the test work. It now needs to be refrigerated. There's a separate vial that's just for H. pylori and the detection rates have gone up a lot. Suddenly, some of the other tests that we do are making a lot more sense.
Another big one -- I already mentioned the urinary organic acids, and that actually looks for amino acid deficiencies. So when the Krebs cycle, this traffic roundabout, is not flowing, like you're seeing that traffic is not moving in the way that it should, one possible reason is that you do not have enough of these amino acid building blocks. They're just not entering the traffic circle in the first place.
I would see this all the time on the organic acids and I'll be just like, "Well, what the heck?" This person is working with Julie. They're eating the right amount of protein. If anything, they have a history of overconsuming protein and yet there are still these deficiencies. You look at the stool test and it turns out they've got one of these bugs.
I already talked about the different enzymes which are proteins themselves, so you've got this catch-22 situation where you may not be able to produce the enzymes simply because you can't digest the protein and so on and so forth. But then, you've also got this problem where you could have one of these organisms that's actually damaging the integrity of the villi, and so the enzymes are not really working to break down the protein either. So it's not like the person's not eating it. They're just not getting anything out of eating it, which is a really expensive waste of time and a huge problem.
I think the only way that you can really figure this out is to do the test. I mean, there's just no way, is there? I'd love to give people some, "Go to this home test and you'll know whether this applies to you or not," but unfortunately, that's really not possible.
Amelia: We need to invent an iPhone app.
Christopher: I know. I talked about that with someone early today that the test that we do, I feel like in 20 years' time I'm going to look back at it and laugh. It's going to be the calculator that you needed to plug into the main electricity supply that had the different LED segments, and when you typed in "8008" or something. It's going to be like that, isn't it? It's going to be really, really stupid. But for the moment, this is what we've got, and the test is expensive but they're always worth it. You can figure out so much.
So I was going to ask you, Julie, what type of protein should I be eating? Are all proteins equal? Can I eat a rib-eye steak as well as I can eat a can of sardines, as well as I could take some whey protein isolate? What are your thoughts on that?
Julie: I like protein that come from whole food, real food sources, and I like it to be as clean as possible. What I mean by that is free from hormones, free from any kind of weird additives, hopefully sustainably raised, hopefully grass-fed. I mean, if you are what you eat, you want to also know what you're eating ate and pay attention to that. It's that important.
But in terms of whey protein versus rib-eye steak versus whatever, especially if somebody is transitioning from a standard American diet or even a diet that was -- because we get a lot of people who they've been athletes for a long time or they've been in the bodybuilding world for a long -- lots of people from lots of different walks of life who have already been indoctrinated into the eat-tons-of-protein camp. So a lot of them are eating less than desirable types of protein just to get enough quantity.
So really, with them I like to work on getting most of your protein to be from whole, real food sources -- like the majority of your protein, first and foremost -- and then really looking at digestion because for certain people, if they're having issues with digestion, I may recommend different types of protein. A rib-eye steak might be really hard for somebody to digest especially if it's a lean cut of meat, so instead I might have you try to start with fish proteins which are a little bit easier to digest and assimilate.
Chicken is also a little bit easier to digest and assimilate but it's not the ideal source of protein just because the fat that comes with it is not the ideal source of fat. So I like to recommend meats that have the fat that we want, which is the omega-3s in the fish. Not only that, but good, clean chicken is actually really difficult to find, so that's one of the reasons I tend to avoid it.
The other thing that I was going to say before you asked me this question though was that people also sometimes come to us and either they don't have the right digestive enzymes or they have a hard time breaking down protein. They have an aversion to protein. To me, that typically signals that they don't have the right digestive enzymes or they have some kind of gut infection that's preventing them from digesting the meat appropriately.
So I really do a little bit of digging to figure out which protein they can tolerate the best and try to get them going in that direction. For some people, just the tin fish is really an easy and efficient, convenient solution for especially getting enough protein because they can carry it with them wherever they go. They can put it on the top of a salad wherever they are. It's just simple.
For some people, they do need to have a shake every once in a while. They're doing that much exercise that there's no way that they're going to be able to eat enough whole-food protein to get them through, especially if they're working a full-time job, et cetera. So I just do the best I can to get people eating mostly whole-food protein source.
Amelia: And another way to increase the assimilation without taking a supplement of digestive enzyme is how the food is prepared. By slow cooking or stewing the protein, you actually almost predigest some of those amino acids and they start to break off. So by slow cooking or stewing proteins, you can actually assist in the assimilation as well.
Julie: Yeah, that's a really great point. It's also definitely something I recommend, especially because part of this whole thing is getting people to refamiliarize themselves with the kitchen and start cooking and preparing more traditional foods for themselves and their family at home because I think you're going to get way more nutrition and impact from your diet when you do that.
Since we can't really give people a specific formula for how to figure out exactly how much protein they need, maybe we should talk a little bit about the signs and symptoms that you're either eating too much or not enough protein and signs that you might want to do some additional testing to figure out if you've got one of these things holding you back from protein. I mean, just off the top of my head, I'm thinking low energy or difficulty recovering from workout, and some of these things are obviously -- sometimes, the sign for "not enough" is also a sign for "too much." So dysregulated blood sugar is another thing.
Amelia, can you come up with any things that people might want to consider their protein intake?
Amelia: A lot of times when there's low protein intake, hair loss will start to happen. And then also, you'll notice that your hands will blanch easier, so they turn white easier. A simple blood test would be an iron test just to see if there was anemia present. Going more into the medical end of it, you'd also test for maybe albumin, but that's more on the traditional medical route. But what I think is great is some of these tests that we have can do that just as effectively.
Julie: Yeah. So I think definitely, it's one of the biggest pieces is just learn that awareness, the body awareness that I think is so important that people learn. So this type of information that we've been talking about in the podcast is just something I think you should put in your tool box, and when you come across a sign or a symptom as you're doing your biohacking and living your life and trying to monitor and keep data on all of this stuff, it's important to really think about, "When was the last time I recalculated my macronutrient ratios for what my current life situation is?"
Things change, people change, or training schedule changes. You go through different periods of stress. That's one thing I ask people all the time is, "Okay, you've got this imaginary goal in your head for where you want to be, but what's it based on? Is it based on where you thought you were the most healthy 15 years ago when really you were starving yourself and overtraining and not sleeping, and you were actually a wreck even though you may have looked the way you wanted to look? Or is it really based on where you're at right now? Are you sleeping? Are you digesting your food properly? Are you taking care of yourself?"
We have to make realistic goals, but I think at the same time, you have to stop every once in a while and take stock of where you are currently, and sometimes testing is a really helpful way to create a new baseline especially when you have new goals in mind.
Christopher: And then some of these, especially some of the amino acids, are really important precursors. So you just touched on the hair loss. Certainly, proline, glycine, these are the main amino acids which don't really turn up in our diet anymore because everybody just eats muscle meat. So everyone's eating steak and not eating [0:36:32] [Indiscernible] and so we end up with deficiencies of these particular amino acids which turn out to be really important. So proline and glycine.
I'm thinking about collagen, the main constituents of this protein collagen which holds us together literally. So if you've got problems with your gut right now, you need proline and glycine. The most rich sources I know of are organ meat and bone broth and so that's why we recommend those all the time. It's not good enough just to be eating burgers all the time. You're just not going to get -- you're going to end up with low amounts of these amino acids that we know to be so important.
If you really must supplement, then the Great Lakes collagen and gelatin are pretty good. That's one way you can get more of these single amino acids.
One other thing I wanted to talk about was why you have to be careful with some of the single amino acid supplements. So I'll just go into a couple of things that I know about, but really, the list is endless. You can think of single amino acids like pharmaceutical drugs. They really can have an extremely potent effect.
You might have read about something in some magazine or heard about something else in some podcast. "Oh, I should be taking this amino acid. Oh, I should be taking tryptophan. I should be taking arginine." Be careful with that because there's lots of examples we can come undone. Say, arginine, it competes with lysine, and if you've got the herpes simplex virus, taking arginine can make that really, really bad. So don't do that.
And then another example is tryptophan or 5-HTP is broken down by the same enzyme that metabolizes tyrosine. Tyrosine is the precursor of dopamine, and tryptophan or 5-hydroxytryptophan are the precursors of serotonin. So if you for long enough supplement with just one of those single amino acids, you can end up with a neurotransmitter imbalance. You could end up depressed or addicted.
These things can also be wonder supplements, right? Certainly, for me personally, I did some lab testing, started supplementing with 5-HTP and it was just the miracle cure for my sleep. I couldn't believe it. I'd done all the obvious things and it was really fantastic. But I took the tyrosine too in the correct proportion just because I didn't want to end up with problems over the dopamine side of things.
So yeah, be really careful with those single amino acids. They're incredibly potent as supplements. You can always think of them like a drug.
So what did we miss? Have we got everything?
Amelia: I can't think of anything that we missed.
Christopher: Yeah. So what do you think about whey protein? Everybody's drinking it, and I've seen some studies that show that whey protein -- it's quite rich in an amino acid called cysteine, and I know that cysteine is the primary rate-limiting factor into the production of this endogenous antioxidant called glutathione. There's a lot of fancy words in there.
The simplest way to think about it is, going back to my traffic circle, my roundabout, what this traffic circle is doing is not really producing energy, it's producing electron donors, and these electron donors go into the electron transport chain and they get shuttled along. Then eventually, they produce this energy currency called ATP, which is what our muscles use to contract and what every cell in our body uses to perform everything that it does.
So this is something that's absolutely necessary, but these electrons that are generated from the electron transport chain, they cause what are called "free radicals" which cause in excess oxidative stress. So these free radicals are capable -- basically, what they're looking for is an electron donor, and one of the most common places for them to find one is the phospholipid bilayer that surrounds each cell. So if this starts happening, if it loses too many electrons from the phospholipid bilayer, that cell can become compromised or even die.
So you need glutathione as an electron donor. The idea is free radical pops out and glutathione is there to donate, to be oxidized, and then recycled/reduced to be able to mop up this oxidative stress, and the main way or the primary rate-limiting way in which our body produces this is through this amino acid cysteine.
Now, I know there's some studies that show that whey protein can be quite useful for that, but -- I mean, Julie, dairy science is your thing. What are your thoughts on whey protein?
Julie: Again, I always go back to really preferring that protein comes from whole food sources. I think it's just the way that our bodies are designed to eat protein.
Christopher: Is that an intended pun there?
Christopher: The "whey" --
Julie: Oh, yeah. It was an intended pun. I used to use those puns so frequently. I don't even see them as puns anymore.
So it's not how we would ideally consume protein. I mean, it's the same reason that I really am not a fan of smoothies and drinking calories and things of that nature. I understand that there are certain circumstances when you are performing at a certain level athletically that demand a delivery source that is not common. So I get it if you're bodybuilding, if you're a professional athlete. If you've got some overt need to consume a ton of protein and these amino acids and such in a quick, convenient beverage, I get it.
However, I think the vast majority of people are fooling themselves that they really need that level of protein delivery and amino acid delivery several times a day, because most people are not just drinking one of these things a day, they're drinking several of them either for breakfast -- they're putting whey protein in their breakfast and they're having a recovery shake with whey protein. So it's not just some random once-a-week kind of thing that they're eating that might be an okay supplement for someone. It's a large percentage of their diet and that's what I really take issue with.
So I think it's individual. I think it's important for people to really pay attention to how much they're consuming. To find a grass-fed source is important. I like the beef hydrolysate proteins better, personally. I don't know. I just spend a lot of time working in a plant making whey protein and --
Christopher: It's a waste product, right?
Julie: It is. It's a waste product from making cheese. I mean, I know that scientifically that doesn't make it a bad thing. However, I wouldn't want to consume it because it's not a whole food. It's not something that would be a part of my normal ancestral diet. Even if I'm working out and I'm working out at an extreme level and I need something like that, I'm going to try to get it from whole food sources first and those things are going to be my last resort.
I'd also prefer to do the testing, find out exactly what I need and make a complete supplement program so that I don't feel like I have to reach for these things that are just more broad, blanket supplements like the whey protein shakes and smoothies and recovery beverages. I want a targeted supplement protocol for me specifically. What do I need in order to be my best and have my most optimal health? And I think a lot of these things are Band-Aids for people not really knowing exactly what they need and just guessing.
So I would just say more is not more, and try to scale back and figure out exactly what you need and not just guess.
Christopher: Yeah. I think sometimes it could be justified thought, right?
Christopher: Yeah. I mean, in particular, going back to my oxidative stress, say, if my goal was to increase glutathione production, it may be justified, but I should say that I also have probably a better solution. So I see this all the time. It's not like I'm guessing here that people may be suffering from this. I see it -- one of the markers on the urinary organic acids is called 8-dihydroxydeoguanosine. Did I say that right? It's a big mouthful. I might have added a bit one too many "deos" in there, but -- never mind.
Anyway, so urinary organic acid, and it shows up as the result of oxidative damage to the guanine of DNA. So what this is telling you is these free radicals are actually destroying your DNA, which is -- you can think of that like the code that makes you, so once you destroy the code, the blueprint, you are screwed. So yeah, you really don't want this to happen.
So maybe in some instances like that, to upregulate glutathione production, the cysteine could be justified. But then I have to think of PharmaNAC. You can google that. I sell it, too. So if you want to support the podcast, buy it from me.
PharmaNAC is N-acetylcysteine. You can get whole gram amounts. It's an effervescent tablet that you put into a drink, just into some water, and you get a whole gram of this amino acid cysteine. It hopefully will go into producing glutathione and mop up this oxidative stress and stop this damage from occurring, and I think maybe that's a better way than getting it from whey because the whey protein could be potentially allergenic for many people. So that's something to bear in mind as well.
Wow! We didn't even get into the allergenic part of proteins. We've been talking for an hour and maybe it's time to wrap it up, but yeah, that's a whole other thing that we can go into, that when you eat foods, it's not really the fat or the carbohydrate you're responding to, it's the protein.
Did you have anything else you wanted to add, Amelia?
Amelia: No, I think everything was very well stated. I think everything came across, so yeah.
Christopher: Cool. So let us know what you think and send us your questions. I mean, I have tons of questions that come to me in our practice by email, but I don't necessarily know that those questions are the same with the ones people listening to the podcast are. So yeah, send them to me. My email address is chris@nourishbalancethrive.
If you look in the show notes for this episode, I will put my email address in there so you can email me. We've got access to some fantastic resources so even if we don't know the answer, I will get the answer for you. So yeah, send me your questions and we'll get them on the show.
Amelia: Great! This is a lot of fun. Thanks, Chris!
Christopher: Okay. Cheers, guys. Bye-bye.
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