Tag Archives: insulin

Circadian phase delays and metabolism

Remember the “jet lag-resistant” mice?  Guess what: screw with circadian biology and metabolism pays the price.

In brief, vasopressin was classically thought of as an anti-hypotensive hormone.  The vasopressin analog Desmopressin is used to treat bed-wetting.  But vasopressin biology is much more interesting than that: mice lacking both vasopressin receptors require very little time adapting to large circadian phase changes.  And as with many fundamental concepts in chronobiology, this is intimately linked with metabolism.

People with certain polymorphisms of the vasopressin receptor, V1A, exhibit elevated blood glucose levels and are at greater risk for diabetes (Enhorning et al., 2009):


This risk is strongest in men in the highest quartile of fat intake, and is statistically more significant after adjusting for age and physical activity:

Fat consumption

This study wasn’t designed to be a very powerful indicator of diet-disease relationships, but a little speculation: some think higher fat [and lower carb] intake should be protective against diabetes… which may be true, for people who can tell time.  Alter one nucleotide in the vasopressin 1A receptor gene and the game changes.

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Protein “requirements,” carbs, and nutrient partitioning 

One way to determine protein requirements is the nitrogen balance technique.  If all of the nitrogen from dietary protein intake is equivalent to that lost via feces, urine, and sweat, then one is in nitrogen balance.  Growing children and pregnant women are usually in positive nitrogen balance, because much of the nitrogen is being invested in the growth of new tissue.  Cachectic cancer patients and sarcopenic elderly may be in negative nitrogen balance, because they’re losing lean mass.

Protein requirements to maintain nitrogen balance are largely dependent on total energy intake.  More calories in, less protein needed.  For people in negative energy balance (losing weight), this usually means more protein is required else muscle will be wasted.

Exercise lowers, not raises, protein “requirements,” because exercise is a potent anabolic stimulus; it helps preserve nitrogen at any level of dietary protein.  That’s not to say more won’t improve functional outcomes; just that it’s not “necessary” to prevent muscle loss.

Need =/= optimization.

Lastly, total grams, not percent of calories, is the most relevant way to talk about protein requirements in the context of nutrient partitioning and body composition.  This is just how protein operates.

Part 2.  The poor, misunderstood Randle Cycle

“The glucose-sparing effect of fat-derived fuels” …when you’re body starts burning more fat (and fat-derived fuels; ie, ketones), it’s use of glucose declines.  Thus, it’s “glucose-sparing” (spares glucose for the brain and obligatory glycolytic tissues, yada yada yada).

During starvation, much of that glucose comes from amino acids from skeletal muscle proteins, so it can also be phrased as: “the muscle-sparing effect of fat-derived fuels,”  which is equally biologically relevant, because similar to zeroglycemia, an unabated loss of muscle is incompatible with survival.

That is, in starvation, where the “protein” is skeletal muscle, not dietary (because starvation)… but what about when following a low carb or ketogenic diet – do ketones (fat-derived fuels) exert a muscle-sparing effect in this context?

One study compared the impact of two isonitrogenous diets, low carb (Diet A) vs. high carb (Diet B), on nitrogen balance and showed that, except at very high levels of energy intake, nitrogen balance was consistently better on high carb.

carbs vs protein req


However, 51 kcal/kg is the textbook number of kcals “required” for young, moderately active adults.  With this understanding, it could be interpreted to mean that nitrogen balance is better with low carb (Diet A) for people in energy balance; and better with high carb (Diet B) if energy deficit.

edit: 51 kcal/kg is for athletes; probably about 20-25% less for non-athletes.

Or not: in another study, a low carb diet promoted better nitrogen retention albeit less weight loss than an isocaloric low fat diet.  The low carb group lost slightly more fat mass, which, combined with nitrogen balance data, suggest modestly improved body composition.  The differences were small, because this was a “non-ad lib” isocaloric diet study.  In the absence of large differences in intake, the most we can expect from such studies are subtle alterations in nutrient partitioning (which are usually difficult to detect).

Cancer cachexia is a condition of severe muscle wasting, and one study set out to determine, more directly, if ketones spared muscle in this context.  The study only lasted one week, but I suspect a certain degree of expedited ketoadaptation because: 1) it was very low in carbohydrate; 2) the fat was primarily MCTs; 3) they supplemented oral ketones; and 4) energy expenditure is elevated in this population.  Both the control and ketogenic diets were modestly hypercaloric, but nitrogen balance was more favorably improved by the high carb diet, in contrast to the above studies.

Thus, ketones don’t work in the context of a hypercaloric diet; however, pharmacologically elevating ketones via intravenous infusion in fasting subjects does work (because it’s more like starvation).

The muscle-sparing effect of fat-derived fuels is conceptually and physiologically more relevant to starvation, not nutritional ketosis.

Part 3.  Protein “requirements”

Effects of high-protein diets on fat-free mass and muscle protein synthesis following weight loss: a randomized controlled trial (Pasiakos et al., 2013) 

Protein intake was 1x, 2x, or 3x the RDA; fat was 30% of calories, and carbs made up the rest; on a weight maintenance diet and again on 30% calorie restriction (it was technically a 40% energy deficit, because they tried to ramp up energy expenditure with exercise).


All groups lost weight, but the ratio of fat to muscle loss was significantly higher in the 2x and 3x RDA groups, which amounted to ~120 and 185 grams of protein per day, respectively.  The 3x group didn’t fare as well, possibly, because that much protein induces a high degree of satiety – this group ended up consuming significantly fewer calories than the 2x group.  So the interplay between energy intake and protein requirements is back on the table: the added energy deficit apparently increased protein requirements to some level above 185 grams per day.  Not much, given the small difference in muscle loss, but increased none the less.

Side note: be cautious when interpreting a study about the amount of protein required for xyz endpoint, because such studies usually only measure one of many important markers, and they don’t report absolute changes in size, strength, etc.  Also, context matters.

For example, Moore and colleagues (2014) showed that 0.24 g/kg (17 grams for a 70 kg adult) was enough to maximally stimulate myofibrillar fractional synthetic rate (mFSR):


However, in the contexts of three square meals and energy balance (or deficit), 0.72 g/kg (50 g/d) is woefully inadequate.  Point being: mFSR (in this case) is only one measurement and shouldn’t be extrapolated to total daily requirements.  Perhaps you could eat six 17 g servings in order to fully maximize 24-hour mFSR, or you could realize that going above what saturates mFSR isn’t a bad thing, or wasteful.  mFSR is just one of many measurements of muscle protein balance.

My opinion

For those who need exact numbers, hopefully one point I’ve made is that there’s no answer to this question.  I’d guess that most people “need” 100+ grams of protein per day (more if losing weight), and 100 grams is probably too much in one sitting.  Also, need =/= optimization, and context matters.

Nutritional ketosis doesn’t appear to reduce the amount of dietary protein necessary to maintain lean mass.  The muscle-sparing of fat-derived fuels works during starvation; in other contexts, all bets are off.

calories proper


Carb Back-Loading, take II

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with John Kiefer and his crew about Carb Back-Loading proper; we discussed the protocol and many other hormonal effects associated with this pattern of nutrient & exercise timing.  Interesting stuff; plenty of fodder for future blog posts…

Brief refresher: skeletal muscle insulin sensitivity is higher in the morning than in the evening.  Exercise boosts insulin sensitivity selectively in muscle, which is relatively more important in the evening.  Thus, an evening carb-load may benefit from exercise to effectively partition the energy influx into skeletal muscle [and away from adipose tissue].

Summary of Part 1 of my CBL review: studies on nutrient timing sans exercise aren’t entirely consistent, in part, due to reciprocal regulation of insulin sensitivity in skeletal muscle and adipose tissue.  That is, excess energy from an evening carb-load, without the exercise-induced, skeletal muscle-specific boost in insulin sensitivity, may be biased less toward muscle growth and more toward fat storage, because unlike skeletal muscle, the sensitivity of adipose tissue to insulin appears to improve as the day progresses… and without exercise to offset this, as in the studies discussed below, this may lead to suboptimal results.

*one thing Kiefer stressed, and I agree, is that the effects of any given intervention may be population-specific.  For example, he pointed out that diurnal insulin sensitivity is less robust in obese and aged populations.  So if two findings aren’t in full agreement, click the link to the study and check this first… context matters!



Tl;dr: I think high intensity exercise and possibly the time of day it’s performed, and regular bouts of fasting, are important factors that mediate the efficacy of CBL and similar protocols. Continue reading


Paleo Plants and Carnivory

From what I gather, it’s been difficult to pinpoint the role of plants in the diet of our ancestors for a variety of reasons.  For example, evidence of plants on cooking tools and dental remains is suggestive but doesn’t disprove the possibility that said evidence came from preparing the plants for some other purpose (eg, tools, weapons, or medicine), or that the stomach contents of an herbivore was ingested (which gets partial credit).

That said, after reviewing a few studies on the topic (see below), it’s safe to say that plants were eaten, probably frequently, and the types & quantities varied seasonally & geographically.  Collectively, the data suggest we aren’t carnivores.

…you had to have something to hold you over until the next fish fell prey to your deadly hunting spear…  

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Lipid Hypothesis 2.0: Eat Butter

The original lipid hypothesis stated, more or less, that lowering blood cholesterol would reduce premature mortality from heart disease.  At the time, it was thought that dietary cholesterol and saturated fat increased the ‘bad’ type of blood cholesterol, so the advice was to restrict those foods.  All of that was wrong.


Lipid Hypothesis 2.0: Eat Butter

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Fasting, circadian biology, and epigenetics

From the best I can gather, one of the more immediate players in circadian biology is the coenzyme nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD), which participates in a variety of redox reactions.  Fasting increases the intracellular NAD/NADH ratio, setting off a cascade of events involving epigenetics and the regulation of metabolism.  HT to Jack Kruse for really cracking into this nut.

NAD activates sirtuins, a family of deacetylase enzymes.  This is epigenetics.



SIRT1 regulates the activity of BMAL1 and CLOCK, two circadian transcription factors, which target NAMPT, an enzyme that synthesizes NAD.  And in a curious feed-forward mechanism, CLOCK and BMAL1 enhance SIRT1 expression… genetic deletion of any of these players induces insulin resistance (Zhou et al., 2014), and this can be recapitulated with constant darkness: reduced BMAL1 and SIRT1, hepatic insulin resistance; the latter can be reversed with resveratrol (which may or may not be acting through SIRT1; this is controversial).  While alcohol does no great favors for circadian biology, if you’re going to imbibe, perhaps a resveratrol-rich Argentinian malbec served, and this might be the important part, at night, when all of this stuff is going on… coincidentally [fortunately], that’s precisely when most choose to imbibe.

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New study: high intensity exercise on a low carb diet.

Switch an athlete from their standard carbohydrate-rich diet to a low carb ketogenic one and suddenly performance tanks.  It is known.  Give them a few weeks to adapt, however, and it recovers.  This much was established for mainly endurance-related performance parameters by Steve Phinney and colleagues in the 1980’s (eg, Phinney et al., 1983).  Then, along came Antonio Paoli, Dominic D’Agostino, and others who showed a similar phenomenon in gymnasts, a population that routinely exercises at higher levels of intensity (Paoli et al., 2012).  Notably, in these studies the athletes were allowed adequate time to adapt to the new metabolic milieu – sometimes referred to as ketoadaptation.  Three weeks appears to be the minimum amount of time required for ketoadaptation; ie, studies of shorter duration generally show: low carb = poor physical performance.

…which is why I was surprised to see this one:

Effects of a short-term carbohydrate-restricted diet on strength and power performance (Sawyer et al., 2014)

These researchers subjected ~30 strength-trained individuals to a battery of performance assessments before and after 7 days of a low carb [ketogenic] diet.  Usually I would’ve stopped reading at this point because 7 days is too short.  But there were some nuances in the way this particular study was designed which piqued my interest.

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Advanced glycation end products (AGEs)

About a decade ago, Michael Brownlee posited that AGEs were one of The Four Horsemen responsible for the microvascular complications of diabetes.

Kill ‘em all

Thereafter, the image below (or a closely related one) appeared in at least one talk at every major diabetes conference for about 5 years.  Then it faded – maybe not because it is wrong, but rather just too simplistic to be useful (similar to CICO & ELMM).


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Skipping meals, intermittent fasting, grazing, etc.

or… Circadian Meal Timing!

They say if you’re going to [intentionally] skip a meal, it should be breakfast – and hey, that’s probably the easiest meal to skip.  However, a recent study showed skipping dinner FTW (well, not exactly).  I’ve never seen a proper study directly comparing the effects of skipping different meals, but here are a few that come close.  The findings may surprise you.


note: with the exception of Fernemark (Exhibit B), these studies are mostly macronutrient-controlled. That is, protein, fat, and carbs are similar between the groups; the only thing that differs is when they were ingested.  This can be tricky and/or very nuanced in some instances, like if dinner was smaller (fewer calories) but more protein-rich, for example… but in order to include 5 relevant studies and not bore you to death, you’ll have to check the full texts for those details.

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Angiotensin: more than just blood pressure.

Pathologically low blood pressure can lead to shock & death.  Angiotensin II is there to prevent that, but it does much more.  A bit non-sequiter, perhaps.

This is what I call teamwork: low blood pressure detected by kidneys –> secretes renin.  Angiotensinogen (liver) is cleaved by renin to Angiotensin I.  Angiotensin Converting Enzyme (lungs [among other tissues]) cleaves angiotensin I into angiotensin II.


Angiotensin II increases blood volume and restores blood pressure.  Good if you’ve lost a ton of blood fighting a wild beast; not good if you’re an overweight pen pusher on potato chips.  ACE inhibitors reduce angiotensin II, lowering blood pressure.  ACE is present in lungs probably because it deactivates bradykinin.  ACE inhibitors prevent this which might contribute to one of their side effects, a persistent dry cough which makes these drugs intolerable for many.  One alternative is angiotensin II receptor 1 blockers, or “ARBs.”

If anyone in pharma reads my blog (doubtful, unless they are monitoring for people to polonium-laced blow-dart), this will be their favorite post because I think ARBs are an interesting class of drugs.

If diet and weight loss are inadequate, telmisartan might be the next best thing to manage hypertension in diabetics:  Telmisartan for the reduction of cardiovascular morbidity and mortality (Verdecchia et al., 2011) –> effective at reducing mortality in patients with diabetes.

Efficacy of RAS blockers on cardiovascular and renal outcomes in NIDDM (Cae & Cooper 2012)  –> reduces morbidity and slows progression of renal disease (both hypertension and diabetes contribute to [irreversible] kidney damage, and frequently occur together, which makes this endpoint particularly relevant).  Hyperglycemia should be managed via diet, of course, and ARBs would need to be tested in people following something other than a Western diet (although said people may not even need treatment in the first place) (just thinking out loud here.  Or typing/whatever.)

But enough about blood pressure (<– boring); on to the more interesting stuff:

It started here: Chronic perfusion of angiotensin II causes cognitive dysfunctions and anxiety in mice (Duchemin et al., 2013)

Then: Candesartan prevents impairment of recall caused by repeated stress in rats (Braszko et al., 2012)

And: Anti-stress and anxiolytic effects of [candesartan] (Saavedra et al., 2005)

[Candesartan] prevents the isolation stress-induced decrease in cortical CRF1 receptor and benzodiazepine binding (Saavedra et al., 2006)

[Candesartan] ameliorates brain inflammation (Benicky et al., 2011)   brain inflammation induced by chronic exposure to artificial lights causes depression-like symptoms (in mice) (probably humans, too)

Finally, a human study: Candesartan and cognitive decline in older patients with hypertension (Saxby et al., 2008)

And then there’s this: Angiotensin receptor blockers for bipolar disorder (de Gois et al., 2013)

No mechanistic stuff because, well, I have no idea how it works.  On one hand, it might seem obvious that stress & anxiety can raise blood pressure, so something that lowers stress & anxiety could lower blood pressure.  Candesartan appears to do both (cause <–> effect?).  There are two unique properties of candesartan to note: 1) it gets into the brain; and 2) it leads to increased levels of angiotensin II (which presumably can’t do much because candesartan blocks the receptor for angiotensin II).  Perhaps angiotensin II targets a different receptor?  ARBs might blunt angiotensin II-induced CRH secretion, leading to anxiolysis, stress-tolerance, and pro-cognitive effects (that speculation was made possible by a thread on Avant Labs’ Forum and a few posts by Jane Plain on CRH [eg, here & here]).

Oh yeah, ARBs also prevent cafeteria diet-induced weight gain, insulin resistance, and ovulatory dysfunction [in rats] (Sagae et al., 2013).  And are sympatholytic like bromocriptine (Kishi & Hirooka 2013).

“The Angiotensin-melatonin axis” (Campos et al., 2013).

just sayin’

calories proper