Why weight regain is so common + Is gluose impairing your immunity

For this post I have got a 2 parter. Couple of interesting questions:

1. Why do we regain weight so easily especially if we were formerly fat?
2. Is glucose (sugar) weakening our immune system?

The first question is a direct result this Mark Sisson post, so I have basically just simplified the message.

Ever wondered why it’s easier for a formerly fat person to regain the lost weight, especially when they were fat as kids? The answer as usual lies in our bio chemistry or how we got fat in the first place. There are 2 ways to get fat:
a.      Hypertrophy – Your existing fat cells get bigger.
b.      Hyperplasia – Entirely new fat cells are created.
To paint a very simple picture, vast majority of fat cells are created in early childhood and adolescence. During early infancy and between ages of 9-13 appear to be crucial stages for creation of new fat cells, so after that age you are pretty much stuck with number of fat cells your body has made. Now weight loss doesn’t remove these fat cells but rather pulls fat from existing ones, leaving empty cells behind. If you had 35% body fat and after a drastic lifestyle change involving diet and exercise you got it down to 15%, you still have same number of fat cells.

So, now you have 2 people who have exactly the same weight and body fat %, let’s say 20%. Individual A was a fat kid and a teenager and Individual B was lean all along.  Individual A is a lot better now at age 35 and has an active lifestyle whereas Individual B is your typical desk jockey, makes his living by pressing keys on computer. They both are at same body fat % and both are serious now about maintaining their body fat %. The formerly fat person will always be at a disadvantage compared to the formerly lean person when it comes to maintaining weight. Not fair right?

To understand what’s going on, you will need to understand how Leptin hormone behaves. Our fat cells secrete leptin hormone and remember that body stores energy as fat. So leptin in a sense is an indicator of how much energy is stored in the body.  So, if you have eaten a meal of good quality fats and moderate proteins (like you mostly should), once you have had enough to eat, your body or fat cells will start releasing leptin to let the brain know that we have had enough.  ‘Hunting has been good’ so to say. Now the amount of leptin that is released depends on the fat mass % as well size of fat cells.

Individual A who has 20% body fat (formerly obese) has way more fat cells that are relatively empty compared to Individual B who also has 20% body fat but has relatively fewer fat cells that are fuller. So what ends up happening is that Individual A is releasing far less leptin compared to Individual B. So your brain is thinking you don’t have enough energy saved. This stacks up the odds against formerly fat by increasing their appetite, making them less active and the fat cells have a ‘fat memory’ that are just dying to store fat when it becomes available. Phew. It’s like growing up in bad neighbourhood and you are at a huge economic disadvantage for rest of your life.   

Vitamin C and Glucose, brothers from same mother

Could a sugar spike be weakening your immune system as well? Well, the answer is looking like a yes.
I remember listening to Mark Sisson and him mentioning that he clearly remembers couple of instances when he fell sick and that sick day was preceded by consuming higher than usual carbs. I am not dying to repro the experiment by gorging on sugar but I would love to see some anecdotal evidence.

It’s to do with relationship between glucose and Vitamin C at cellular level. If you don’t care about what is happening at cellular level, short story is that higher the levels of circulating glucose in the blood, the more difficult it is for Vitamin C to get into the cells and the more difficult it is to create immune cells. If you do care about cellular level details, read on.

Vitamin C is made naturally in nearly all living animals with notable exceptions being humans and primates. In mammals, the glucose is extracted from glycogen (stored sugar) and liver transforms it into vitamin C. Humans unfortunately lack an enzyme which is necessary for synthesis of Vitamin C and so we must get it from diet.

Vitamin C is important for building collagen (think bones, connective tissue) and promoting strong immune function. It turns out that Vitamin C and glucose may be competing for same receptors on the cells. They have very similar chemical structure and both rely on insulin signalling to get into the cell. This receptor is called Glut-1 and glucose has higher affinity to this receptor.  So this means that if your meal has generated excessive levels of glucose, then Vitamin C may not be able to get into the cells. So what you say?

Remember our friends White Blood Cells? If you think hard enough about what you were taught one school day in your biology class, white blood cells are used to fight pathogens. Levels of Vitamin C in WBCs may be tens of times higher compared to other cells and they need 50 times more Vitamin C inside the cell than in the blood plasma to handle the oxidative stress – that is ingesting these pathogenic bacteria and virus.

It doesn’t stop here. Glucose and Vitamin C also seem to have opposite effect on creation of new immune cells or raw material for new white blood cells. If the immune system is under attack, it needs to quickly produce new white blood cells.  If blood glucose is high enough, it will reduce the amount of new immune cells being formed.

Credit: Dr David Jockers has a great article on this topic.
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Excessive light at work place and reducing eye strain

 

Before I get to the meat of this post, which is about protecting your eyes and reducing eye strain at the work place a slight digression.

 

While I am a big advocate of ancestral\primal style of eating, I am also a big fan of using modern technologies to deal with modern stressors. It reminds me of a Mark Sisson quip “Primal living is not about living in the dark or hunting your neighbors pets.” In my mind, there is absolutely no conflict between eating a whole food based diet which feels very natural on one hand but supplementing this diet with eating wild salmon from a can, wearing blue blockers in the evening while watching TV or eating highest quality supplements I can find (because even the best modern food is no longer as nutrient dense). The outside world has evolved at a much faster rate than our genes and now there is a massive mismatch between the environments in which our genes were cooked and what is actually out there. We no longer live in jungles and caves and no longer need to protect ourselves from tigers. On the other hand, most of us spend majority of our times cooped indoors, breathing artificial air all day long and exposed to excessive amount of fluorescent light. Since I am a software developer by trade, I get the added bonus of staring at a computer screen all day long and the computer screen staring back at me. You can see how we have traded one set of stressors (jungle and tiger) for another. I will do everything in my power to prevent macular degeneration of my eyes and keep them healthy for as long as I can – whether it’s eating whole foods or getting enough sleep or using right shades of light. So as far as I am concerned there is no contradiction here – eating ancestrally but relying on 21st century inventions.

 

Back to lighting and eye strain.

 

My focus here is not to talk about the health and nutrition aspects of eye care but rather alleviating external lighting conditions. And the problem ironically is not lack of it but excess of it. Excess of high-energy, blue light, UV and artificial light. I have no doubt and science proves it that artificial high-energy blue light is damaging our eye muscles. What has made this problem obvious to me in my work environment is that I have just moved into this building.  In the previous building my workstation was next to a large window. So as I would stand and work at my work station, I could see as far as eyes could see, towards the sky and Pacific Ocean just outside. (I am not kidding, the previous building is next to Wellington waterfront). And then next day I found myself cooped up in a horribly designed buildings with so much fluorescent white light that it feels like you are in torture chamber. It’s like building designers wanted to make sure that people don’t doze off at work and made the environment super bright. I think they did a pretty good job. And then there is also the light from 2 computer monitors.

 

What a view

 

 

Now some may call me a delicate flower but here is what The Vision Council has to say about it and I quote– “Nearly 70% of American adults experience some form of digital eye strain due to prolonged  used to electronic devices. Some of the common symptoms are headache, dry eye,   blurred vision and eye strain.”  In my case, the excessive fluorescent lighting was making this bad situation worse. Check, check, check and check for me.

There is a strong connection between amount of light you are exposed to and circadian rhythms.  You see, you want lots of natural bright light in the day as you are active and post sun set, light should gradually fade away. Try wearing blue blockers in the night for a few weeks as you watch TV or read something on your tablet to feel the difference and this will translate to good sleep. Too much light towards the end of the day inhibits melatonin production, that’s the sleep hormone. It’s our bio-chemistry people, I am not making this stuff up. While we have naturally evolved to bright light during the day, this was light from the sun and not this junk fluorescent light we are exposed to from our computers, tube lights and other electronic devices.

So the point is that I knew I was struggling with this brightness and my eyes were feeling the strain which means brain was stressed too. Remember, it’s the brain really which does the processing behind the scenes. There are 2 white fluorescent tube light directly above my head and another pair a few feet apart.  I got rid of one of the tube lights from the pair directly above my head and I was hoping this would help the situation. It seemed to help the first day but I couldn’t tell the difference a few days later.

Tube light  not very from from my monitor and a lot closer to my eyes when I stand and work

 

Let there be light, yep let’s put lots of them together

I didn’t want to wear my awesome blue blockers at work. I mean who wants to look like a superhero or a rock star at work.  Besides these completely block the blue colour. So I needed right tool for the right job. When you need a laptop, a tablet or smartphone won’t do and while you can talk into your 9” 3G iPad, I prefer a smartphone in that situation.
 

Since most of us don’t get to work outside under the blue sky or work in intelligently designed building which smartly lets outside light come in, what are our options? You can try convincing your boss to install CoeLux. Yep they have found a way to mimic sunlight using LED. In fact they are so good that it convinces your brain and eye that it is sunlight. However it costs $61, 000 so it could be a while before you get one of these.
LED or sun light, you decide

 

So began my search for blue-blocker-like-glasses that I could wear at work. I wanted something functional and fashionable. It should block the excessive white-blue light hitting my eyes and should look good.

 

Enters www.gunnars.com. If I had million dollars and millions of hours at my disposal, the research would culminate with glasses like they sell.

Quoting www.gunnars.com: “GUNNAR offers the only patented computer eyeglasses and optical lens technology solution, recommended by doctors, to protect and enhance your vision. In addition, custom tints and premium coatings block high-energy, artificial blue light, UV and glare to protect your vision. The result – improved clarity, focus and performance designed to meet demanding visual needs of a digital generation…”.  Just look at them.

 

 

I finally settled on the Phenom style of Computer glasses.

 

 

My experience so far with the glasses:

 

1.   They have dimmed the brightness around me just enough. It’s like f.lux is running in the background.

 

2.  They are doing a pretty good job of blocking blue spectrum without blocking the blue colour entirely, so it’s not a compromise.

 

So essentially it meets the functional requirements.

 

3.  Wifey tells me they look good too.

 

4.   I can attest to the good quality and they just fit perfectly.

 

Phenom in real world

 

Now these are not cheap and glasses alone cost me $99. If you are not in the U.S, the shipping will cost another $40, so it adds up. But the big question is how much are my eyes worth to me?

 

50 Glucose Readings

At some point during last year I understood the dangers of eating foods that spike blood glucose levels. I knew in theory that fat and proteins don’t spike your blood sugar and refined carbs and sugary foods do. So I decided to put the theory to test and watch the effects of food I eat on my blood sugar in real time. So I took nearly 50 readings using a glucometer over the course of a week. It was a regular work week and I tried to keep everything as normal as I could.

Talking of glucometer, it’s one of the most effective tools at our disposal. Add to the fact that it’s so inexpensive, anything that can give you instant feedback on the food you have just eaten and how it affects your blood sugar is priceless. For example, everyone tolerates carbs to a different degree. An insulin sensitive person should be able to clear out the blood glucose a lot more effectively compared to a person who is insulin resistant. A leaner person who is insulin sensitive may have even higher carb tolerance and they may be able to get away with higher levels of carbs. A person who already has some degree of insulin resistance may not have the luxury of eating over 100 grams of carbs in a day barring a very active lifestyle.  It also helped me decide how I can smartly use starches like sweet potato or rice after a heavy training session to get some quick energy without causing a glucose\insulin spike.

Even 2 days worth of data will be invaluable and more importantly it’s unique to you. And it’s not something you have to do every single week. Even once in 3 months or 6 months or even a year may suffice.

One of the hallmarks of eating whole foods ancestral style is that your blood sugar remains in a very tight range, just like how body likes to keep it in. Because you will be consuming large amounts of vegetables, salads, healthy fats and high quality proteins.  Eating refined foods and sugar foods on the other hand will generate massive amounts of glucose and body responds by spiking insulin production. High blood sugar damages proteins and fats in the flood causing Advanced Glycation End products – AGE. See how ironic that is, it AGEs you. High blood sugar is also a proxy for high insulin and this incessant insulin spike meal after meal over the years will make you insulin resistant bit by bit, first making you pre-diabetic and eventually resulting in full blown Type-2 Diabetes.

Couple of points to keep in mind as you read the table.


1. Body likes to keep blood glucose in a very tight range. For example, it should normally be between 4.4-6.6 mmol/L before a meal. 2 hours after eating it should be less than 7.8 mmol\L. If you eat a massive dessert on top a regular modern meal, your blood sugar may spike to 11 or 12 mmol\L and body will galvanize chief hormone player insulin to deal with this situation and bring blood sugar levels back in the normal range. If post your meal you don’t wander too far away from the ideal range, I hope you can see how that’s a good thing.


2. What I mean by Lag in the third column is that how much have passed since this activity. Here are 2 entries from the table:
My blood glucose levels were 5.2 mmol\L 1 hour 10 minutes later after lunch of chicken broth and a bit of cream. And 2 hours and 5 minutes later, levels were at 5.7.


Date    Time        Lag         Reading       Notes
23rd     15 20      1h 10m     5.2               Chicken broth, cream
23rd     16 15      2h 5m       5.7               Having green tea with jasmine


Here are the 50 readings from the week and chart view.


Date    Time        Lag         Reading        Notes
21st     22 20       1h            6.2                 Gym night   
22nd    09 00       1h            5.6                 After bulletproof coffee
            10 55       1h            5.2                 After cream and lamb curry breakfast
            13 55       1h            5.2                 Big breakfast at cc, steak, eggs, bacon, sausages

23rd      7 51        0h           6.5                 After getting up
             9 55        0h           5.8                 Before breakfast
           11 20        1h 13m   4.8                 Bulletproof coffee at 9
           13 24        3h 17m   4.8                 Did swimming
           15 20        1h 10m   5.2                 Chicken broth, cream
           16 15        2h 5m     5.7                 Having green tea with jasmine
           19 40                       4.3                 Had MCT oil ten minutes ago
           20 40                       6.2                 Gym
           22 43      1h             6.1                 Steak, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, bit of rice

24th    07 48                      6.2                 Just woke up
          10 24      0h             5.6                 Before breakfast
          12 10      1h 30m     5.6                 Eggs, avocado, bacon, mushroom, spinach
          13 40      3h             5.6
          16 00      1h             5.5                 Had subway salad with Salmon
          18 00      3h             4.3
           21 27     1h 12m     4.7                 Had beef burgers, few spoons of  ice cream
           22 27     2h 12m     6.3

25th    07 25                       6                    Just woke up
           09 35                       5.1                 Had bulletproof coffee an hour ago
           11 30      1h 37m     5.3                 Usual breakfast eggs, bacon
           15 22      2h             5.5                 Lunch – salad, liver, paneer
           19 15      3h             5.3                 Had almond butter, butter, dark chocolate
           22 25      1h 30m     6.2                 chicken, broccoli, Brussels sprout, Kumara

26th    07 33                       6.1                 Just woke up
           09 40      0h             5.6                 Bulletproof coffee at 8
           11 30      1h 50m     5.5                 Usual breakfast
           13 00      3h 20m     4.5                 Just had a short walk
           18 00                       4.9                 Had apple at 4
           22 12     1h 20m      4.6                 Gym, kumara, rice, veggies, chicken, broth

27th    07 43                       6.1                 Just woke up
           11 30     1h 40m      4.8                 Usual breakfast
           15 58     1h 30         5.8                 Mixed Salad, okra, beef curry
            22 10    2h              5.7                 Mixed salad, fish, kumara

28th     07 00                      5.8                 Woke up at 06 45
            11 40    2h 20m      5.5                 Usual breakfast
            16 20    1h 40m      5.6                 Mixed salad, steak, chick peas
             09 50   20m           7.6                 Salmon can, rice, lamb curry, kumara

Observations from the week long glucose readings:

1. My glucose levels go down after bulletproof coffee. Alternatively what I have not shown here is that my ketone levels go up. It’s the magic of MCT oil in the bulletproof coffee and it’s pretty clear from the cognitive boost I feel. Look at what happened on 23rd before I went to the gym – my glucose levels dropped from 5.7 to 4.3. I was playing around with MCT oil as a pre workout.


2.      My glucose levels are almost the same – before and after the breakfast. Typical breakfast here means pastured eggs done in butter typically accompanied with wild bacon. So it was pretty much all proteins and fats, almost negligible carbs which explains almost no fluctuation in blood glucose levels.

3.      Consuming a typical dinner of veggies with some meat AND starches with it after a gym session doesn’t move the glucose levels a lot. This tells me that my muscles are glycogen depleted and take up most of the glucose that’s generated from sweet potato or rice. On 28th however I didn’t go to the gym and decided to have starches along with my dinner which I typically don’t do. 20 minutes after the meal, glucose had already elevated to 7.3 and that’s when I ran out of the glucose strips. I suspect it peaked at around 8 or so before it started dropping.