Dipping into the Bodyrecomposition Mailbag 2

Since I can’t think of any fascinatingly tedious topic to address this week, I’ll go the lazy route and just go with some questions instead.  Always easier when someone else gives you your topic.

BCAA and Anxiety
Hello, I am trying to treat mild anxiety, fatigue and depression with diet and supplements. I have removed processed foods from my diet, largely removed refined sugar and upped my greens and wholegrain. I am maintaining a good amount of healthy carbohydrates – I read that too little can affect cortisol levels negatively(?). I have also started taking 5g of BCAA every morning and I take Vit B complex every evening. I am not sure if what I am doing is okay? In particular the BCAA -I am reading a lot about tyrosine and phenylalanine and tryptophan – – I am not sure if I am getting these in BCAA, or if I should be getting them!? I would appreciate any advice.

Answer
I have addressed this topic in some detail previously on the site but it’s worth revisiting.   BCAA is an abbreviation for the branched-chain amino acids (so named due to their chemical structure) which are leucine, isoleucine and valine and nothing more.  And not only do I not see a role for BCAA in treating depression and anxiety, I think it could actually be detrimental in this case. The reason is detailed in the above link but, briefly, the BCAA and the amino acid trytophan (which is a precursor to serotonin) compete for the same transporter in the brain.  So if there are lots of BCAA floating around, tryptophan uptake is reduced.  This is part of why eating carbs makes you sleepy (and soften calmer, and it does lower cortisol): insulin pushes BCAA into muscle leaving less in the blood stream; this means that tryptophan can get into the brain and do it’s job.

Basically, it would be better to supplement with tryptophan (or 5-HTP, 5 hydroxytroptophan which is just a step closer to serotonin) than BCAA in this regard.  I’d point you to examine.com for information on dosing and effects.

Lag Time Between Drop in Leptin and Metabolic Adaptation
You wrote at some point that there is a lag time between the drop in leptin and the drop in metabolic rate (i.e. lowered thyroid/SNS output) and I’d be surprised if 12 or even 24 hours is sufficient to reverse this and to email you if I must know the answer why. Well I must know.

Answer
Ok, so I’ll assume folks know more or less about leptin and what it does, if not, read this series. I’ll wait.  If you can’t be bothered, here’s the short course.  Leptin is a hormone released primarily from fat cells (But also in smaller amounts from places like stomach and muscle) that sends the brain a signal about two things: how much fat you’re carrying and how much you’re eating.  When you eat less, leptin drops rapidly, with 7 days of dieting it can drop by 50% but clearly you haven’t lost 50% of your body fat.  After that, it drops more slowly along with actual losses in fat.

The drop in leptin coordinates the adaptations to starvation, lowering SNS output, thyroid, metabolic rate, increasing hunger, etc.  Quite in fact, replacing leptin (with injections) to pre-diet levels reverses all of these adaptations.  But that said, adaptations in response to leptin show a lag time.  For example, looking indirectly, there is no real increase in hunger to dieting for 3-4 days.  A very recent study showed that eating 25% of maintenance for one day had no impact on appetite or food intake over the next 48 hours.  As well, some studies actually show a small increase in energy expenditure by day 4 of total starvation.

Tangentially, this is part of why the whole “if you skip a meal you go into starvation mode” is nonsense.    Unlike rats and mice, who’s short life span means that a single meal is very important for them, humans have plenty of body fat and a long life span.  A meal doesn’t matter to us, a day of not eating doesn’t matter for us.  We’ve got plenty of body fat to cover the difference. Rats and mice don’t usually store fat and if they don’t eat for a little while they can flat out die so they adapt faster and there is at least one small animal (I forget which) that can die if it misses a meal.  It makes no sense for the human body to adapt to changes on a meal-to-meal or even day-to-day fashion as it wouldn’t signal anything of relevance, in terms of the available food supply, to a human body.  So if there is plenty of food for a day, meh.  It might go away tomorrow.  If there’s no food today, there might be food tomorrow.   I think you get the idea.

But by the time food has been unavailable (and dieting is just starvation on a longer time scale) for 4 days, presumably this indicates that there is a problem with the food supply or whatever the brain is parsing this as.  Ok, time to start adapting (I’d note in this regard that women can cause their bodies to start to adapt metabolism with 5 days of hard dieting) now.  But that’s the lag time.

And I’d expect the system to work identically in the opposite direction.  Yes, years ago I wrote about using 5 or 24 hour refeeds and was overly optimistic about their potential impact on raising leptin and reversing the dieting adaptations but now I’m sure that it doesn’t work that way (in contrast, the 2.5 days of overfeeding in the Ultimate Diet 2.0 does).    I’ll also present some fascinating data in the women’s book on this topic that support that overall conclusion but I gotta keep a couple of secrets.

Basically, if the system doesn’t downregulate in 12-24 hours to reduced food intake, I wouldn’t expect it to adapt back to normal in that time frame.  The lag should work both ways.  Which isn’t to say that short refeeds can’t still be valuable in terms of refilling muscle glycogen or what not.  But on a low frequency, they probably don’t do much to reverse metabolic adaptation (it is possible that a one day refeed more frequently, perhaps every 3-4 days might work, however and some fascinating work on Intermittent Caloric Restriction or ICR is pointing towards this as having a lot of benefits).

Now you know.  And knowing is half the battle.

Dehydrated vs. Hydrated Muscle Gains
I have a friend was arguing with me about the definition of muscle you mentioned in your article. He thinks the muscle you are talking about in the article is dehydrated muscle, which he thinks impossible to gain 50 lbs in human life time. I think this is ridiculous to view it that way. So what do you actually mean “50 lbs muscle” in your article? Thanks

Answer
Proving that people will argue about anything.  I am talking about whole muscle in terms of protein, water, glycogen, minerals, etc. and can’t imagine why anybody would think I was talking about dehydrated muscle (muscle is about 75% water).  I can’t imagine why that wasn’t fairly obvious but, hey….

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