What is the loneliest scene you can imagine — being in an empty room, or walking down a crowded city street in rush hour? Being surrounded by people can be more lonely than being alone. Getting to the truth about any topic these days is similar: we are surrounded by more information than ever, and we can explore anything with Internet searches, yet we are more confused and less certain of truth than ever before. As we are practically drowning in information, we are still confused about the truth on almost any subject.
You can find all sorts of information about health. You can get rock-solid proof that a certain diet is the most health-promoting way to eat, then turn around and get authoritative, fact-checked information proving that diet is a health killer. When it comes to fat in your diet, you get everything from how it will clog your arteries and kill you at a young age to how you need to become a fat-burner to live longer. You desire to eat and live better, but who do you believe?
When the two sides are opposed, it is important to look to basic biology and biochemistry and use common sense. For a discussion of fat, we’ve known for quite some time the argument against fat, thanks to much bad press and confusing articles from “experts”. But now let us look at the foundation of the energy of the cell, fat metabolism, and how and what fat will benefit your diet.
A cell without energy is a dead cell. A cell doesn’t have the luxury of waiting for energy — if it can’t produce energy right now, it dies. You are defined as “dying” if more cells are dying off in your body than are being replaced. Life requires energy, and metabolism is a constant, ongoing process of life.
Each cell (except for mature red blood cells) contains mitochondria, which are tiny factories that use oxygen to burn fuel and extract energy through multiple chemical steps once called the “Krebs Cycle”, now known as the “Citric Acid Cycle”. The reason red blood cells do not have mitochondria is that they require very little energy, being essentially passive hemoglobin transporters, and they get that small amount of energy through a special, more direct processing of glucose than the Citric Acid Cycle. All other cells in your body require significant energy, and they do so with mitochondria through the multi-step Citric Acid Cycle. A single cell can contain between 500 to 2500 mitochondria, with cells that require higher levels of work output, such as liver or muscle cells, containing the higher quantities.
The Citric Acid Cycle manipulates certain carbon chain molecules over a number of steps, eventually producing chemical energy storehouses in the form of ATP (adenosine triphosphate) molecules as part of the manipulation. ATP is a universal energy source, which can readily be utilized to release energy. The Citric Acid Cycle multi-step process allows the mitochondria to produce little spurts of energy constantly, rather than sudden spikes, providing the steady supply of energy to the cell that it needs to do work. The Citric Acid Cycle is a “cycle” because the mitochondria rebuild the carbon chains needed to start the cycle all over again as more nutrients are made available. Essentially the mitochondria repeat the same sequence of metabolism, producing ATP continuously, giving the cell energy as it needs it to do work.
ATP is like the “charged” version of a battery. The discharged version is ADP (adenosine di-phosphate). Mitochondria use energy from glucose to add the phosphate to ADP and charge it up. Then the cell can convert the ATP to ADP and receive energy. A healthy body will produce its weight in ATP every day! In electrical terms, the healthy body produces the equivalent of 1200 watts of power. ATP cannot be stored in the body, so the mitochondria must produce it as needed. In an article published by the National Institutes of Health, this simple summation is stated: “…the better a species does protecting its mitochondria, the longer a species lives.” (1) This article explains the primary danger to mitochondria health is oxidative stress which causes “mitochondrial reactive oxygen leakage.” Toxins, antibiotics, low levels of antioxidants, poor nutrition, blood sugar spikes, lack of exercise, and lack of sleep increase stress on mitochondria.
Mitochondrial disease is prevalent in modern society. Aging effects are accelerated with poor ATP production, and diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, and dementia are traceable at least partially to poor mitochondria function. As the Citric Acid Cycle depends on many chemical steps to process, interference by toxins, lack of certain enzymes or nutrients, or improper oxidation can easily limit or disrupt the cycle by impairing any of the steps. Mitochondria health is not only important for you to feel strong and energetic each day, but it is the chemical foundation of your total health — the essence of cell metabolism!
The normal entry point of the Citric Acid Cycle is from glucose metabolism. Your body protects glucose levels passionately because too low levels would starve out the cycle, shutting down the constant flow of energy that cells require. However, high glucose levels are highly damaging to the body as well. Diabetics walk the tightrope of maintaining proper blood glucose levels, because insulin resistance hampers the body’s primary way of maintaining proper levels. Constant intake of simple sugars, as happens with the majority of us in today’s fast food society, is a great way to build insulin resistance. This is where fat, rather than being a villain, can be the knight in shining armor — assuming that armor is not full of rust…
When speaking of mitochondria health, omega-3 fatty acids are a valuable type of fat for one simple reason: those fats are needed to build mitochondrial membranes. Fatty acids are alternative energy sources the body can break down when glucose is not available. Fat is packed with energy, but the body has to work at breaking it down. Storing fat is one way the body tries to protect itself against lean times when food is not readily available, because fat is packed with energy and is an efficient storehouse for future need. When you consume fats instead of simple sugars (carbohydrates), you are consuming packed energy which will not spike blood sugar levels because the body has to unpack that energy to use it. Particularly when combined with exercise, fat consumption is a great way to provide energy reserves that kick in when your body goes in to “fat burner” mode.
A popular diet is the “keto” or ketogenic diet. That diet consists of 70% fat. Thanks to all the negative press about fat, few people are achieving such levels of fat intake. Why is the ketogenic diet popular? It causes something called “ketosis” or “ketogenesis”, where the liver converts fat into ketones (more precisely, “ketone bodies”) which then circulate throughout the blood stream. Ketone bodies are alternative energy molecules that can be used to feed the Citric Acid Cycle.
The fast way
What does fasting do? Fasting means that the supply of glucose your body stores in the liver in the form of glycogen depletes — within 24 hours or less — and the body is forced into alternative energy sources to survive. It turns to available fat to find that alternative.
When you have some sugar or carbohydrate in your diet, the body responds with insulin to cause your cells to properly process the sugar. This is normal, but many of us spend too much of our 24 hours per day in an insulin cycle, which causes stress in the body that can become insulin resistance. When easy sugar is not available to the body, insulin levels drop and glucagon, which can be considered the opposite of insulin, increases. Glucagon and epinephrine hormones cause fat to be released from fat cells. The fasting state is a normal state for the body, and can help reverse insulin resistance as it gives the body a break from the frequent onslaught of insulin.
There are times when a full fast may be the best medicine, but there are less severe alternatives. One method that is gaining popularity is “intermittent fasting”, where you compress the usual 12 or more hours of meals and snacks into a shorter period of time, such as 6 hours. The entire time you spend sleeping, added to a lazy start to breakfast and/or an early last meal of the day extends the period of fasting. During the fasting period, the glucagon hormone takes over from insulin and fat burning begins with the production of ketone bodies.
There is another way of promoting ketogenesis, and that goes back to fat intake.
When the body’s primary source of fuel is from carbohydrates, and especially simple sugar, glucose is oxidized and creates “pyruvate” molecules, which are then converted into Acetyl-CoA (acetyl co-enzyme A). Acetyl-CoA is at the start of the Citric Acid Cycle, so it is indispensable. When the glucose is not available, and after the stored glycogen in the liver has been used up to provide glucose, fatty acid metabolism kicks in to create Acetyl CoA, bypassing the pyruvate step and directly feeding the Citric Acid Cycle. This shift in metabolism from dependence on sugars to utilizing fat makes you a “fat burner”.
When you eat a high fat diet, you mimic the caloric effects of fasting while still eating as much as you want. You are not providing much simple sugar to the body, but with the high fat intake, you provide an alternative to the body taking from internal energy stores — this includes stored fat. With the dietary fat, you tell the body it is “starving” from available sugar while simultaneously providing it with plenty of alternative fuel. Just like fasting, you start ketogenesis, but you provide all the energy source your body needs.
Ketone bodies are water soluble and are able to pass the blood-brain barrier (BBB). Fatty acids cannot cross the BBB, but when the liver produces the ketone bodies, the blood can transport them to the brain cells, where their mitochondria can process them normally via the Citric Acid Cycle. This makes the fat burning mode a very clean and effective way to feed the brain while “fasting”.
The chemical process of producing ketone bodies releases a vital enzyme (co-enzyme A or CoA) making it available for continued fat burning. The liver has only so much CoA enzyme, and the production of ketone bodies frees more of this enzyme. Without this release, fatty acid metabolism is hampered because it requires that enzyme. By invoking the fat-burning metabolism, you are allowing the body to properly utilize fatty acids which may have built up in the liver, as well at fat stores throughout the body.
The body has to be pushed into ketogenesis, because it prefers the easier processing of sugar. Also, the pyruvate step does some necessary Citric Acid Cycle component replenishments, so you never want to completely replace the carbohydrate processing. This, unfortunately, does happen with full-blown diabetes, as the sugar intake is ignored by the body and builds blood sugar to dangerously high levels, while the cells of the body are screaming that fasting is occurring and demanding fatty acid oxidation with the ketone bodies alternative fuel. Such extreme ongoing dependence upon only ketone bodies leads to ketoacidosis, because the ketone bodies are carboxylic acids which raise the blood acid levels too high and blocks other basic metabolic functions.
A proper balanced high fat diet does not do this. So what can you eat to gain the maximum nutritional benefits and stay balanced?
That is actually quite easy. A raw plant diet, with vegetables, nuts, seeds, and avocados can be very balanced, with plenty of good fats. Fats that are oxidized are worse than useless: you want your body to do the oxidizing when it needs to metabolize them. Oxidized fats that are produced when vegetable oils are cooked are just free radicals waiting to be consumed. That knight has rusted/oxidized armor. And “fake fats”, such as hydrogenated fats, are disastrous because they fool the body into using them to build inferior cell membranes — now they are stuck in the body until those cells are recycled, and even then some of those fake fats could be recycled. Don’t despair — they will slowly be replaced if you stop consuming them, but that will take some time.
Studies are confirming the value of ketogenesis. In a study published in Nature Metabolism, researchers at the Kumamoto University in Japan showed that blocking the formation of ketone bodies resulted in severe fatty liver disease, but active ketogenesis protects mitochondrial function by preventing “excessive acetylation of mitochondrial proteins.” An article published in The International Journal of Biochemistry & Cell Biology cites evidence that “As metabolic reprogramming from oxidative phosphorylation towards increased glycolysis is a hallmark of cancer cells; there is increasing evidence that the ketogenic diet may also be beneficial as an adjuvant cancer therapy…” Basically because cancer essentially becomes addicted to the glucose, it cannot handle the ketogenic diet. Further, an article published by the National Institutes of Health, in their Wiley International Journal of Cancer, states, “…studies indicate that unlike healthy tissues, cancer cells are unable to effectively use ketone bodies for energy.” This appears to be due to abnormal metabolism of the cancer cells, where glucose consumption is increased due to genetic mutations and mitochondrial disfunction.
High fat diets, if from unmodified, uncooked, raw plant fats provide a key benefit of fasting: ketogenesis. This gives the body a break from the typical high carb, high fructose, high simple sugar diet. The ketone bodies produced are an excellent alternative fuel source which spares the body from the ravages caused by constantly available sugar. Fats are energy-packed foods which can provide sustained energy over long periods, and cause an increase in insulin sensitivity as the body is now actively looking for sugar rather than having it readily available. Cancer, which is hungrily grabbing all available sugar, isn’t so pleased with having to rely on ketone bodies for fuel.
Then there are the animal fats. They meet all the qualifications of a high fat diet, and as such will appear in some keto diet suggestions. But they carry with them problems that are easily circumvented by replying upon plant fats instead, because the animal ingests and concentrates toxins. Eating raw animal fats is neither popular nor safe, and cooking them is a fast path to creating oxidized fats.
So many of our modern-day health conditions are due to, or at least aided by poor diet. By focusing on a raw plant diet with the right mix of natural fats, you will feel better, and enter older age more gracefully. This makes you much more disease resistive.
Dr. Nemec’s Comments:
Most Americans are sugar burners by nature. We grew up eating bread, pasta, rice, potatoes and starches as a staple. This all breaks down into sugar, not ketones. This sugar is not so bad if you are 9 years old and running up and down a soccer field for hours or are extremely active because you are burning it quickly. But if you do not burn it quickly this is where the problem develops. Any carbohydrate that is cooked or processed, if not burned for energy, immediately is then stored as fat on the body. Fat on the body becomes very inflammatory if it is not burned quickly, so a high carb, high starch diet for any person who is not in extreme physical activity is long term very detrimental. What is the best way to fuel your cells and not cause excessive free radical changes? Burn ketones instead of carbohydrates.
But the source of these ketones is most important. Do they come from animal fat or plant fat? Is the fat cooked or not? Is the fat processed or not? You can eat a keto diet and lose a lot of weight and feel great for a season but the season will end with high inflammation, free radical damage of cells and very unhealthy toxic and weak cell membranes if you do not choose correctly.
First, animal fat stores the chemicals, toxins and hormones of the animal. Not good if you are trying to prevent cancer and other diseases. Animal fat is high in arachidonic acid which if in excess sets off a very inflammatory prostaglandins pathway in motion in the cells and they will die prematurely or turn malignant if this becomes chronic. Second, if you cook the fat you are going to break chemical bonds and make a bunch of free radicals along with oxidized fats which makes this preparation method harmful for your health.
Third, processing of any type makes the fat more reactive in a negative way. Trans fats are extremely damaging but when you take a fat and put it into a bottle it always takes some chemical process to put it into the bottle and this alters the fats from their original form. Also the longer it sits in the bottle the more rancid it becomes even if you do not taste it.
What is the answer? Eat a lot of raw and living plant fats along with a lot of fresh, raw green and low glycemic vegetables. This gives you some quality complex carbohydrates and fats that will benefit your brain, your cell membranes and help you on your anti-aging path.
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