Sunday, January 15, 2023

What is a good low carbohydrate diet? It is a low calorie one

What is a good low carbohydrate diet?

For me, and many people I know, the answer is: a low calorie one. What this means, in simple terms, is that a good low carbohydrate diet is one with plenty of seafood and organ meats in it, and also plenty of veggies. These are low carbohydrate foods that are also naturally low in calories. Conversely, a low carbohydrate diet of mostly beef and eggs would be a high calorie one.

Seafood and organ meats provide essential fatty acids and are typically packed with nutrients. Because of that, they tend to be satiating. In fact, certain organ meats, such as beef liver, are so packed with nutrients that it is a good idea to limit their consumption. I suggest eating beef liver once or twice a week only. As for seafood, it seems like a good idea to me to get half of one’s protein from them.

Does this mean that the calories-in-calories-out idea is correct? No, and there is no need to resort to complicated and somewhat questionable feedback-loop arguments to prove that calories-in-calories-out is wrong. Just consider this hypothetical scenario; a thought experiment. Take two men, one 25 years of age and the other 65, both with the same weight. Put them on the same exact diet, on the same exact weight training regime, and keep everything else the same.

What will happen? Typically the 65-year-old will put on more body fat than the 25-year-old, and the latter will put on more lean body mass. This will happen in spite of the same exact calories-in-calories-out profile. Why? Because their hormonal mixes are different. The 65-year-old will typically have lower levels of circulating growth hormone and testosterone, both of which significantly affect body composition.

As you can see, it is not all about insulin, as has been argued many times before. In fact, average and/or fasting insulin may be the same for the 65- and 25-year-old men. And, still, the 65-year-old will have trouble keeping his body fat low and gaining muscle. There are other hormones involved, such as leptin and adiponectin, and probably several that we don’t know about yet.

A low carbohydrate diet appears to be ideal for many people, whether that is due to a particular health condition (e.g., diabetes) or simply due to a genetic makeup that favors this type of diet. By adopting a low carbohydrate diet with plenty of seafood, organ meats, and veggies, you will make it a low calorie diet. If that leads to a calorie deficit that is too large, you can always add a bit more of fat to it. For example, by cooking fish with butter and adding bacon to beef liver.

One scenario where I don’t see the above working well is if you are a competitive athlete who depletes a significant amount of muscle glycogen on a daily basis – e.g., 250 g or more. In this case, it will be very difficult to replenish glycogen only with protein, so the person will need more carbohydrates. He or she would need a protein intake in excess of 500 g per day for replenishing 250 g of glycogen only with protein.

Sunday, December 18, 2022

The China Study II: Cholesterol seems to protect against cardiovascular disease

First of all, many thanks are due to Dr. Campbell and his collaborators for collecting and compiling the data used in this analysis. The data has been compliled by those researchers to disseminate the data from a study often referred to as the “China Study II”. It has already been analyzed by other bloggers. Notable analyses have been conducted by Ricardo at Canibais e Reis, Stan at Heretic, and Denise at Raw Food SOS.

The analyses in this post differ from those other analyses in various aspects. One of them is that data for males and females were used separately for each county, instead of the totals per county. Only two data points per county were used (for males and females). This increased the sample size of the dataset without artificially reducing variance (for more details, see “Notes” at the end of the post), which is desirable since the dataset is relatively small. This also allowed for the test of commonsense assumptions (e.g., the protective effects of being female), which is always a good idea in a complex analysis because violation of commonsense assumption may suggest data collection or analysis error. On the other hand, it required the inclusion of a sex variable as a control variable in the analysis, which is no big deal.

The analysis was conducted using WarpPLS. Below is the model with the main results of the analysis. (Click on it to enlarge. Use the "CRTL" and "+" keys to zoom in, and CRTL" and "-" to zoom out.) The arrows explore associations between variables, which are shown within ovals. The meaning of each variable is the following: SexM1F2 = sex, with 1 assigned to males and 2 to females; HDLCHOL = HDL cholesterol; TOTCHOL = total cholesterol; MSCHIST = mortality from schistosomiasis infection; and MVASC = mortality from all cardiovascular diseases.


The variables to the left of MVASC are the main predictors of interest in the model – HDLCHOL and TOTCHOL. The ones to the right are control variables – SexM1F2 and MSCHIST. The path coefficients (indicated as beta coefficients) reflect the strength of the relationships. A negative beta means that the relationship is negative; i.e., an increase in a variable is associated with a decrease in the variable that it points to. The P values indicate the statistical significance of the relationship; a P lower than 0.05 generally means a significant relationship (95 percent or higher likelihood that the relationship is “real”).

In summary, this is what the model above is telling us:

- As HDL cholesterol increases, total cholesterol increases significantly (beta=0.48; P<0.01). This is to be expected, as HDL is a main component of total cholesterol, together with VLDL and LDL cholesterol.

- As total cholesterol increases, mortality from all cardiovascular diseases decreases significantly (beta=-0.25; P<0.01). This is to be expected if we assume that total cholesterol is in part an intervening variable between HDL cholesterol and mortality from all cardiovascular diseases. This assumption can be tested through a separate model (more below). Also, there is more to this story, as noted below.

- The effect of HDL cholesterol on mortality from all cardiovascular diseases is insignificant when we control for the effect of total cholesterol (beta=-0.08; P=0.26). This suggests that HDL’s protective role is subsumed by the variable total cholesterol, and also that it is possible that there is something else associated with total cholesterol that makes it protective. Otherwise the effect of total cholesterol might have been insignificant, and the effect of HDL cholesterol significant (the reverse of what we see here).

- Being female is significantly associated with a reduction in mortality from all cardiovascular diseases (beta=-0.16; P=0.01). This is to be expected. In other words, men are women with a few design flaws. (This situation reverses itself a bit after menopause.)

- Mortality from schistosomiasis infection is significantly and inversely associated with mortality from all cardiovascular diseases (beta=-0.28; P<0.01). This is probably due to those dying from schistosomiasis infection not being entered in the dataset as dying from cardiovascular diseases, and vice-versa.

Two other main components of total cholesterol, in addition to HDL cholesterol, are VLDL and LDL cholesterol. These are carried in particles, known as lipoproteins. VLDL cholesterol is usually represented as a fraction of triglycerides in cholesterol equations (e.g., the Friedewald and Iranian equations). It usually correlates inversely with HDL; that is, as HDL cholesterol increases, usually VLDL cholesterol decreases. Given this and the associations discussed above, it seems that LDL cholesterol is a good candidate for the possible “something else associated with total cholesterol that makes it protective”. But waidaminet! Is it possible that the demon particle, the LDL, serves any purpose other than giving us heart attacks?

The graph below shows the shape of the association between total cholesterol (TOTCHOL) and mortality from all cardiovascular diseases (MVASC). The values are provided in standardized format; e.g., 0 is the average, 1 is one standard deviation above the mean, and so on. The curve is the best-fitting S curve obtained by the software (an S curve is a slightly more complex curve than a U curve).


The graph below shows some of the data in unstandardized format, and organized differently. The data is grouped here in ranges of total cholesterol, which are shown on the horizontal axis. The lowest and highest ranges in the dataset are shown, to highlight the magnitude of the apparently protective effect. Here the two variables used to calculate mortality from all cardiovascular diseases (MVASC; see “Notes” at the end of this post) were added. Clearly the lowest mortality from all cardiovascular diseases is in the highest total cholesterol range, 172.5 to 180; and the highest mortality in the lowest total cholesterol range, 120 to 127.5. The difference is quite large; the mortality in the lowest range is approximately 3.3 times higher than in the highest.


The shape of the S-curve graph above suggests that there are other variables that are confounding the results a bit. Mortality from all cardiovascular diseases does seem to generally go down with increases in total cholesterol, but the smooth inflection point at the middle of the S-curve graph suggests a more complex variation pattern that may be influenced by other variables (e.g., smoking, dietary patterns, or even schistosomiasis infection; see “Notes” at the end of this post).

As mentioned before, total cholesterol is strongly influenced by HDL cholesterol, so below is the model with only HDL cholesterol (HDLCHOL) pointing at mortality from all cardiovascular diseases (MVASC), and the control variable sex (SexM1F2).


The graph above confirms the assumption that HDL’s protective role is subsumed by the variable total cholesterol. When the variable total cholesterol is removed from the model, as it was done above, the protective effect of HDL cholesterol becomes significant (beta=-0.27; P<0.01). The control variable sex (SexM1F2) was retained even in this targeted HDL effect model because of the expected confounding effect of sex; females generally tend to have higher HDL cholesterol and less cardiovascular disease than males.

Below, in the “Notes” section (after the “Reference”) are several notes, some of which are quite technical. Providing them separately hopefully has made the discussion above a bit easier to follow. The notes also point at some limitations of the analysis. This data needs to be analyzed from different angles, using multiple models, so that firmer conclusions can be reached. Still, the overall picture that seems to be emerging is at odds with previous beliefs based on the same dataset.

What could be increasing the apparently protective HDL and total cholesterol in this dataset? High consumption of animal foods, particularly foods rich in saturated fat and cholesterol, are strong candidates. Low consumption of vegetable oils rich in linoleic acid, and of foods rich in refined carbohydrates, are also good candidates. Maybe it is a combination of these.

We need more analyses!


Notes:

- The path coefficients (indicated as beta coefficients) reflect the strength of the relationships; they are a bit like standard univariate (or Pearson) correlation coefficients, except that they take into consideration multivariate relationships (they control for competing effects on each variable).

- The R-squared values reflect the percentage of explained variance for certain variables; the higher they are, the better the model fit with the data. In complex and multi-factorial phenomena such as health-related phenomena, many would consider an R-squared of 0.20 as acceptable. Still, such an R-squared would mean that 80 percent of the variance for a particularly variable is unexplained by the data.

- The P values have been calculated using a nonparametric technique, a form of resampling called jackknifing, which does not require the assumption that the data is normally distributed to be met. This and other related techniques also tend to yield more reliable results for small samples, and samples with outliers (as long as the outliers are “good” data, and are not the result of measurement error).

- Colinearity is an important consideration in models that analyze the effect of multiple predictors on one single variable. This is particularly true for multiple regression models, where there is a temptation of adding many predictors to the model to see which ones come out as the “winners”. This often backfires, as colinearity can severely distort the results. Some multiple regression techniques, such as automated stepwise regression with backward elimination, are particularly vulnerable to this problem. Colinearity is not the same as correlation, and thus is defined and measured differently. Two predictor variables may be significantly correlated and still have low colinearity. A reasonably reliable measure of colinearity is the variance inflation factor. Colinearity was tested in this model, and was found to be low.

- An effort was made here to avoid multiple data points per county (even though this was available for some variables), because this could artificially reduce the variance for each variable, and potentially bias the results. The reason for this is that multiple answers from a single county would normally be somewhat correlated; a higher degree of intra-county correlation than inter-county correlation. The resulting bias would be difficult to control for, via one or more control variables. With only two data points per county, one for males and the other for females, one can control for intra-country correlation by adding a “dummy” sex variable to the analysis, as a control variable. This was done here.

- Mortality from schistosomiasis infection (MSCHIST) is a variable that tends to affect the results in a way that makes it more difficult to make sense of them. Generally this is true for any infectious diseases that significantly affect a population under study. The problem with infection is that people with otherwise good health or habits may get the infection, and people with bad health and habits may not. Since cholesterol is used by the human body to fight disease, it may go up, giving the impression that it is going up for some other reason. Perhaps instead of controlling for its effect, as done here, it would have been better to remove from the analysis those counties with deaths from schistosomiasis infection. (See also this post, and this one.)

- Different parts of the data were collected at different times. It seems that the mortality data is for the period 1986-88, and the rest of the data is for 1989. This may have biased the results somewhat, even though the time lag is not that long, especially if there were changes in certain health trends from one period to the other. For example, major migrations from one county to another could have significantly affected the results.

- The following measures were used, from the China Study II dataset, like the other measures. P002 HDLCHOL, for HDLCHOL; P001 TOTCHOL, for TOTCHOL; and M021 SCHISTOc, for MSCHIST.

- SexM1F2 is a “dummy” variable that was coded with 1 assigned to males and 2 to females. As such, it essentially measures the “degree of femaleness” of the respondents. Being female is generally protective against cardiovascular disease, a situation that reverts itself a bit after menopause.

- MVASC is a composite measure of the two following variables, provided as component measures of mortality from all cardiovascular diseases: M058 ALLVASCb (ages 0-34), and M059 ALLVASCc (ages 35-69). A couple of obvious problems: (a) they does not include data on people older than 69; and (b) they seem to capture a lot of diseases, including some that do not seem like typical cardiovascular diseases. A factor analysis was conducted, and the loadings and cross-loadings suggested good validity. Composite reliability was also good. So essentially MVASC is measured here as a “latent variable” with two “indicators”. Why do this? The reason is that it reduces the biasing effects of incomplete data and measurement error (e.g., exclusion of folks older than 69). By the way, there is always some measurement error in any dataset.

- This note is related to measurement error in connection with the indicators for MVASC. There is something odd about the variables M058 ALLVASCb (ages 0-34), and M059 ALLVASCc (ages 35-69). According to the dataset, mortality from cardiovascular diseases for ages 0-34 is typically higher than for 35-69, for many counties. Given the good validity and reliability for MVASC as a latent variable, it is possible that the values for these two indicator variables were simply swapped by mistake.

Saturday, November 12, 2022

The theory of supercompensation: Strength training frequency and muscle gain

Moderate strength training has a number of health benefits, and is viewed by many as an important component of a natural lifestyle that approximates that of our Stone Age ancestors. It increases bone density, muscle mass, and improves a number of health markers. Done properly, it may decrease body fat percentage.

Generally one would expect some muscle gain as a result of strength training. Men seem to be keen on upper-body gains, while women appear to prefer lower-body gains. Yet, many people do strength training for years, and experience little or no muscle gain.

Paradoxically, those people experience major strength gains, both men and women, especially in the first few months after they start a strength training program. However, those gains are due primarily to neural adaptations, and come without any significant gain in muscle mass. This can be frustrating, especially for men. Most men are after some noticeable muscle gain as a result of strength training. (Whether that is healthy is another story, especially as one gets to extremes.)

After the initial adaptation period, of “beginner” gains, typically no strength gains occur without muscle gains.

The culprits for the lack of anabolic response are often believed to be low levels of circulating testosterone and other hormones that seem to interact with testosterone to promote muscle growth, such as growth hormone. This leads many to resort to anabolic steroids, which are drugs that mimic the effects of androgenic hormones, such as testosterone. These drugs usually increase muscle mass, but have a number of negative short-term and long-term side effects.

There seems to be a better, less harmful, solution to the lack of anabolic response. Through my research on compensatory adaptation I often noticed that, under the right circumstances, people would overcompensate for obstacles posed to them. Strength training is a form of obstacle, which should generate overcompensation under the right circumstances. From a biological perspective, one would expect a similar phenomenon; a natural solution to the lack of anabolic response.

This solution is predicted by a theory that also explains a lack of anabolic response to strength training, and that unfortunately does not get enough attention outside the academic research literature. It is the theory of supercompensation, which is discussed in some detail in several high-quality college textbooks on strength training. (Unlike popular self-help books, these textbooks summarize peer-reviewed academic research, and also provide the references that are summarized.) One example is the excellent book by Zatsiorsky & Kraemer (2006) on the science and practice of strength training.

The figure below, from Zatsiorsky & Kraemer (2006), shows what happens during and after a strength training session. The level of preparedness could be seen as the load in the session, which is proportional to: the number of exercise sets, the weight lifted (or resistance overcame) in each set, and the number of repetitions in each set. The restitution period is essentially the recovery period, which must include plenty of rest and proper nutrition.


Note that toward the end there is a sideways S-like curve with a first stretch above the horizontal line and another below the line. The first stretch is the supercompensation stretch; a window in time (e.g., a 20-hour period). The horizontal line represents the baseline load, which can be seen as the baseline strength of the individual prior to the exercise session. This is where things get tricky. If one exercises again within the supercompensation stretch, strength and muscle gains will likely happen. (Usually noticeable upper-body muscle gain happens in men, because of higher levels of testosterone and of other hormones that seem to interact with testosterone.) Exercising outside the supercompensation time window may lead to no gain, or even to some loss, of both strength and muscle.

Timing strength training sessions correctly can over time lead to significant gains in strength and muscle (see middle graph in the figure below, also from Zatsiorsky & Kraemer, 2006). For that to happen, one has not only to regularly “hit” the supercompensation time window, but also progressively increase load. This must happen for each muscle group. Strength and muscle gains will occur up to a point, a point of saturation, after which no further gains are possible. Men who reach that point will invariably look muscular, in a more or less “natural” way depending on supplements and other factors. Some people seem to gain strength and muscle very easily; they are often called mesomorphs. Others are hard gainers, sometimes referred to as endomorphs (who tend to be fatter) and ectomorphs (who tend to be skinnier).


It is not easy to identify the ideal recovery and supercompensation periods. They vary from person to person. They also vary depending on types of exercise, numbers of sets, and numbers of repetitions. Nutrition also plays a role, and so do rest and stress. From an evolutionary perspective, it would seem to make sense to work all major muscle groups on the same day, and then do the same workout after a certain recovery period. (Our Stone Age ancestors did not do isolation exercises, such as bicep curls.) But this will probably make you look more like a strong hunter-gatherer than a modern bodybuilder.

To identify the supercompensation time window, one could employ a trial-and-error approach, by trying to repeat the same workout after different recovery times. Based on the literature, it would make sense to start at the 48-hour period (one full day of rest between sessions), and then move back and forth from there. A sign that one is hitting the supercompensation time window is becoming a little stronger at each workout, by performing more repetitions with the same weight (e.g., 10, from 8 in the previous session). If that happens, the weight should be incrementally increased in successive sessions. Most studies suggest that the best range for muscle gain is that of 6 to 12 repetitions in each set, but without enough time under tension gains will prove elusive.

The discussion above is not aimed at professional bodybuilders. There are a number of factors that can influence strength and muscle gain other than supercompensation. (Still, supercompensation seems to be a “biggie”.) Things get trickier over time with trained athletes, as returns on effort get progressively smaller. Even natural bodybuilders appear to benefit from different strategies at different levels of proficiency. For example, changing the workouts on a regular basis seems to be a good idea, and there is a science to doing that properly. See the “Interesting links” area of this web site for several more focused resources of strength training.

Reference:

Zatsiorsky, V., & Kraemer, W.J. (2006). Science and practice of strength training. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Total cholesterol and cardiovascular disease: A U-curve relationship

The hypothesis that blood cholesterol levels are positively correlated with heart disease (the lipid hypothesis) dates back to Rudolph Virchow in the mid-1800s.

One famous study that supported this hypothesis was Ancel Keys's Seven Countries Study, conducted between the 1950s and 1970s. This study eventually served as the foundation on which much of the advice that we receive today from doctors is based, even though several other studies have been published since that provide little support for the lipid hypothesis.

The graph below (from O Primitivo) shows the results of one study, involving many more countries than Key's Seven Countries Study, that actually suggests a NEGATIVE linear correlation between total cholesterol and cardiovascular disease.


Now, most relationships in nature are nonlinear, with quite a few following a pattern that looks like a U-curve (plain or inverted); sometimes called a J-curve pattern. The graph below (also from O Primitivo) shows the U-curve relationship between total cholesterol and mortality, with cardiovascular disease mortality indicated through a dotted red line at the bottom.

This graph has been obtained through a nonlinear analysis, and I think it provides a better picture of the relationship between total cholesterol (TC) and mortality. Based on this graph, the best range of TC that one can be at is somewhere between 210, where cardiovascular disease mortality is minimized; and 220, where total mortality is minimized.

The total mortality curve is the one indicated through the full blue line at the top. In fact, it suggests that mortality increases sharply as TC decreases below 200.

Now, these graphs relate TC with disease and mortality, and say nothing about LDL cholesterol (LDL). In my own experience, and that of many people I know, a TC of about 200 will typically be associated with a slightly elevated LDL (e.g., 110 to 150), even if one has a high HDL cholesterol (i.e., greater than 60).

Yet, most people who have a LDL greater than 100 will be told by their doctors, usually with the best of the intentions, to take statins, so that they can "keep their LDL under control". (LDL levels are usually calculated, not measured directly, which itself creates a whole new set of problems.)

Alas, reducing LDL to 100 or less will typically reduce TC below 200. If we go by the graphs above, especially the one showing the U-curves, these folks' risk for cardiovascular disease and mortality will go up - exactly the opposite effect that they and their doctors expected. And that will cost them financially as well, as statin drugs are expensive, in part to pay for all those TV ads.

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

What is your optimal weight? Maybe it is the one that minimizes your waist-to-weight ratio


There is a significant amount of empirical evidence suggesting that, for a given individual and under normal circumstances, the optimal weight is the one that maximizes the ratio below, where: L = lean body mass, and T = total mass.

L / T

L is difficult and often costly to measure. T can be measured easily, as one’s total weight.

Through some simple algebraic manipulations, you can see below that the ratio above can be rewritten in terms of one’s body fat mass (F).

L / T = (T – F) / T = 1 – F / T

Therefore, in order to maximize L / T, one should maximize 1 – F / T. This essentially means that one should minimize the second term, or the ratio below, which is one’s body fat mass (F) divided by one’s weight (T).

F / T

So, you may say, all I have to do is to minimize my body fat percentage. The problem with this is that body fat percentage is very difficult to measure with precision, and, perhaps more importantly, body fat percentage is associated with lean body mass (and also weight) in a nonlinear way.

In English, it becomes increasingly difficult to retain lean body mass as one's body fat percentage goes down. Mathematically, body fat percentage (F / T) is a nonlinear function of T, where this function has the shape of a J curve.

This is what complicates matters, making the issue somewhat counterintuitive. Six-pack abs may look good, but many people would have to sacrifice too much lean body mass for their own good to get there. Genetics definitely plays a role here, as well as other factors such as age.

Keep in mind that this (i.e., F / T) is a ratio, not an absolute measure. Given this, and to facilitate measurement, we can replace F with a variable that is highly correlated with it, and that captures one or more important dimensions particularly well. This new variable would be a proxy for F. One the most widely used proxies in this type of context is waist circumference. We’ll refer to it as W.

W may well be a very good proxy, because it is a measure that is particularly sensitive to visceral body fat mass, an important dimension of body fat mass. W likely captures variations in visceral body fat mass at the levels where this type of body fat accumulation seems to cause health problems.

Therefore, the ratio that most of us would probably want to minimize is the following, where W is one’s waist circumference, and T is one’s weight.

W / T = waist / weight


Based on the experience of HCE () users, variations in this ratio are likely to be small and require 4-decimals or more to be captured. If you want to avoid having so many decimals, you can multiply the ratio by 1000. This will have no effect on the use of the ratio to find your optimal weight; it is analogous to multiplying a ratio by 100 to express it as a percentage.

Also based on the experience of HCE users, there are fluctuations that make the ratio look like it is changing direction when it is not actually doing that. Many of these fluctuations may be due to measurement error.

If you are obese, as you lose weight through dieting, the waist / weight ratio should go down, because you will be losing more body fat mass than lean body mass, in proportion to your total body mass.

It would arguably be wise to stop losing weight when the waist / weight ratio starts going up, because at that point you will be losing more lean body mass than body fat mass, in proportion to your total body mass.

One’s lowest waist / weight ratio at a given point in time should vary depending on a number of factors, including: diet, exercise, general lifestyle, and age. This lowest ratio will also be dependent on one’s height and genetic makeup.

Mathematically, this lowest ratio is the ratio at which d(W / T) / dT = 0 and d(d(W / T) / dT) / dT > 0. That is, the first derivative of W / T with respect to T equals zero, and the second derivative is greater than zero.

The lowest waist / weight ratio is unique to each individual, and can go up and down over time (e.g., resistance exercise will push it down). Here I am talking about one's lowest waist / weight ratio at a given point in time, not one's waist / weight ratio at a given point in time.

This optimal waist / weight ratio theory is one of the most compatible with evidence regarding the lowest mortality body mass index (, ). Nevertheless, it is another ratio that gets a lot of attention in the health-related literature. I am talking about the waist / hip ratio (). In this literature, waist circumference is often used alone, not as part of a ratio.

Monday, June 20, 2022

Could grain-fed beef liver be particularly nutritious?


There is a pervasive belief today that grain-fed beef is unhealthy, a belief that I addressed before in this blog () and that I think is exaggerated. This general belief seems to also apply to a related meat, one that is widely acknowledged as a major micronutrient “powerhouse”, namely grain-fed beef liver.

Regarding grain-fed beef liver, the idea is that cattle that are grain-fed tend to develop a mild form of fatty liver disease. This I am inclined to agree with.

However, I am not convinced that this is such a bad thing for those who eat grain-fed beef liver.

In most animals, including Homo sapiens, fatty liver disease seems to be associated with extra load being put on the liver. Possible reasons for this are accelerated growth, abnormally high levels of body fat, and ingestion of toxins beyond a certain hormetic threshold (e.g., alcohol).

In these cases, what would one expect to see as a body response? The extra load is associated with high oxidative stress and rate of metabolic work. In response, the body should shuttle more antioxidants and metabolism catalysts to the organ being overloaded. Fat-soluble vitamins can act as antioxidants and catalysts in various metabolic processes, among other important functions. They require fat to be stored, and can then be released over time, which is a major advantage over water-soluble vitamins; fat-soluble vitamins are longer-acting.

So you would expect an overloaded liver to have more fat in it, and also a greater concentration of fat-soluble vitamins. This would include vitamin A, which would give the liver an unnatural color, toward the orange-yellow range of the spectrum.

Grain-fed beef liver, like the muscle meat of grain-fed cattle, tends to have more fat than that of grass-fed animals. One function of this extra fat could be to store fat-soluble vitamins. This extra fat appears to have a higher omega-6 fat content as well. Still, beef liver is a fairly lean meat; with about 5 g of fat per 100 g of weight, and only 20 mg or so of omega-6 fat. Clearly consumption of beef liver in moderation is unlikely to lead to a significant increase in omega-6 fat content in one’s diet (). By consumption in moderation I mean approximately once a week.

The photo below, from Wikipedia, is of a dish prepared with foie gras. That is essentially the liver of a duck or goose that has been fattened through force-feeding, until the animal develops fatty liver disease. This “diseased” liver is particularly rich in fat-soluble vitamins; e.g., it is the best known source of the all-important vitamin K2.



Could the same happen, although to a lesser extent, with grain-fed beef liver? I don’t think it is unreasonable to speculate that it could.

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Vitamin D production from UV radiation: The effects of total cholesterol and skin pigmentation

Our body naturally produces as much as 10,000 IU of vitamin D based on a few minutes of sun exposure when the sun is high. Getting that much vitamin D from dietary sources is very difficult, even after “fortification”.

The above refers to pre-sunburn exposure. Sunburn is not associated with increased vitamin D production; it is associated with skin damage and cancer.

Solar ultraviolet (UV) radiation is generally divided into two main types: UVB (wavelength: 280–320 nm) and UVA (320–400 nm). Vitamin D is produced primarily based on UVB radiation. Nevertheless, UVA is much more abundant, amounting to about 90 percent of the sun’s UV radiation.

UVA seems to cause the most skin damage, although there is some debate on this. If this is correct, one would expect skin pigmentation to be our body’s defense primarily against UVA radiation, not UVB radiation. If so, one’s ability to produce vitamin D based on UVB should not go down significantly as one’s skin becomes darker.

Also, vitamin D and cholesterol seem to be closely linked. Some argue that one is produced based on the other; others that they have the same precursor substance(s). Whatever the case may be, if vitamin D and cholesterol are indeed closely linked, one would expect low cholesterol levels to be associated with low vitamin D production based on sunlight.

Bogh et al. (2010) published a very interesting study; one of those studies that remain relevant as time goes by. The link to the study was provided by Ted Hutchinson in the comments sections of a another post on vitamin D. The study was published in a refereed journal with a solid reputation, the Journal of Investigative Dermatology.

The study by Bogh et al. (2010) is particularly interesting because it investigates a few issues on which there is a lot of speculation. Among the issues investigated are the effects of total cholesterol and skin pigmentation on the production of vitamin D from UVB radiation.

The figure below depicts the relationship between total cholesterol and vitamin D production based on UVB radiation. Vitamin D production is referred to as “delta 25(OH)D”. The univariate correlation is a fairly high and significant 0.51.


25(OH)D is the abbreviation for calcidiol, a prehormone that is produced in the liver based on vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol), and then converted in the kidneys into calcitriol, which is usually abbreviated as 1,25-(OH)2D3. The latter is the active form of vitamin D.

The table below shows 9 columns; the most relevant ones are the last pair at the right. They are the delta 25(OH)D levels for individuals with dark and fair skin after exposure to the same amount of UVB radiation. The difference in vitamin D production between the two groups is statistically indistinguishable from zero.


So there you have it. According to this study, low total cholesterol seems to be associated with impaired ability to produce vitamin D from UVB radiation. And skin pigmentation appears to have little effect on the amount of vitamin D produced.

The study has a few weaknesses, as do almost all studies. For example, if you take a look at the second pair of columns from the right on the table above, you’ll notice that the baseline 25(OH)D is lower for individuals with dark skin. The difference was just short of being significant at the 0.05 level.

What is the problem with that? Well, one of the findings of the study was that lower baseline 25(OH)D levels were significantly associated with higher delta 25(OH)D levels. Still, the baseline difference does not seem to be large enough to fully explain the lack of difference in delta 25(OH)D levels for individuals with dark and fair skin.

A widely cited dermatology researcher, Antony Young, published an invited commentary on this study in the same journal issue (Young, 2010). The commentary points out some weaknesses in the study, but is generally favorable. The weaknesses include the use of small sub-samples.

References

Bogh, M.K.B., Schmedes, A.V., Philipsen, P.A., Thieden, E., & Wulf, H.C. (2010). Vitamin D production after UVB exposure depends on baseline vitamin D and total cholesterol but not on skin pigmentation. Journal of Investigative Dermatology, 130(2), 546–553.

Young, A.R. (2010). Some light on the photobiology of vitamin D. Journal of Investigative Dermatology, 130(2), 346–348.