Main picture for this article is Berberine. I like the molecule’s actions, it is mentioned in this article, and it looks like a snake. Snakes are cool.
If trying to summarize a ton of knowledge, research, and experiences into some easily digested format to give to a reader or client I tend to use one of the above two methods of delivery. After trying to think about alternatives, I realized this is basically a dichotomy; although it isn’t a pretty spectrum dichotomy, it’s more like something is a law (is so, then ‘Law’) or not (If else, then ‘Blanket Statement’).
There also appears to be quite a lot of bickering between parties comparing laws against blanket statements, most commonly seen in the topic of weight loss and weight gain when the ‘Calories in v. Calories out’ application of the Law of Thermodynamics is competing against blanket statements involving carbohydrate manipulation of supplements that ‘seem to defy the laws of physics’.
I’ll go on the record now to state that, my tentative opinion on this, is that comparing a law to a blanket statement is as silly as comparing epidemiology against intervention research; all options are great to get information, but just because they are great options do not mean that they are applicable in a situation or that they can be compared to each other.
To start on a common ground (and hopefully show what I mean), let’s revisit the whole ‘Intervention research v. Epidemiological research’ thing. If a certain topic has a plethora of both, then for most situations the Intervention research has a higher practical importance that overrides, but does not necessarily disprove, the epidemiology. In the case of an absence of intevention research, general motifs can be taken from epidemiology but these have to be taken with a huge grain of salt and even then you cannot be too confident in your application of it thereof. In this latter scenario, the epidemiology is basically just a tentative guiding statment until the proper Intervention research surfaces.
Similar to blanket statements and laws, the laws will always take priority IF both exist to a satisfactory degree on a certain topic. When it comes to nutrition or supplementation, this is… never I think?
Laws, as it applies to the human body, are bloody hard if not impossible to establish. Basically we rely on blanket statements derived from laws until we can sufficiently ‘prove’ the blanket statement and make a new law from that (Note: In my opinion, don’t ever think one of these dietary ‘laws’ are coming soon… not sure if it is even possible at this stage of research)
So we settle for blanket statements. The ‘generally accepted as correct’ principles that do not override laws, but temporarily fill the gap in knowledge between a true Law and its application thereof to a topic.
The Law of Thermodynamics, in its true essence, is pretty much irrefutable at this time (I mean, I haven’t seen any evidence to suggest that it is wrong when we don’t try to apply it to diet; bomb calorimeters and physics have established the law is indeed pretty much a law)
Applying it to diet has currently not been fully established. This doesn’t mean that the Law of Thermodynamics doesn’t apply to the body, it just means we need to refine the equation and evidence until it DOES. Basically, the ‘calorie equations’ you see online would probably need to be integrated with your environment, health status, hormone and cytokine levels (T3, leptin, TNF-a, adiponectin, testosterone, etc.), your sensitivity to the aforementioned hormones and cytokines, and any genetic polymorphisms that mean that you could deviated from the above equation.
It’s going to take a while… a bloody long time actually.
This is why blanket statements such as the following have arisen:
- Reduce carbohydrates if you are morbidly obese or inactive, as you are not using your ‘carbohydrate metabolism’ but instead using fat metabolism for daily living and the dysregulation between what you consume and what your body ‘wants’ to use may be causing or augmenting disease processes of which include obesity
- Exposure to cold increases metabolic rate via shivering thermogenesis; independent of caloric intake or expenditure from exercise
- The closer you are to an ideal ‘healthy’ state, the more likely the ‘Calories in v. out’ law will apply to you; the more unhealthy you are, the more likely it will be that an intervention can seemingly ‘defy’ the law of thermodynamics (more on this later)
These are just collections of observations that fill in the gap until we get a kick-ass equation that mathematically solves health issues. We’re stuck with these for a while, so let’s treat them as they are. They are NOT CORRECT. They are not INCORRECT either to be honest, they are just probably the best things we can work with at this point in time until a better temporary guiding principle comes up.
These are blanket statements. Anybody who wants to better their health is stuck with them and distinguishing them between laws is outright critical. None of them disprove a law, they are just applied to a concept before the law can be since we don’t like to have absolutely nothing to work with.
The further you get away from mathematics (relevant XKCD, we’re chilling near the biologists) the more you will need to rely on blanket statements; Laws and Proofs work from math leftward in that comic.
The above PSA was mostly since I get a lot of questions as to my thoughts on Calories in v. out. It is a great blanket statement. It may need a few amendments, but it has done very well so far. It is not the law of thermodynamics per se, but an application thereof to diet. If the blanket statement of Calories in v. out seems to not apply or is ‘false’ for a scenario, this by no means throw the law of thermodynamics into disrepute… we just need to slightly amend the blanket statement to make it a tad more correct.
Hence the following… a collection of observation I have noted about weight loss and calories in v. out as it applies to health.
Unhealthy people, as odd as this is, seem to have it lucky when it comes to weight loss. MANY things work for them that seemingly defy the Calories in v. out paradigm and make them lose weight beyond what caloric intake and expenditure can calculate. This seemingly magical weight loss appears to be normalized and fail to exist when they are once again healthy, and at this state the Calories in v. out paradigm becomes more and more relevant
Mostly, I derived this from a bunch of studies looking at nutraceutical interventions for weight loss. Shit, dozens of things work amazingly and many of these seem to work in people as well; here is the Examine page for nutraceuticals that have been tested in humans for weight loss. Currently (this may change in the future) we have 21 positive hits. Look at Fucoxanthin, Berberine, and Green Coffee Extract in particular, as these have pretty damn good weight loss in obese/overweight persons with no evidence for efficacy in normal weight persons. The degree of weight loss seen in Fuco and Berberine is astonishing, and there did not appear to be alterations in energy intake. The ketosis diet is another example of “Why does this work so damn well in obese people but seems to be ‘just another diet’ in persons of normal weight”; something is up here.
Oddly, all the above are very health compounds that appear to also normalize parameters of health. So it is theoretically possible that they are not weight loss agents, but health agents. Whatever they are working on is ‘allowing’ an unhealthy persons body to better follow caloric expenditure and intake motifs. Once the floodgates are open and health is restored, a compound that is designed to open these doors kinda becomes useless now (why open the door if it is already open? The deed is done, move on…)
Controlling for studies that show weight loss in normal weight people… we have stimulants and appetite suppressants; basically, that’s all. This is remarkably in line with pre-contest diets for bodybuilders where the vast majority of the benefit is derived from the diet, and perhaps some stimulant usage adds to this. The only molecule I know of that does not fit into the above two categories and induces weight loss in normal weight persons is Dinitrophenol (I wouldn’t recommend that due to the low therapeutic threshold and the whole ‘illegal’ aspect of it making quality control a thing of the past, but it remains a really cool molecule to look at). None of these compounds are inherently ‘healthy’ to consume, they just either increase metabolic rate or reduce energy intake.
There is clearly a discord here. Not enough to disprove the Calories in v. out notion, but perhaps enough to at least add an amendment to it. Perhaps I’ll end this rambling blog post with my current theory since my skill at closing articles tastefully currently lacks:
The blanket statement of calories in v. out is currently the best guiding principle for weight loss, with more reliability when you are closer to a healthy body state. The further you are from a healthy bodily state, the more likely interventions can induce weight loss that seemingly defy the above guiding principle; getting closer to a healthy state normalizes this difference somewhat.
I’d also like to note that food restriction per se and a nice exercise regimen do increase health parameters in the unhealthy, so you don’t need to buy fancy supplements for this (I just use them as an example because they are what I work with and what I have evidence for on hand at the moment). This also serves as a warning for currently healthy people who want to look ‘extra cut’ for the summer, that getting a compound that has been shown to work in obese persons may not work for you yet it may work for your unhealthy friend.
(Also, as an addendum, I have used obese and unhealthy pretty interchangeably in this article. I do not know if they are synonyms, but the biomarker of ‘obese’ is simple to measure and seems to be pretty damn reliable for identifying unhealthy people in studies.)