[0:00] Introduction/Paleo f(x)
[1:36] Marc Pro
[3:42] Casper Mattresses
[5:02] Organifi Green Juice
[7:44] Some Things about Chris
[10:00] Chris' morning routines
[10:42] Why Chris doubles-up the blackout curtains
[12:55] Black out hacks Ben and Chris have done
[15:17] What lighting has to do with sleep
[17:16] Genetic sensitivities to light
[22:00] How genetics and nutrition affect sensitivity to blue light
[23:07] Can one test for sensitivity to blue light at night
[27:12] Continuation of Chris' evening routine
[32:29] Why sugar is not as bad as we think
[35:30] Amino acids and sleep
[37:54] The best time of the day to eat carbohydrates
[38:40] The best time of the day to eat amino acids, use collagen if you have protein at night
[41:05] Take of Chris about Advanced Glycation End Products or AGE
[47:46] Is the liver toxic? And is eating liver toxic?
[49:47] US Wellness Meats
[51:05] Continuation of Advanced Glycation End Products
[58:04] What we really need to know about AGE’s
[1:00:30] Nutritional deficiencies involving Aldehydes and the like
[1:01:07] On Carbohydrates
[1:03:55] Diabetes and AGEs
[1:05:49] On Glutathione
[1:08:12] Insulin sensitivity related issues
[1:12:38] Continuation of Chris' morning routine
[1:14:02] The most important stretch that Chris does with a broom handle
[1:19:47] End of Podcast
Ben: Hey, what's up? It's Ben Greenfield. I am on the road. As a matter of fact, at the time that you're listening to this episode, I'm off the grid spending five days on a 176 mile trip down the Grand Canyon on a raft. But in the meantime, the week before heading down to the Grand Canyon, I was at Paleo f(x), where my kids were doing a cooking demo about how to use crickets, and shirataki Japanese yam noodles to make pad thai, where I was speaking on mental performance and biohacking your brain, and basically where a lot of the world's leading health and fitness and nutrition experts were gathered for what I consider to be one of the best events on the face of the planet when it comes to this type of healthy living.
Now, I managed to grab two gentlemen who I'm extremely impressed with and both today, as well as this coming Saturday, on the Ben Greenfield Fitness Show, you're gonna get to listen in to the conversation that I had with these guys on the porch, right here in the sunshine, in Austin, Texas at Paleo f(x). Today's episode, the episode that you're about to hear, was with Chris Masterjohn. In this episode, we discuss everything from why sugar really isn't as bad as you may have been led to believe, to how to get your body to make its own glutathione, to Chris' rather strange evening and morning habits.
But before we jump in, I wanna tell you about today sponsor. First of all, this podcast is brought to you by something shocking. Literally. Something that I use to shock my body, shock my injuries completely away just about any single time I get some kind of tendon or soft tissue injury. Here's what I do, I take a couple of electrodes, I put the electrodes, over the area where the soft tissue is injured, whether this be knee pain, whether be some kind of like a quadricep soreness from squats or cycling, you name it. On top of those electrodes, I actually put an ice pack, and underneath the electrodes, I put magnesium spray. That's my 1, 2, 3 method. I put a topical, I put the electrodes, then I put the ice, and then I simply shock away for 15 to 20 minutes. Very light frequency that gradually grabs both slow twitch and fast twitch muscle fibers in an extremely therapeutic way.
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In this episode of The Ben Greenfield Fitness Show:
“You take glucose which is a hexose, meaning a six carbon sugar, and you split it in half, and you oxidize it, and you get two molecules of pyruvate, which is a three carbon oxidized derivative of glucose. In the middle of this process you have intermediates called triose phosphates and they can, at a very small percentage, spontaneously dephosphorylate to form methylglyoxal, which is the most important precursor to advance glycation end-products in the human body.” “If your VO2 Max is never going much above like 30%, most of your activity demand gonna be for fat.”
He’s an expert in human performance and nutrition, voted America’s top personal trainer and one of the globe’s most influential people in health and fitness. His show provides you with everything you need to optimize physical and mental performance. He is Ben Greenfield. “Power, speed, mobility, balance – whatever it is for you that’s the natural movement, get out there! When you look at all the studies done… studies that have shown the greatest efficacy…” All the information you need in one place, right here, right now, on the Ben Greenfield Fitness podcast.
Ben: How 'bout you, man? How's Paleo f(x) going for you so far?
Chris: Good. Good.
Ben: I'm glad I managed to rip you off stage and get you out here on the porch, where we are, we are now recording, by the way. We're on. We are on. Hey, if you're listening in, I have managed to snag one of the guys who I consider, right now at least, to be one of the smartest dudes in the Paleo/Primal Health Fitness world, the guy who actually just launched a podcast. What's your podcast's name?
Chris: The Daily Lipid.
Ben: The Daily Lipid. It's Chris Masterjohn. What's going on, man?
Chris: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me, Ben.
Ben: Oh, yeah! I'm stoked! And for those of you who don't know who Chris is, first of all, you gotta listen to his podcasts. I try to avoid many health and fitness podcasts, actually, because, you just, it's too much, right. Like I like to listen to NPR, and Planet Money, and This American Life, but, occasionally, if a podcast makes my brain hurt, I'll listen to it 'cause it's not the same old, you know, fitness crap over and over, and your podcast is one of those. I found out about it, started listening, you're smart dude.
Chris: Thanks. I'm all about causing some brain pain.
Ben: That's right. Brain pain. So, for those of you who don't know who Chris is, he has a PhD in Nutritional Science. I guess that makes you a doctor.
Chris: Yeah, in a sense of the word, it does.
Ben: Yeah, all right. I have a doctor on the podcast, Dr. Chris Masterjohn. He studied glutathione and antioxidants when he was getting his PhD from Yukon, and now he actually does a lot of writing. And you just got done speaking about this as well, on fat soluble vitamins, stuff like vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin K. We're gonna talk a little bit about that stuff, and some confusing issues when it comes to fat soluble vitamin, and we'll clear up the air on that. We're gonna talk a little bit about sugar today, 'cause I know you have some slightly controversial opinions on that as well, but I have a question for you first before we even dive in that.
Like you, to me and I could be totally wrong here 'cause sometimes I'm pretty crappy at judging people, but you seem like a very like Type A, calculated, mild-mannered guy, who's like the quintessential scientist, and I always like to kinda hear about the routines of scientists. So, do you have like some kind of elaborate morning routine? Like what's your morning look like?
Chris: Yeah, I actually do have a pretty regimented morning routine. Although, I think that has less to do with my personality, and more to do with control of my personality, and, and really, you know, get productive and get on track with everything. So, first thing I do when I wake up in the morning is I open, so I sleep with black, inside mounted blackout blinds covered by outside mounted blackout curtains, possibly with a sleep mask on, depending on how much light is creeping through.
Ben: Why do have to double-up the blackout curtains?
Chris: So the, so yeah, I mean basically the outside mounted ones are good at covering the edges, but, they're, they call them blackout blinds, but they don't really make it totally black inside.
Ben: Like stuff gets through, a little bit of light gets through?
Chris: Yeah. It kind of filters through the, kind of filters through the curtain. You know, they block out maybe 70, or 80, or 90% of it, and the blackout blinds do the bulk of, they're better at actually providing a physical barrier to the light, but they let it, the borders of them have like a crack that lets the light escape out.
Ben: I have the same problem in my house. So I'm attentively listening to you 'cause I have the blackout curtains that you pull down, but, and I'm gonna sound like a complete sleep princess, so I guess you sound like too, but light still creeps in, right? Like it still gets in those little corners. So what's your fix for this?
Chris: Yeah. My fix is I have inside mounted blackout blinds, I have outside mounted blackout curtains that go over the blinds…
Ben: That are actually on the outside your house or on the outside of the curtains?
Chris: Well, I wish they were on the outside of my house, but, I've, I didn't even think it out until I was traveling in Europe last year. And it seems, when I was in Paris, and when I was in Spain too I think, everyone has blackout blinds on the outside of the windows and they don't let any light in at all.
Chris: I don't know, I think I would need to get permission from my landlord to do that and the outside is brick, so I don't really know if that's an option for me right now. But anyway, my current fix is on the inside blackout blinds covered by blackout curtains and then I have a sleep mask by my nightstand in case I need some extra protection for that.
Ben: Do you use the sleep master sleep mask? The one that wraps around your head?
Chris: No. No.
Ben: Oh you gotta use that.
Chris: That's the one that you put the low frequency PM, PM tuning…
Ben: Yeah. Exactly. I put that, I was talking about this in my talk yesterday. I put the PMF, the Delta sleeper over my third eye chakra, right. Like in between, and then I use the sleep mask to hold that on. So that's the way that I roll, but this stuff my…
Chris: My third eye chakra's been neglected.
Ben: Yeah. You need to give your third eye chakra a little TLC. I wanna hear a little bit more about your evening routine, but real quick, just to put this in context, like I'm staying in a high rise condo on the 32nd floor of a condo while I'm here in Austin, Texas. It's Tucker Max's place, which is over, it's right, right there. This is not a video podcast, but I'm pointing. And I'm staying in the bedroom…
Chris: I can corroborate that he's pointing.
Ben: Yes. I'm staying in the bedroom and there is no curtain. At all. On the windows. And, as you know, your skin has photoreceptors, your ears have photoreceptors, and my sleep, my deep sleep, has gone down by 8 to 10% every night. Haven't changed anything, except there's light streaming into the room. And I talked to this guy named Nick Littlehales who works with Real Madrid and the soccer teams, he actually has his soccer players travel with like black garbage bags, and black electrical tape for situations like that where you just need to block everything out. But it's crazy, like I actually quantified it, and it's nuts.
Chris: Well, I think that you're lucky that you can sleep in that condition and quantify the negative effects on your sleep because I wouldn't sleep at all.
Ben: Yeah! It's weird.
Chris: I remember, back in 2008, I was at a hotel and there were lights outside the hotel and so the curtains didn't really do anything to make it light. I wound up going, I wound up locking myself in the bathroom because it was the only place that I could get enough darkness, but I still couldn't fall asleep because there was a little green light coming from the outlet. So I finally figured out how to hack that, and I folded up a tissue and put it behind the plug for my electric razor to hold the, ‘cause I didn't have any tape, so I held the tissue over the light, and then I fell asleep on the bathroom floor instantaneously, and luckily…
Ben: Just to cover up that little green light.
Chris: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I'm real sensitive.
Ben: My wife charges her computer in our bedroom, and you know the little MacBook, that tiny little green light on the end of the MacBook dongle that use to charge your MacBook.
Chris: I don't allow that in my…
Ben: I have to go unplug that, so, I mean, like are, you tell me…
Chris: Even if you unplug that, the MacBook, if it's on, has this like vibrating light that goes on and off and just sort of barely creeps out of the MacBook. I keep my Mac in the other room and I shut the door, but I also shut down the Mac and unplug the charger.
Ben: Right. Throw a towel on it or whatever.
Chris: Like, I don't even allow that light to be around the corner from my bedroom door.
Ben: You're the scientists. Are we complete? Are we fragile? Are we little sleep princesses? Or is there something about modern lighting? ‘Cause we sound, I mean, to me, you and I sound like we're wimps right now. We can't sleep unless all the light is completely out of the bedroom. I mean, what's your take on this?
Chris: So I think there's a lot of, I mean, there's, it would be ridiculous to claim that every person can't fall asleep unless they have all [0:15:43] ______.
Ben: Right. Or that ancestral man didn't have stars and the moon about his head.
Chris: Yeah. Well, the thing is, you know, even, but the thing is, the internal lighting indoors is way brighter than the moon, even though it doesn't seem like that. So on, if you're in the wilderness, and you have a full moon outside, and you have like maximal natural light conditions, you're operating at like an order of magnitude lower than what you would have with living regular old living room lights on inside. So there is definitely an across the board fact in modern society that we are working indoors in lighting that is nowhere near as bright as a cloudy day outside, and then we are going to sleep while exposed to lights that are way brighter than what we would get naturally outside.
And I think sometimes you don't notice the difference because your pupils adjust to the lighting, but, you know, you probably, like right now it's kinda cloudy and you probably don't feel like it's bright out. But you will notice, even if you go out on a cloudy day, that your eyes take a few seconds to adjust, and that's your pupils constricting in response to the fact that that cloudy day is a crap ton brighter than it is indoors, even if you have the lights on yeah.
So there's this thing that applies across the board, but then there's also all kinds of genetic factors and nutritional factors that come into play to make some people more sensitive than others.
Ben: I wanna ask you about that, because I know that you recently, I heard you talking somewhere about how people have different genetic sensitivities to blue light, and we will get back to your evening routine, by the way, not gonna leave you at just the curtains and the blinds.
But, I don't know if you saw the study, I believe it was last month, that showed that if you do get exposed to a bunch of natural sunlight outdoors, you are less sensitive to the effects of blue light at night. And so sometimes I wonder with, you know, with people like, you know, like you and I, who have to have the room completely black at night, if part of it is just because we're living in a modern society where we're indoors, or working on our computers. You and I aren't, I don't think you're a farmer last time I checked, we're not out there…
Chris: That's a fantasy of mine, but not a reality.
Ben: Outside eight to twelve hours a day, you know, and my wife is outside all the time. Frankly, you know, I've got a good five or six hours a day where I'm just in the office, not getting exposed to daily lighting, and I've always wondered, like if I was outside all day, would I maybe not need to be so strict with lights in the bedroom.
Chris: Yeah. Well, I think that's definitely true. It's all about the differential between the daylight exposure and the nighttime exposure, and so, if you, that's, I mean that's totally predictable, what you're saying, and in fact, some of the earlier studies where they were trying to show this sensitivity to blue light at night, they kept people in the dark chronically in order to maximally sensitize them because they didn't want a false negative in the study, and they were trying to show the proof of principle. But, you know, in terms of doing an 80/20 analysis of, say I'm a busy guy or a busy gal, and, you know, how much outside time do I actually need.
The most relevant time of the day to get outside sun exposure is actually in the morning. So, if you have a well-established circadian rhythm, you should be much less sensitive to the light dark, the acute light dark. So, for example, in animal experiments, if the animals have a well entrained circadian rhythm, you can put rats and like 24 mice in 24 hour darkness, and their circadian rhythm continues to operate because the, by definition, the circadian rhythm is something that your body knows you're on a 24 hour clock. And so, in principle, if that's working correctly, it shouldn't have to be maximally dark at night because your body knows that at that time you sleep and predicts that and optimizes everything it seems to happen when you're sleeping to occur at that time. And so there is…
Ben: But you still need light as like as a cue to your body to tell it that there is that 24 hour circadian rhythm, right?
Chris: So, that’s the other side of it. The other side of it is that lightness and darkness are the principal regulators of your circadian rhythm. So, if…
Ben: Like more than food, more than exercise. Like lightness and darkness are the top.
Chris: Oh, absolutely. There's a lot of inputs to it, but the most well-established, well-substantiated, and actually meaningfully important things are all surrounding the light routine for sure.
Chris: And if your light routine is screwed up, then you will not have a well entrained circadian rhythm. But the thing is how do you entrain the circadian rhythm? The most important windows of time during the day are immediately when you wake up, you should try to get outdoor sun exposure, and in the hours before you sleep, about two to four hours, you should be getting some sort of blue light deprivation, and that could be, you're out in the wilderness and all there is moonlight, but in practical terms, that translates depending on how sensitive you are if you, you mentioned genetics and we can talk more about that, but basically, if genetically and nutritionally, you're less sensitive, that could mean that you're not putting a screen in front your face and you're reading a book by a dim lighting. But for someone like me, that means a more intense blue blocking regime where I'm using either ambient lighting that's designed to be low in light, I have light bulbs from lowbluelights.com, or I'm using the amber glasses, or I'm using flux on the computer…
Ben: Which are some really damn ugly lights, by the way. My wife won't let me buy the lights from lowbluelights.com.
Chris: Oh, she won't?
Ben: She doesn't like their style. I have to buy those, the GE and Lighting Science make low blue lights as well, but they're more, I guess, they're more, they fit our interior decor, apparently.
Chris: Yeah, oh really. Do you have a lamp shade?
Ben: For me, no there's no lamp shade. She's got, you should see our house. My wife has these crazy like, they're like candle sticks with light bulbs on the end of them, so they're exposed and, yeah. Anyways though, I mean, personally, I don't really care.
Chris: It's always more complicated when you're married.
Ben: So you use these low blue lights, yeah just wait dude. You use the stuff from Low Blue Lights, but you mentioned, you said that genetics, you also said nutrition could affect your sensitivity to blue light at night.
Chris: For sure.
Ben: Can you fill me in a little bit on what you mean by that?
Chris: Yeah. So, there's a couple things going on. So, first of all, when light hits your eye, there is a protein called melanopsin in certain cells in the retina called intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells, which for short we call IPRGCs, and this protein melanopsin uses vitamin A to detect that light, and then translates the signal to your brain telling you that it's daytime.
Chris: And when it's night time, that signal gets shut off, and so that's how your brain knows that it's nighttime. So there are genetic differences in the melanopsin protein where, for people of European ancestry, about 30% will have more greater sensitivity to blue light compared to the majority. And in some other populations, like in Japanese it's less than that, in Africa it's…
Ben: So the Japanese, more Japanese would be less sensitive to blue light at night?
Chris: Yeah. Yeah.
Chris: And Africans as well.
Ben: It's 'cause of all that technology in Tokyo.
Chris: Yeah. I don't know, I mean no one knows why the genetics are that way but…
Ben: Yeah. So basically, can you test this on your own genetics? Could you test whether or not you are somebody who's more sensitive to blue light at night?
Chris: The easiest thing that you can do is, with a twenty, if you have 23andMe, you can, well, you have to plug in the R.S. number and I don't, and I, we can put it in the show notes. I don't remember it off the top of my head, but if you have…
Ben: By the way, show notes at bengreenfieldfitness.com/chrismasterjohn. If you don't know how to spell Chris Masterjohn, then just use Dr. Google, but bengreenfieldfitness.com/chrismasterjohn, and I'll put links to some of this stuff that we're talking about. So you use 23andMe.
Chris: Yeah. If you take the R.S. number for that specific polymorphism, and you go into the raw data, and you ask it to jump to a specific SNP, and you put in that number, then it'll tell you if you have CCCT or TT, and if you have TT, you're in the majority that's less sensitive, and if you have one or more C alleles, then you're in the minority that's more sensitive. I have one C allele, and so that puts me in the top 30% of blue light sensitivity. My experience suggests that I'm more than the top 30%, so there's obviously other things going on.
Ben: So what about, you mentioned vitamin A as well. Like what if you are, you're deficient in, or you have too much vitamin A, would one of those affect your sensitivity to blue light at night?
Chris: So, I don't know, I mean probably too much vitamin A is, you know, that can be a problem, but it's, I don't know of any reason why would it affect this specific think. But if you don't have enough vitamin A, then what you have is this protein that's trying to translate the blue light signal to brain, but that signal is not getting there.
And so that means if you don't have the vitamin A, your brain is not gonna know when it's daytime, but like you were saying, before, your daytime light exposure is caught, is contributing to how you perceive nighttime. So if your brain never perceives the light during the day even if you go outside, then your brain's also not going to perceive that darkness differential at night either. So basically, you're not gonna be able to entrain your circadian rhythm 'cause your brain's never going to have a clue when it's light and when it's day.
Chris: Now that's one of the nutritional factors, but there's also a few others like when melanopsin signaling goes down and darkness sets in, you have to make melatonin, and when you make melatonin, there's a lot of things that can go into that. So vitamin B6 is involved in the synthesis, methylation is involved in the synthesis, so that makes folate and B12 important, it makes, gives possible role for choline and betaine as nutrients in supporting the methylation cycle. But also you use tryptophan as the precursor, so getting enough protein is important. But just getting protein doesn't put that protein in the brain, and it's actually, carbohydrates can help decrease the levels of competing amino acids circulating in the blood and help that tryptophan get into the brain better. So there's a lot of other, you know, there's a lot of those nutritional factors that come into play.
Ben: Yeah. So, rather than just taking, say, melatonin, you would wanna make sure that you're using stuff, like I know a lot of people using collagen for amino acids, things like tryptophan, people are using like a vitamin B12 complex, like you talked about, methyltetrahydrofolate. I know Dr. Kirk Parsley's downstairs, he makes that sleep cocktail stuff, and I think he has vitamin D in that, omega-3 fatty acids, but basically the takeaway message that you're saying is: a.) you want to make sure you get enough vitamin A so that your body is sensitive to light during the day, b.) you wanna make sure you get these other melatonin precursors, and c.) you can go to 23andMe, and you can export your 23andMe data and find out…
Chris: Oh. You don't even have to export it. You go into…
Ben: Oh, really? You could just do a search?
Chris: Yeah. You go into the browse raw data. In the old 23and Me, you click on your name and, I actually put a, made a YouTube video about this so we can…
Ben: We'll, we can link to the YouTube video in the show notes. Okay. So, go to bengreenfieldfitness.com/chrismasterjohn, and we'll link to the YouTube video on how to do your own little genetic search for your blue light. So we went down a little bit of a rabbit hole there on your evening routine, but dude, let's jump back in. So what else, aside from blocking blue light do you do at night?
Chris: Actually, the first thing that I do in my evening routine is as soon as I'm done writing, or working rather, I figure out what are the most important things to do the next day, and I write them down in a short list on paper, and that helps me get those, get work out of my brain so I'm not thinking about it. And then I, you know, I do the whole blue blocking light routine, and then I also have a routine for psychologically winding down, and that involves watching TV or a movie, playing a video game, and then…
Ben: Really? You're not concerned about like the light from the video game or the TV, and stuff like that?
Chris: Yeah. So here's the thing, here's the thing. I really feel like it's totally true that if you're not managing the light, you're doing more harm than good there. But if you, if you are, if, there's two ways you can manage this. One is don't do screens, and the other is do screens, but use flux, night shift on iOS, blue blocking glasses, and all that stuff. And so, what are the strengths and limitations of these approaches? Well, one of the strengths of doing the, of, actually using the screens is that there's a lot more psychologically distracting things that you can do. So in my case, you were mentioning that you take me as a Type A guy. Like a lot of Type A people are, you know, have trouble shutting their work brain off.
Chris: And if you don't have a routine for shutting your work brain off, not to say that video games is the only way to do that, but one of the strengths of the, of using a technological approach to managing the light is that you have a greater toolkit in terms of what works for you in getting your mind off of work. So what works for me is I have kind of a cocktail of these different distracting approaches, and I actually end it with reading paperback fiction.
Ben: Yeah. That's what I do. Yeah.
Chris: But it just, for me, I feel like I ease into that, right. So, a few hours before I go to bed, maybe I'm watching TV, and also if I do wanna watch TV, when am I gonna watch it? Like in the middle of the afternoon that's when I do work, you know.
Ben: Dude, actually, that's my leg. Like I watch, so there's, I have this TV, I don't even know how to use it, in the basement at home. It's like one of these big, nice TVs. Occasionally my kids will figure out how to put a DVD or a Blu Ray, and then we'll watch a movie, but I use Hulu. There's, I watch Master Chef, and I watch Shark Tank. Those are my two shows. I'll actually watch them during lunch though. So I'll make my big-ass salad and I'll eat my salad while I'm watching Hulu during lunch. And then in the evening, same as you, I do fiction books, but I don't watch things at night anymore at all. It's just reading.
Chris: Well, I've been watching Gotham on Hulu, and on Netflix, I've been watching How To Get Away With Murder.
Chris: And when I watch How To Get Away With Murder at night, I'm like checking my door to make sure it's locked and stuff like that. It's kinda scary.
Ben: Oh, I can't do horror.
Chris: But I, yeah. But I learned, you know, so some other people have done work on how video games can help clear traumatic experiences from your brain, and in the context of PTSD, they've done experimental work where, you know, they expose someone to a stressful situation that should model PTSD, and then they play a video game and it helps relieve those things from their mind. So I feel like I can watch whatever I want on TV no matter how scary it is, and then I just play a video game for 10 or 20 minutes after that, and it clears it, and then I'm ready to read my paperback fiction.
Ben: That's an interesting morning, or evening routine. I'd do the last, last one, maybe it's my imagination, or maybe I'm just messed up psychologically, or something, but I went and saw the movie Saw, right. And I don't remember when I came out. That was like, what, eight, nine, years ago? Something like that? Like the very first Saw movie. I have not gone near, or watched, or touched, or watched a preview even of a horror movie since then. That movie had me messed up for like two weeks with just like dreams and nightmares. I can't go near horror.
Chris: Did it negatively affect your heart rate variability?
Ben: I have not watched any horror movie. Period. I don't know. I wasn't measuring my heart rate variability back then, but, dude, I can't go near it. The other thing I can't do is violent video games. I don't know why, but when I play 'em, like my mind just keeps replaying that set. Maybe I'd be a serial killer if I wasn't like an ethical person. Maybe that's, I'm wired up that way. I don't know, but I just can't get horror and violence off my mind if see it. It's crazy.
Chris: My go-to is Tetris, actually. It's not traumatic at all.
Ben: Yeah, yeah. So you mentioned something that was kinda interesting when we were talking about what your body needs to make melatonin. You talked about carbohydrates and you said vitamin B metabolism, right, for carbohydrates?
Chris: Yeah. There's a, there's a few B vitamins that are directly involved in melatonin synthesis, and then there's also carbohydrates and protein are also helpful in getting the basic raw materials into the brain.
Ben: I've heard you say before that carbohydrates are perhaps vilified, more than than we should actually be vilifying them, and obviously there's a lot of listeners this week’s podcast that are doing, you know, whatever primal endurance, and becoming a fat burning beast, or using Maffetone training, or going ketotic, et cetera. Fill me in on why you think that sugar is not perhaps as bad as we've been led to believe that it is.
Chris: Oh Yeah. So first I wanna clarify that when I say, so if I'm saying sugar isn't bad, I'm not talking about refined sugar and loading up on sugar-sweetened soft drinks.
Ben: You're talking about the molecule glucose.
Chris: But, yeah, but the molecule of glucose, I think is very essential and, I mean, I think it's uncontroversial that you need a little bit of glucose in your body. You know, people can debate whether you need to eat the glucose 'cause you can make your own through gluconeogenesis, but, even still, gluconeogenesis requires a stress hormone response, and it's not the best way to get your glucose.
Ben: Right. Which is, by the way, so I recently did a podcast in which I showed the results of a dried urine test that I did and I was extremely hyper cortisolic, and I had a follow up episode where I talked with Dr. Chris, or Chris Kelly, about this. I don't think he's a doctor, but he was looking for my lab results, and one of the hypotheses that we came up with was I am hyper cortisolic because my carbohydrate intake is so low that my body is releasing a bunch of cortisol to mobilize liver glycogen. So that's what you're referring to when you talk about the body needing stress?
Chris: Yeah, there's, yeah. So if dietary glucose is not supporting blood sugar, there's basically three stages that your body uses to try to fix that. The first stage is that your insulin levels decline, and insulin normally prevents glycogen breakdown in the liver and output of glucose into the blood.
And so, when the insulin levels fall, you'll start breaking down some more glycogen and releasing into the blood, you other cells, you will take up a little bit less glucose, and that helps normalize your blood sugar. But if that doesn't work, the next stage is to release glucagon which antagonizes insulin and has similar effects. But then the third and final stage is to release stress hormones like cortisol which not only augment all of those processes, but also really give a jump start to gluconeogenesis which is where you take mainly protein and you convert it into glucose.
Chris: So I think that, so, you know, a lot of people will say there's essential fatty acids, and there's essential amino acids, but there's no essential carbohydrate and that's true because you can make your own glucose, but that doesn't mean that you want to be making your own glucose. In my opinion, it's clearly preferable to at least try to meet the basic needs for glucose by supplying glucose itself, and what those basic needs are is gonna be different from person to person.
So, you know, there are a lot of people out there who maybe would benefit by restricting their carbohydrate intake because they don't need anywhere near as much carbohydrates as they're consuming, but there are other people where, particular if you're doing a lot of high intensity exercise, that's put a placing demands on your muscular glycogen where your carbohydrate requirement is gonna be higher than the average person's.
Ben: And the number one reason that you're saying for that would be because you're gonna cause your body to release cortisol? Or are there other reasons that you'd wanna make sure you meet your body's basic needs for glucose?
Chris: Oh, well, releasing cortisol is one part of it and that's not necessarily the best thing for sleep, but there, but in terms of melatonin synthesis, what's happening is at the level of the blood-brain barrier, there are a selection of amino acids that can compete with tryptophan for getting into the brain, and if you…
Ben: Which is why, by the way, and I talked about this a podcast, I think, why essential amino acids, if you take them during exercise, they outcompete tryptophan, so that you don't get sleepy during exercises. It's like one of the ways to stave off central nervous system fatigue would be to take essential amino acids during exercise.
Chris: Right. And if you took those all day long or just before you went to sleep, you would run the risk of a potential anti-sleep effect because of that.
Ben: Right, because tryptophan would be getting too much competition.
Chris: Yeah. And so what, the, more glucose circulating will increase insulin levels, and that insulin will drive the competing amino acids into other cells, and then you have the same amount of tryptophan, but the competing amino acids come down, and that allow the tryptophan to more effectively cross the blood-brain barrier. And actually the studies don't seem to suggest that what the timing of the carbohydrate is that important, so you could get the carbs in the morning, drive the tryptophan into the brain, and have it sit there, and wait for the onset of darkness to convert that tryptophan into melatonin, and that could potentially work.
But there are other reasons, I think, to, that would support night time timing for carbs, and that's because it's also the case that melatonin is the sleep signal, but there's also another waking signal that's reciprocal to melatonin called, some people call it orexin, and some people call it hypocretin, and I don't know of any in vivo studies in humans that have really addressed this, but in vitro, at least, if you take the cells that make that compound and you dump glucose on them, you shut down the synthesis of that compound. And if you dump essential amino acids on then, you turn up the synthesis of that compound. So what you're saying with the alertness might be, not just from the tryptophan crossing the blood-brain barrier, but it might also be modulating orexin, or hypocretin, as it's called.
Ben: Right. So it sounds to me like what you would be making an argument for then would be timing more of your glucose and carbohydrate intake in the evening so that you'd get more of the orexin/hypocretin response in the morning because in the morning you're doing maybe more moderate protein, fats, stuff like that rather than a carbohydrate.
Chris: Yeah. So I balance my, you know, and like maybe you get great sleep in this doesn't matter to you, but, for me, what I do is I balance my carbohydrate toward the evening, and I balance my protein toward mid-day, but also within protein, like you were alluding to before, I bias the collagen-rich proteins later in the day and the ones richer in essential amino acids earlier in the day.
Ben: So a collagen-rich protein in the evening is not gonna cause that same issue with tryptophan getting out-competed compared to something like an essential amino acid-rich protein?
Chris: Yeah, and I still lower my protein intake, it's just that the protein that I am consuming is gonna be, you know, more biased towards the collagen-rich proteins than I would for, say breakfast or lunch.
Ben: Gotcha. I think it was Dr. Kiefer who I interviewed who also said that based off of the body's circadian rhythms, glut4 transporters tend to be upregulated more towards the PM hours. So you tend to shove more glucose into muscle tissue when you time your carbohydrate intake later in the day, and he's obviously got his own like carb backloading, carbo night program and that's I believe one of his primary reasons that he recommends evening carbohydrate intake. And it sounds to me like, based off what you're saying and some other reasons as well.
Chris: That's really interesting. I didn't know that, but it seems to be in line with what we're talking about.
Ben: Yeah. Especially if you're, like I work out because your body temperature peaks, and your reaction time peaks, and your grip strength peaks, all these interesting things happen between about 4 and 7 PM. So that's when I do a hard workout, anyways. And when I do my hard workout, you know, as you know, that causes less insulin necessary to drive the glucose that you take in after the workout into muscle tissue, or in the liver. And so, yeah, this idea of like hard workout in the afternoon or evening, plus carbohydrate intake at night, you know, is good not only for restoring carbohydrate levels and muscle tissue, but also it sounds like for, you know, things like sleep.
Chris: Yeah. So that's interesting. When you, when you're talking about a hard workout, are you talking about like a hard metabolic conditioning workout or …
Ben: I'm talking about, yeah, like something very sympathetic nervous system based. So I don't do much anaerobic at all in the morning, unless I'm traveling and I'm at a conference like this, and I know the whole day my only chance is when I get out of bed, do those, you know, 300 burpees, or to get on the Dynafit bike and do four minutes as hard as I can, but normally when I'm at home, like I ease into the morning, right. Like I'm all yoga and easy breathing, very, very easy things in the morning and the hard stuff is in the afternoon.
Chris: Interesting. I mean, I first sleep. Personally, I can handle, like 4:00 doing that type of stuff, but if I, at 7 or 8, like if I do a crossfit class at 7 or 8, and the WOD, and some box jumps, and burpees, and kettlebell swings, I'm up all night.
Ben: Oh, no. Yeah. I hear yeah. I'm wrapped up by 7. I'm wrapped up by 7. Usually I've got a glass of wine in my hand by 7, and that's my post-workout, my post-workout refueling.
Chris: I can see that.
Ben: So, in addition to what I've heard you say about glucose, one of the things that I've talked about when it comes to rapidly fluctuating blood glucose levels is that you do run the risk for the formation of, what are called, Advanced glycation end products, or AGEs, and that these can cause connective tissue damage, or that can cause issues with neural damage, et cetera. You've got a little bit of a different take on advanced glycation end products and I think it's intriguing. Can you kind of expound on your thoughts on those?
Chris: Yeah. Sure. So, I mean, first of all, I'll say that I do think that it's good to have more stable blood glucose, particularly, you know, within a certain range, anyway.
Ben: Meaning like not rapidly fluctuating your blood glucose during the day?
Chris: Yeah. I mean, if it's swinging up and down that's probably not the situation…
Ben: And by the way, we didn't, but before we jump into that, we didn't really quantify too much, like we were talking about how, you said like baseline needs for glucose would vary. Is there like any kind of ballpark you can throw out there for people in terms of like what you would consider to be too low of glucose and carbohydrate intake when it comes to shutting down some of the mechanisms that you just went into?
Chris: Yeah. Well, I think that as a baseline, I would say for someone who's inactive, you're probably, the potential ballpark of glucose utilization is, if you're inactive or if your VO2 max is never going much above like 30%, so your exercise is jogging or something like that, most of your activity demand is gonna be from fat and your liver is gonna be the main glycogen storage that you're gonna tap into to normalize your blood sugar.
Chris: And the liver, glycogen storage can vary in different people and depending on the context, but as a ballpark, about 90 grams of carbohydrate is what the liver could store, and so, I would say, I would say for the…
Ben: So, upper 300 to 400 calorie-ish?
Chris: Yeah. I would say for the average, yeah, for the average inactive person, about a hundred grams of glucose, or about 400 calories of glucose is where I would use as a starting baseline for making sure that your liver is repleted with glycogen…
Ben: And that's really, I mean, to put that in context, that's reasonable. You'll see like Gatorade Sports Science Institute, for an active person, recommending 400 to 600 grams of carbohydrates, you know, as your daily intake. So you're, for me personally, it's 100 to 200 grams at the end of the day, usually after I've done that hard workout, that I'm refeeding with in terms of carbohydrates. So what you're saying is, not necessary, you're not endorsing like a 50 to 60% carbohydrate based diet. What you're saying is people who are like way undercutting that 90 gram mark are probably not doing themselves any favors from a circadian rhythm and a health standpoint.
Chris: Yeah, and I think, you know, I've like, I do a small amount of consulting on the side and I've talked to people who are doing crossfit five times a week and are eating less than 60 grams of carbohydrate a day, and one of the things that I see is those people might have trouble not falling asleep, but staying asleep and I think it's because their liver is trying to sustain blood glucose through the night, and all of a sudden the liver tapped that energy, and they shoot up at 4:00 in the morning, and their heart rate is pounding, and they have to pee way more than can be made sense of with the amount of water that they're drinking, and all of this is part of the stress response. And so, in that case, you know, you, so part of this needs to be managed on symptoms, right.
So if you're, if you're quantifying everything about yourself and you find that at a certain amount of carbohydrate intake, you're not hypercortisolic and, you know, despite your energy expenditure, then you're probably balancing out okay. But even at 200 grams of carbohydrate, if you're finding that you have a high intensity exercise regimen and you are hypercortisolic, one of the first things I would look at is, in your case because of your exercise regime, does your carbohydrate intake need to be a little bit higher than that? Because carbohydrate is one of the, you know, and some people will point out that if your blood sugar is swinging, like reactive hypoglycemia could cause, you know, some people, maybe they eat a lot of glucose, and their blood sugar swings up, and then it swings down, and then they get a cortisol response. But if your blood sugar is being managed pretty stable, the main thing that I would think of for high cortisol is maybe you need to eat a little bit more carbohydrate.
Chris: So I would say, you know, you start at, for the inactive person you start at the 100 gram mark and maybe you can push that down, maybe you can push it up. But for the active person, it's gonna go up from there. So if you're highly active, you're probably going to add another hundred grams to that, and, again, maybe you can go a little bit down, but maybe you need to go up and you, instead of taking a cookie cutter approach where you take the number from the textbook and you just follow the number, you know, you start with that number and then you say, “Okay. How is my body responding to this?”
Chris: And then you take, you need to know the basic set of clues that you might need to increase or decrease your carb intake.
Ben: You said 90 grams through the liver. Like how much does that change? Like, like for a really small person, like a woman versus a guy, is there a huge fluctuation in the amount of glycogen that your liver can store?
Chris: That's a great question, and off the top my head I don't have that quantitative data. I'm not really sure. That's totally…
Ben: Because, I mean, like for my perspective, you almost always see, in any of the literature, it's right around that 100 gram mark, and there's very little chat about it, it fluctuating quite a bit.
Chris: I mean, that's a problem across the board with everything that's measured, is people take the average, and then they present it as, as the…
Ben: I just wonder, for like a big ol' football player really does store like an extra 50, or 100 grams, or something like that of carbohydrates in their liver. I'd be curious if that's ever been actually looked at.
Chris: I suspected, I mean, I've done some animal experiments with different feeding models that caused the differences in liver weight and if your, if you don't have a pathological condition that's changing your liver weight, you basically, a bigger liver means more of everything.
Chris: And so like the same percentage glycogen in the liver, but because your liver is 20% bigger, you got 20% more glycogen. So, probably it correlates with lean body mass.
Ben: But not a, like liver sizes, coming from a guy who kills and fill dresses animals, they don't seem to vary a whole lot. Like I doubt that human beings vary too much in terms of their glycogen stores in the liver, but probably a little bit. But, the, that, I wanna get back to advanced glycation end products in a second, but I do wanna ask you kinda this random one off question, 'cause I know you're like, you're an expert fat soluble vitamins, so you probably know a little bit about the liver, and storage of fat soluble vitamins, and it's obviously a filter for the body. I hear people's opinions go back and forth on this, but is liver toxic? Like, should you be really careful with the…
Chris: Yeah. Well, I take issue with saying the liver is a filter for the body. That's not what liver detoxification's all about. Liver detoxification has three stages. The first stage is you take a toxic molecule, and you oxidize it, and prepare it for stage two…
Ben: And, by the way, I should have said is eating liver toxic?
Chris: Yeah, yeah. For sure.
Ben: Liver's not toxic.
Chris: Well, I think, you know, one of the things out there why is people, I mean, so there's, one thing is liver is really high in vitamin A, and some people are concerned about vitamin A toxicity. But the other thing you see out there that's very popular, at least in the, you know, Internet world, is the idea that liver is sort of a sink for all the toxins in the body.
Chris: The liver is taking the toxin, it's oxidizing it, it's conjugating it, and spitting it out into the bile, and then into the urine or the feces. So…
Ben: So those toxins aren't hanging around…
Chris: Yeah. No, they don't hang out in the liver. The liver processes them to get them out of the body. So liver is, and, you know, obviously if you take an animal and they're exposed to environmental toxins, then that environmental exposure is gonna increase the toxin level in the liver, in the muscle, in the bone, you know, across the board, but liver is not particularly more toxin containing than any other tissue in the body. And so, you know, the benefit of liver, why I would eat liver, and why I would recommend eating liver is because it's a great source of vitamin A and, you know, if you ate nothing, but liver you could get too much of vitamin A, but if you're eating liver once or twice a week, it's a really great way to make sure you're meeting your baseline vitamin A needs.
Ben: Do you take liver pills or you just eat liver?
Chris: I've been experimenting with different things, so I prefer to eat liver, but I have a problem making eating liver work with my daily routine at the level that I need it, and I had been using Epic Liver Bites for breakfast.
Ben: Yeah. Like the Epic bar?
Chris: Yeah. Well, it's, there, it's like the bar, but it's like a package of…
Ben: Yeah, I know what you're talking about. Like chicken livers and stuff like that? Yeah.
Chris: Yeah. So, but I think what I'm gonna do now, after surveying the exhibitor hall here, I'm really impressed by US Wellness Meats‘ liverwurst. That's, it's 20% liver, it's 15% heart, 15% kidney, it's half organ meat, and it's a diversity of organ meats. Instead of just focusing on the liver, and I just, I don't have the time available to manage my liver intake, and my heart intake, and find a way to make kidneys palatable, so to be able to just take something like that, get all those organs in one thing, and just cut off a piece of it, and eat it for breakfast…
Ben: I hear you dude.
Chris: It's super appealing to me.
Ben: I order, I had the guy who runs that company on the podcast like three years ago, John, I forget his name. I'll link to in the show notes. But basically, ever since I had him on the show, every quarter I order their rib-eye steaks which, if you haven't tried the US Wellness Meats where I buy steaks, like I've you know, I'm all about supporting my local community and like buying from local farmers, but something about the rib-eyes, from them, French-cut rib-eyes. Oh my gosh, dude. Have you had 'em yet?
Chris: I have not, but…
Ben: You gotta add those to the order.
Chris: Now I know what I'm eating this coming month.
Ben: Their liverwurst and their head cheese, like those three things, every quarter, I make a, 'cause their shipping is expensive unless you order a crap ton of their stuff. But, man, that's always in my freezer, their liverwurst, their head cheese…
Chris: So step one is get a chest freezer.
Ben: Yeah. You need a chest freezer.
Chris: Step two is order from US Wellness.
Ben: Yeah. Yeah. For sure. Okay. So advanced glycation end products. We got derailed a little bit, but you were talking about why those might not be as bad as, as what people are saying.
Chris: Well, yeah. I mean there's two parts to that. So one, one part is what is the role of glucose and how significant is that, and it's not as significant as people say it is. There's another part of that, which is do advanced glycation end products actually play functional roles in the body, and that's a separate issue, but there's two sides to this. So the first side is, you know, how important is blood glucose? Well, it's definitely true that elevated blood glucose does predispose you to forming more AGEs in the body, but many people…
Ben: And an AGE, just real quick for people who might not know what that is?
Chris: So an advanced glycation end product, most of you are familiar with it from eating food because AGEs form in food during the cooking process, and they're responsible for the flavors and colors that are associated with browned food. But in the body, what you're getting is modifications to certain parts of your proteins. So when AGEs form in the body, they're forming on some protein, and quite often that protein is a receptor, or a ligand for a receptor, which is basically anything that binds to a receptor, or it's an enzyme. And if you form an AGE on an enzyme, you can turn that enzyme off, or otherwise alter its function. And if you form a, so as an example, you have the insulin receptor, and insulin is the ligand for the insulin receptor. If an AGE forms on the insulin molecule, it won't bind to the receptor and carry out any of the functions of insulin.
Ben: Got it.
Chris: So, as an example of that. And so it's definitely the case that there is a body of literature showing that formation of AGEs in certain proteins contributes to the metabolic dysfunction, contributes to the acute hyperglycemia, to chronically, to the development of diabetes, and experimental models, and to all the downstream complications of diabetes, like problems with the eyes, and the heart, and blood vessels, and so on and so forth, and nerves and so on. And, so definitely there is, the case that can be made that too much AGE formation is, you know, contributing to a spectrum of degenerative diseases, and what we want to do is have our normal body processes regulating that and not having it go into the pathological range.
Chris: I will say, however, that you could definitely make a case that formation of AGEs does play functional roles in the body, and this is kind of analogous to reactive oxygen species. Everyone, a decade ago, was saying that reactive oxygen species are, you know, free radicals and things like hydrogen peroxide are just a disease causing agents, and what we now know is, yes that's true, but it's also true that at the proper levels and the proper context, hydrogen peroxide and other reactive oxygen species are playing critically essential roles in regulating cellular processes, and there is an analogous body of literature that you could point to with the formation of AGEs as well. But…
Ben: Like what? Like what would be something that an advanced glycation end product would do that would be considered like healthy?
Chris: Yeah, sure. Here's a great example. In glycolysis, you take glucose, which is a hexose, meaning a six carbon sugar, and you split it in half, and you oxidize it, and you get two molecules of pyruvate, which is a three carbon oxidized derivative of glucose. In the middle of this process, you have intermediates called triose phosphates and they can, at a very small percentage, spontaneously dephosphorylate to form methylglyoxal, which is the most important precursor to advanced glycation end products in the human body.
Ben: Okay. So, you're burning glucose and, basically, you go through those steps you just described, end product is methylglyoxal.
Chris: Yeah. Yeah.
Chris: And so, what does methylglyoxal to do that pathway? Well it, scientists have taken methylglyoxal and they have tested it against all of the glycolitic enzymes, and most of the enzymes, it has no effect on, but in the specific enzyme that makes the precursors to methylglyoxal, it's a very strong inhibitor of that enzyme. And so it's, basically, an elegant negative feedback loop where it's inhibiting its own production, and it's inhibiting these potentially dangerous intermediates from forming whenever there's more glucose entering the pathway than the amount that can be all-the-way burned down to pyruvate. And so, methylglyoxal is regulating the pathway in a way that helps you either conserve the beginning products, like glucose if you can't make the end product like pyruvate, and prevents you from getting stuck in the middle and having the dangerous intermediates accumulate. But it's also…
Ben: Dangerous intermediate like, what?
Chris: So, oh. If you wanna get specific, the principle, all of the molecules that really cause the damage in the body, like advanced glycation end products or lipid peroxidation products. These are all small aldehydes, and small aldehydes are highly reactive, so, for example, methylglyoxal's a small aldehyde. It's 20,000 times more reactive than glucose is. So these small aldehydes are the things that you don't want. So the intermediate that generates methylglyoxal is called glyceraldehyde. Glyceraldehyde is a small aldehyde. Well, get this. In this process, maybe .1% of glyceraldehyde is generating a tiny, tiny, tiny amount of methylglyoxal.
Chris: So you have this large amount of glyceraldehyde and you have this tiny amount of methyglyoxal, both of these are small aldehydes that can cause damage. If you didn't have this negative feedback loop, the potential danger would be your cell's glyceraldehyde would be running amok in your cells and that would be the dangerous thing.
Ben: And glyceraldehyde would cause something like damage to cell membranes, or one of these other issues that can occur if you've got way too many free radicals or reactive oxygen species?
Chris: Yeah. Whenever you have lots of aldehydes in the body that aren't being efficiently metabolized, then basically they glom on to proteins they alter their structure and function, they cause damage to metabolic pathways, they cause damage to cell membranes, there's a sort of a vicious cycle where, if you have more AGEs, you get more reactive oxygen species and vice versa.
Ben: Can you test to see like how much glyceraldehydes you have? Is there like a test for, for these small aldehydes to see if that's an issue, if you're wreaking havoc on your body from that?
Chris: Yeah, I mean, you, like if you mean in a clinically relevant way?
Ben: Yeah, can I do test or something like that?
Chris: No. I mean, even methylglyoxal, I've measured in human plasma, but I don't know of anyone offering that test.
Ben: Okay. Gotcha.
Chris: You know, like I don't think you can go to your doctor and say, “Hey, can I measure my methylglyoxal?” Or ” can measure my glyceraldehyde?”
Ben: The takeaway message here is we've been throwing advanced glycation end products under the bus, but in fact, they are necessary for the proper formation of this methylglyoxal, and to limit the potential for that negative feedback loop not occurring, and for something like glyceraldehyde production to be pushed way outta whack.
Chris: Yeah. Basically, what you're doing is you're making a tiny amount of a small aldehyde that has a physiological role that prevents a much larger amount of small aldehyde from accumulating.
Ben: So we should be shoving small aldehydes under the bus, not advanced glycation end products.
Chris: Yeah, but you, but I mean, would you want, so advanced glycation end products mostly form from small aldehydes, so that's one of the major points of confusion that people have. Like, yeah, if you have glucose and it reacts with a protein, you can get an advanced glycation end product from that, but these small aldehydes are 20,000 times more reactive than glucose. So it's all the small aldehydes that people don't know the names of. Everyone knows what glucose is, right? No one knows the names of methylglyoxal, and 3-deoxyglucosone, and all these other things. These tiny aldehydes with all these complicated names are actually overwhelmingly the cause of all of the AGEs in the human body. But, yeah, so but, I mean, we have to tease out several interrelated but distinct concepts here. So one thing is, glucose is not the major cause of AGEs, it's the small aldehydes.
Chris: So if you wanna throw something under the bus for this, throw the small aldehydes under the bus and not glucose.
Chris: But, before you get carried away, don't entirely throw the small aldehydes under the bus because what the science is indicating is that they, in a small amount, in the correct context, at the proper time and location, those small aldehydes play a functional role. We don't wanna lose that functional role. What we want is to prevent them from getting out of hand.
Chris: Like we want the normal production doing the normal things. We don't want the pathological overproduction of those things, or production in the wrong context. And the same thing is true of reactive oxygen species. If you're gonna throw something under the bus, don't throw fats or carbohydrates under the bus, throw the reactive oxygen species under the bus. But before you do that, step back and say, “Hey, wait a second. Actually, reactive oxygen species play physiological roles. We do want them in small amounts, in the right context. What we don't want is them in large amounts in the wrong context.”
Ben: Are there specific nutritional deficiencies that would cause you to not be able to get rid of small aldehydes or to produce more of them than you should be producing?
Chris: There are. Yeah, and, I mean, there are so many different things that feed into this pathway that it's hard to sort of wrap your brain around them all, and if you were to map it out you could take like a, you know, a wall, and make a poster on a wall, and have, and have this whole interacting of many complex pathways mapped out there, even if looking at it visually would hard, be hard to understand everything. But if we could sort of tease out a few practical things, I would list a handful of them.
So, first of all, before we get to micronutrients, let's talk about carbohydrate. One of the reasons that it's so misleading to talk about glucose as the enemy in terms of forming AGEs is that insulin is actually the most protective factor that you can have against the formation of AGEs.
Chris: So you don't wanna be insulin resistant, but you want, but you also don't wanna be insulin deficient, right. So you, people can get so obsessed with insulin resistance that they're trying to minimize their insulin production by never giving their body carbohydrate, but if your cells are super sensitive to insulin and there's no insulin there, then what good does that sensitivity give you? As it turns out, that, you know, first of all, in the pathways where AGEs are derived indirectly from glucose, that's mostly happening in the blood rather than inside cells, and insulin helps take glucose out of the blood and stabilize your blood glucose.
Chris: And so being sensitive to insulin, having insulin there is protective in that way. Inside cells it's mainly methylglyoxal that's causing advanced glycation end products, but insulin, you know, I told you before that when the intermediates in the glycolitic pathway accumulate, that's when you get methylglyoxal, insulin stimulates the whole glycolitic pathway and helps you take glucose down to pyruvate. So once you clear that glucose down to pyruvate, you don't have those intermediates anymore, and you're in the safe zone. So insulin is suppressing the formation of methlyglyoxal from glycolysis, but also, one thing we didn't talk about before is that, not only does glycolysis generate methlyglyoxal, but so does ketogenesis.
So when you're burning, when you're on fat burning mode, and you make ketone bodies, one of the ketone bodies that you get is acetone, and acetone is, in a two-step process, is converted to methylglyoxal, the same exact molecule that's coming out of glycolysis.
Chris: So, in every sense that glucose can make you form AGEs, so can ketones.
Chris: It's the same exact precursor to AGEs that's coming from both pathways. And so insulin is not only suppressing the generation of acetone because it suppresses ketogenesis, but also, if you do have acetone, insulin prevents it from being converted into methylglyoxal.
Ben: So the idea here is that whether you are in ketosis or whether you are, perhaps, eating more glucose than you would need to stay in ketosis, the trick here is that if your insulin levels are constantly suppressed or too low, you put yourself at risk for producing more of these small aldehydes.
Chris: Yeah. For sure. For sure.
Ben: And this would be a case in which someone is like severely underfeeding, or undernourished, or something like that? Like that would be an example of too low of an insulin level?
Chris: Well, the extreme example would be diabetes. So in Type One and Type Two diabetes, you have massive increase in AGEs, and that is all driven by a deficiency of intracellular insulin signaling. So what do Type One and Type Two diabetes share in common? Well Type One diabetes insulin levels are really low, Type Two diabetes insulin levels are really high. So they don't share that in common, but what they do share in common is that at the level of intracellular insulin signaling, in Type One diabetes, you're insulin deficient, and in Type Two diabetes, you're insulin resistant. And in both cases, inside the cell, everything downstream from insulin signaling isn't happening.
Ben: Yeah. Makes sense.
Chris: So it, so that's the extreme case. The less extreme case is fasting, even in an overnight fast, you know, you have declining insulin levels. That's not to say that's a bad thing, but that's the last extreme case where the insulin levels fall. A low carbohydrate diet is a less extreme case where the insulin levels fall.
What we haven't worked out is where is the dividing line between what's a physiological response in terms of having more of the these AGEs forming, and what's a pathological response in terms of having more of these AGEs form?
Ben: Would it be a bad idea?
Chris: We know that diabetes is pathological, but what we don't know is how does this apply to fasting, and carbohydrate restriction, and all these other things.
Ben: Would it be a bad idea to take exogenous insulin? Like if you were in, say, ketosis and you didn't want to get all of these types of small aldehydes forming?
Chris: Well I don't think it being ketosis anymore, I mean, unless you're downing the MCTs and the exogenous ketones. But, well, so here's the thing. In Type Two diabetics, one of the things that, one of the positive things that insulin does is it supports the antioxidant defense system by increasing the synthesis of glutathione. Have you talked about glutathione on the show before?
Ben: Yeah, a little bit. But go ahead.
Chris: So glutathione is the master antioxidant of the cell, and it's also one of the key detoxification-related molecules. And, in fact, when you make methylglyoxal, the way you rid of it is using glutathione. In Type Two diabetes, the glutathione pool is super oxidized. I don't mean like 20%, I mean like if you measured the reduced and oxidized forms of glutathione in normal, healthy people and Type Two diabetics, the ratio of reduced oxidized glutathione is cut in half. So there's twice as much glutathione oxidation going on in Type Two diabetics. What's the one way you can restore that to normal? It's called a euglycemic hyperinsulinemic clamp and that is where you take the people, and you shove glucose and insulin into their blood at rates that will keep glucose normal and insulin high. And if you do that after two hours, that glutathione pool goes back to normal because of the effects of insulin.
Ben: Interesting. So my question about using exogenous insulin, to a certain extent, there are scenarios in which that's been shown to be beneficial.
Chris: Yeah. But here's the thing, like practically what do you do with that information? So like practically, I don't think anyone's gonna start treating Type Two diabetics by having them walk around with a continuous IV where glucose and insulin is constantly going into their blood all day long. That's a wildly impractical treatment. But it, what it shows is proof of principle that in Type Two diabetes, the reason everything's going wrong with oxidative stress and glycation is not because you have too much insulin, it's not even because you have too much glucose in the blood, it's because you don't have enough intercellular insulin signaling. I mean, think of that. They're pumping more glucose and more insulin into the blood of people who, when you look at their blood under natural conditions, the most remarkable thing about that blood is that glucose is high and insulin is high.
You're driving more of the stuff that's high into their blood, and yet you're normalizing the antioxidant defense system and the xenobiotic, meaning getting rid of toxic stuff. You're normalizing detoxification. So that, what that shows is not necessarily a practical treatment for anything. What it shows is proof of principle that the problem in Type Two diabetes is not enough insulin signaling. The problem is not too much insulin.
Ben: Would increasing insulin sensitivity, like I talked about this in my talk which I think you were at a couple of days ago about how I use things like ceylon cinnamon, and apple cider vinegar, and bitter melon extract to increase my insulin sensitivity, would those type of things that help in terms of limiting the, I guess, limiting the insulin from being too low constantly?
Chris: I think they could and I looked into this a while ago and it looked, maybe you're more up to date in the literature, but it looked to me like all of the trials of cinnamon where they were doing them, where people weren't already on insulin sensitizing drugs, showed that the cinnamon was a really powerful insulin sensitizer, and any of the studies that were negative were basically when people were already on Metformin.
Chris: And so, I think, what, you know, cinnamon is probably a useful alternative to Metformin in terms of using a natural way to sensitize someone to insulin.
Ben: I order it by like the giant silver bag on Amazon, like the organic ceylon cinnamon.
Chris: Yeah. So, yeah. So, I mean, I haven't, I don't wanna go out and say get off the Metformin and take the cinnamon, but I think that, you know, under medical supervision, if you're Type Two diabetic, or if you're just, you know, biohacking and trying to optimize your performance, yeah. I mean, cinnamon probably has a useful place in terms of sensitizing someone to insulin and helping reverse course on that.
Ben: Got it. So it sounds like the other thing that might help in this scenario would be getting your hands on some type of glutathione and glutathione precursor, or eating like sulfur-rich vegetables, and using strategies like that as well. Would that be correct?
Chris: Yeah. Yeah, for sure. Right. So, the issue if you're not insulin sensitive, and of course what you wanna do is restore insulin sensitivity, but in the case where you're not insulin sensitive, you're not making enough of your own glutathione. And so giving exogenous glutathione, or glutathione, you know, glutathione precursors aren't gonna be that great in that scenario because you don't have the, you know, the problem is you're not taking the precursors and making the glutathione.
Ben: Yeah. Good point. Good point.
Chris: You can't fix that by bombarding the system with precursors, but you can fix it by bombarding the system with exogenous glutathione. And, on, in terms of natural food-based ways to do that, basically, what you want to do is eat stuff that's really dense in cells. So, if you think, for example, of different foods, you know, glutathione is mostly intracellular, so what you find is that meat is really dense in cells, particularly the lean portion of the meat, and you find glutathione in meat.
Vegetables, like leafy greens, are really dense in cells and really low in starch and fat as storage molecules, and they're really high in glutathione. If you take something like potato or cereal grain, those or seeds, or you know, goose fat, or something, they have their nutritional place, but they don't have a lot of glutathione because they don't have a lot of cells relative to these massive storage depots of starch and fat. So basically things that are really high in lean tissue, you know, low carbohydrate vegetables, and lean portions of meat are really good sources of glutathione. And then there's the whole like, do you want to spend $70 a month on liposomal glutathione, and take that, there's a lot of strategies around that as well.
Ben: Right. That's stuff tastes horrible. It's like liquid dog farts.
Chris: Yeah. It does.
Ben: Algae, phytoplankton, stuff like that, those are pretty cellular-dense, aren't they?
Chris: Yeah. I mean, I don't, personally, I don't, I've never seen glutathione measured in those products, but…
Ben: Well, I've done a couple podcasts on them and both, one of the takeaway points was they've got a freaking crap ton of cells in algae and phytoplankton.
Chris: Okay. Yeah. Then…
Ben: Especially like marine phytoplankton, apparently.
Chris: Okay. Having not seen the data, I'll say it's, I would speculate that, yeah, you're probably right about that.
Ben: Interesting. My kids, in about twenty minutes, they're doing a cooking demo here at Paleo f(x), and for those you listening in, I'll provide links to that. Hopefully an entertaining video in the show notes, but I can't let you go, Chris, without asking you about your morning ‘cause you didn’t pretty elaborate.
Chris: Yeah! We didn't get to the morning yet!
Ben: Are you playing video games in the morning? Or do you have any specific, like breath work, postural routines, biomechanical routines, little ways that you start your day that you think people should know about? Or that not a lot of people, 'cause everybody's talking about, whatever, gratitude journaling, and whatever, you know, have a cup of coffee, so what are your go-to's?
Chris: Yeah. Alright. So I wake up, I increase all the natural and artificial light in my house as much as possible, I make my bed, and then I meditate with the Headspace app for 10 minutes, and then I take a two minute cold, two minute hot contrast shower, and then…
Ben: For two minutes you go hot and cold?
Chris: Yeah, I mean, I just started this like five days ago. So I do two minutes hot, two minutes cold, two minutes hot, two minutes cold. I know you do the 10 and 20 second thing, I don't have access to a sauna. I'm playing around with it. But anyway, and then I, then I get my breakfast in, I look at my list of, actually, no. I get my breakfast in, I leave the house, and I go for a half an hour walk to get morning sunshine to make sure that my brain really, really, really knows it's daytime. Like we were talking about before.
Ben: So you're not using like any of these blue light boxes, or in-ear light therapy, like biohacks? You just get out in the sun?
Chris: Yeah. I just, my top priority is go out in the real sun, take a half an hour walk…
Ben: ‘Cause even on a cloudy day, you're still getting sun exposure?
Chris: Yeah. And then I come back. You asked about posture, I am working on a half lotus that I, modified half lotus that I do my meditation in. But then, most of my postural stuff is when I'm actually working, right. So when I work, I try to break every, all the tasks into small ideas. I finish an idea and then I go do some mobility work. That might be, well, one thing that I do all the time, like every time I take a break, is I take, I learned this with a PVC pipe in crossfit, I do it with my broom. And I know how we'll show people, I take it into a wide grip in front of me, and then I bring it all the way back behind me, and I try to get the bar to touch the bottom of my lower back. So I get full range of motion, the shoulders. I do like that 12 times.
Ben: You're basically doing a giant circle over your body, holding a PVC pipe.
Chris: Yeah. So I do that and…
Ben: No, you hold a broom handle.
Chris: With a broom, yeah! Crossfit, I used a PVC pipe. Home, I use a broom handle.
Ben: You know what's, you know what's nuts about this? I have an ashtray candle in my office, I do that exact exercise at least five times a day. And you and I did not meet about this before.
Chris: Yeah! No we did not!
Ben: That's crazy!
Chris: Yeah! Yeah! We didn't do this. And then I follow that up with something for my lower body. It might be like a dozen air squats, or it might be like stretches through all the different, sort of permutations of stretching your hips and, so on. But, actually, also I try to spend some time diversifying my working conditions beyond a standing desk, right. So standing is great, and we're standing right now while we're recording this podcast.
Ben: Yeah. We've been standing this whole time.
Chris: But, I also…
Ben: Actually, you're chewing gum and standing.
Chris: Yeah. I can do them at the same time.
Ben: That's skills.
Chris: It's, I mean, tomorrow my goal is to see if I can do that and walk, but for now stand. But I also, you know, I have some yoga blocks at home, so I'll do a little bit of walk, a little bit of work sitting on two stacked yoga blocks which is a resting squatting position. On one yoga block, I'll work on my modified half lotus. I will sit on my shins with some blankets to cushion my ankles and knee, and the back of my knees, which is, you know, Vajrasana, they call it in yoga. I try to say like, how can I move beyond just sitting in a chair and just standing because, you know, it's great to do the mobility exercises, but the reason we gotta do mobility exercises is cause we're always working in these static positions that, we're not using that range of mobility. So why not…
Ben: Just imagine like, you and I today, like they used to do like walking universities in Greece. I mean you and I have just been like, we're not just standing here, right, 'cause if you were to watch Chris and I right now, again, it's an audio, not a video podcast, but like, you know, me I'm swaying side to side, I'm shifting my weight, I'm watching you, you're kinda leaning against the chair here and there, you're moving. So it's not like these standing positions are just like these are locked out standing positions during the day.
Chris: Right. But, I think, you know the more you can diversify what those positions are and the more you can work movement into it, the better. And so, you know, instead of being in a chair, standing? Great. Treadmill desk? Great. But, you know, our body is supposed to be able to do more than that and if I'm not out in the jungle, you know, running, and ducking under things, and jumping over things all the time, why not take my computer work and actually alternate the positions to actually use those parts of my body, you know.
Ben: I'm totally on-board with that. I keep a heavy bag next to my desk now. Like I bought one of those heavy bags that you hang, and I literally just go to town for like two minutes on the bag with my punch combos in between the consults, and phone calls, and like that's my new thing. Like the walking treadmill, mark my words, the next big thing will be the heavy bag and see in offices around the globe. Maybe. Could be a little bit too violent.
Chris: You heard it first, folks.
Ben: You heard it here first. Chris Masterjohn, your podcast is The Daily Lipid, right?
Chris: It is.
Ben: Your website is cholesterol-and-health.com.
Chris: That's right.
Ben: I actually have known about your website for many years. It's anybody who ever asked me about why fat is good, I tell 'em go and read cholesterol-and-health.com because it'll clear up the confusion.
Chris: If people want the new stuff, they should go there and click on blog or click on blog.cholesterol-and-health.com.
Chris: And there, on that blog, you'll find all my new stuff including the show notes from my podcast.
Ben: We'll link to, speaking of show notes, everything we've talked about. Everything from Chris's website and his podcast, to liverwurst, and chicken livers, and collagen, and the other podcast that we've done related to some of the things that Chris and I talked about. All the goodness you're gonna find at bengreenfieldfitness.com/chrismasterjohn. That's bengreenfieldfitness.com/chrismasterjohn. Chris, I gotta go watch my kids cook up crickets downstairs. They're gonna do a little entomophagy class down there, so…
Chris: Ben, it's been a blast. Thank you so much for having me on.
Ben: Thank you for coming on, man, and folks, thank you for listening in. Until next time, I'm Ben Greenfield with Chris Masterjohn. Have a healthy week.
You’ve been listening to the Ben Greenfield fitness podcast. Go to bengreenfieldfitness.com for even more cutting-edge fitness and performance advice.
Dr. Chris Masterjohn is one smart dude.
You’ll understand why when you listen to today’s podcast episode, which we recorded face-to-face at PaleoFX in Austin, Texas.
Chris earned his PhD in Nutritional Science in 2012 from the University of Connecticut at Storrs, where he studied the role of glutathione and dietary antioxidants in regulating the accumulation of methylglyoxal. He served as a postdoctoral research associate from 2012 to 2014 at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he studied interactions between vitamins A, D and K. He is now Assistant Professor of Health and Nutrition Sciences at Brooklyn College in Brooklyn, NY, where he is continuing his research on fat-soluble vitamins.
Chris has authored or co-authored ten peer-reviewed publications. His writes a blog, The Daily Lipid, and produces a podcast by the same name. You can also follow his professional work on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and Snapchat.
During our discussion, you’ll discover:
-The #1 thing that affects your circadian rhythm and ability (or inability) to sleep…
-Why some people are more sensitive to blue light than others, and how you can figure out your own sensitivity to blue light…
-Why Chris plays video games at night…
-How much sugar you really need (you’ll be surprised at the answer)…
-The best time of day to eat carbohydrates…
-The best time of day to eat amino acids, and why you should use a collagen form if you have protein at night…
-Whether eating liver is really toxic…
-The single most important stretch that Chris does with a broom handle…
-Why advanced glycation end products (AGE’s) aren’t really the biggest culprit when it comes to aging…
-How ketones can actually cause damage to your body…
-Which nutrition deficiencies affect your body’s ability to make melatonin at night…
-And much more!
Resources from this episode: