The Reverse-Aging Diet: Is Autophagy the Key to Staying Young?

By using autophagy fasting techniques and nutritionally superior foods, you can reverse certain aspects of aging and recover your rightful vitality. Here’s what you need to know about the reverse-aging diet.

The reverse-aging diet is also known as “eating for autophagy,” but what does that mean for you? Autophagy is a biological process that allows the body to recycle aging or dying cells to synthesize new and better ones. It’s not exactly like a keto or paleo diet where you can just know what not to eat and carry on—there’s a timing aspect to autophagic eating, as well as specific foods that have their own anti-aging strengths. We’ll cover both aspects of the reverse-aging diet here.

What Is Autophagy and How Does It Reverse Aging?

The body’s autophagy process was discovered in the 1950s and ’60s accidentally by Christian de Duve, a Belgian scientist who was studying insulin at the time. He named the process after the Greek words for “self” (auto) and “eating” (phagy), because in a sense that is what it entails: the body sends cells around to cannibalize the useful parts of dying cells, or to eat up the garbage byproduct of normal cell functioning, and uses those pieces to repair or replace dying cells with stronger cells. It’s like a molecular version of recycling and up-cycling material that would otherwise be clogging up the streets.

Scientific understanding of autophagy didn’t advance again until the 1970s and ’80s, when another Nobel prize-winning scientist, Yoshinori Ohsumi, discovered the genes that regulate the autophagic response. It was ultimately determined that, just as with all the other processes in the body, autophagy starts to decline with age. Autophagy on decline is sort of like having a broken garbage disposal and leaving leftover food bits in your sink: eventually this will gum up the works.

And yet, just as it’s possible to get your garbage and recycling habits back in working order, it’s also possible to trigger autophagy even as you age and the process naturally slows. By using diet to manipulate a “stress response” in the body, you can essentially assign cleaning days to your cells, the same way you might when creating a chore chart for a busy family: some days are for cleaning and some days are for more thoroughly enjoying life in a clean house.

Long story short, by using intermittent fasting practices and eating key nutritional foods, you can regularly bring autophagy out of a sluggish maintenance mode and make sure the cellular garbage in your body doesn’t overwhelm healthy functioning and lead to symptoms of aging.

Autophagy Fasting: How Does It Work?

Autophagy is actually part of some diets like keto and Atkins, diets that carefully put the body into a small nutritional crisis to manipulate healthy results. By inhibiting carbohydrate intake for example, the body becomes alarmed enough to start burning fat stores for energy. Usually the body guards these fat stores like piles of emergency gold in case of famine, but in a modern, First World context, famine is way less of a threat, while obesity contributes to more and more preventable deaths each year.

If you want to fast in a way that triggers autophagic metabolism and slows down the aging process, follow these basic steps:

  • Eat all of your meals within an 8-hour window. You still need your essential nutrients, but you want your body to spend some energy cleaning up rather than digesting and functioning all the time. For the best foods to eat for autophagy, read on to the next section.
  • Fast between 16 and 28 hours intermittently. Periods of nutrient deprivation trigger autophagy. The reason intermittent fasting works is that it triggers the sort of secondary metabolisms we evolved to survive in harsh climates, but it does so in small windows of time without actually starving us.
  • Sustain yourself and your energy with exogenous ketones. While fasting, water, tea, and black coffee are acceptable to consume. If you choose to add MCT oil (medium-chain triglycerides from coconut oil) to your drink, your body will have just enough energy to function and feel satiated without interrupting your fasting goals for weight loss or cellular clean-up.

Autophagy is also triggered by vigorous exercise routines, like HIIT workouts (high-intensity interval training), which, much like intermittent fasting, utilize small windows of high stress to elicit the biological responses we need to stay young and healthy. Modern life is often too safe and sedentary, and our survival mechanisms get weak from lack of use. Autophagy reminds our bodies that each day is still a matter of life and death.

What Is Autophagy and How Does It Reverse Aging

The Reverse-Aging Diet: Which Foods Keep the Body Young?

You’ll want to start by reducing (not eliminating) carbs. Eating more low carb starts inching your body towards ketosis, with the beneficial side effect of losing body fat and weight. In addition to lowering carb intake, you’ll want to consume nutrient-dense foods with compounds that contribute directly to the body’s anti-aging efforts.

Green Tea and Matcha Powder

Green tea has become nearly synonymous with longevity, so much so that statistically the more green tea you consume regularly, the longer you live. This is why it’s a staple in almost every anti-aging diet. Green tea and matcha powder (ground green tea leaves) contain polyphenols that help reduce the inflammation caused by free radical toxins. And catechins in green tea can help prevent the effects on sun damage and the appearance of fine lines when used topically in skincare products.

Kale and Leafy Greens

Cruciferous vegetables and leafy greens are rightly considered superfoods. Kale, broccoli and broccoli greens, spinach, Brussels sprouts—all of these lean greens contain hefty amounts of vitamin K, lutein, fiber, and phytochemicals that help reduce the risk of cancer and guard against the oxidative damage of free radicals. Their vitamin A content contributes to healthy, youthful skin and wound repair, while their vitamin C content serves as a precursor to collagen and new skin cell production. Plus, vitamin C acts as an antioxidant so powerful it helps prevent cold and flu infections. The vitamins and minerals in leafy greens are some of the best anti-aging nutrients to be found.

Walnuts and Almonds

Most nuts contain valuable amounts of omega-3 fatty acids and plant-based protein, but that isn’t the end of their value as anti-aging food. Walnuts in particular may extend life for up to 3 years, possibly by reducing the risk factors for cancer and heart disease. And almonds are full of vitamins A, B, and E, healthy fats, and antioxidants that belong in every healthy diet to help reduce inflammation from the skin to within.

Seeds

Just about any seed that isn’t poisonous is good for you, from chia to sunflower to flaxseeds. Ask any dietitian or nutritionist if you’re eating enough seeds, and the answer will likely be a resounding “no!” Most of us in the modern world don’t consume seeds nearly as much as we’re evolved to. In fact, we have intentionally engineered seedless foods like watermelon and bananas just to avoid what we should be consuming regularly.

Chia seeds are sources of water-soluble fiber that swells with liquid and helps slow down digestion and keep blood sugar levels from spiking. They are anti-inflammatory, full of omega-3s, and contain all nine essential amino acids necessary for new muscle growth at all stages of life.

These features can be found in flaxseeds as well, which have anti-aging nutrients for your skin and flavonoids known to help lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels, improving the ratio between “good” HDL levels and lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease. If you enjoy a good trail mix with sunflower seeds, you’re also fortifying your body with vitamin E, an antioxidant that can help protect against the sun’s UV rays.

Oily, Fatty Fish

Eating the proper ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids is necessary for optimal health. While both fatty acids are essential, the standard Western diet overemphasizes omega-6 fatty foods (they’re in vegetable oils, which infiltrate our foods as additives), and downplays omega-3s, which are found in abundance in oily fish like salmon, sardines, and mackerel.

Omega-3 fatty acids help lower inflammation, and subsequently rates of dementia, heart disease, and arthritis. Salmon is abundant in astaxanthin, a powerful antioxidant that defends against aging. And heart-healthy sardines can help reduce the risk of developing diabetes. Sardines have the added advantage of being on the bottom of the food chain, meaning they are less likely to contain toxins they themselves have consumed (as may be the case with larger fish, which have higher mercury levels).

Access to fresh fish is not always easy to come by or affordable for those who live far inland. Luckily a fish oil supplement is easy to find and can help improve your joint health as well.

Fermented Foods

Fermented veggies like kimchi and sauerkraut along with fermented dairy products like kefir and Greek yogurt carry healthy probiotic bacteria. While prebiotic foods contain fiber for your existing good gut bacteria to digest, probiotic foods introduce new live cultures of beneficial gut bacteria to support healthy digestion, detox efforts, and immune system functioning.

Sweet Potatoes

Don’t just pull out sweet potatoes for your fall menu. These spuds are some of the healthiest carbs around. As we pointed out at the top of this list, while it’s good to lower your intake of carbs (and the fast sugars that come with them), it’s not recommended to eliminate carbs entirely. Carbohydrates in fruits, starchy veggies, and foods like sweet potatoes can provide many beneficial nutrients. Particularly the skin of sweet potatoes contains concentrations of the anti-cancer compound anthocyanin, another valuable asset to staying young and healthy.

Red Wine and Dark Chocolate

Treats like red wine and dark chocolate contain useful nutrients too, specifically resveratrol, an anti-aging antioxidant. Consumed in moderation, the nutrients in the grapes that make red wine and the cacao nibs that make up the majority of dark chocolate provide protection against the age-accelerating damage of free radicals.

Mushrooms

It’s strange but true: while mushrooms are grown in dampness and dark, if you place them in sunlight after harvesting, they soak up vitamin D from the sun just like human skin does. In fact, they soak up so much that 3.5 ounces of mushrooms can provide you 130-450 IUs of vitamin D you need, so you don’t have to spend so much time in the sun or suffer the signs of aging that can come from sun damage.

Dark Berries and Fruits

Raspberries, blueberries, and pomegranates have deep coloring in common, as well as certain antioxidant concentrations that can greatly benefit your health. Pomegranates have enjoyed a recent hey-day as a superfood, but dark berries like blue and blackberries bring the same level of nutrition to every smoothie, yogurt, or dessert that includes them. These fruits’ concentrations of vitamin A, vitamin C, and the antioxidant anthocyanin all work to help prevent chronic conditions from gaining a foothold. They also help increase collagen production for more supple, youthful skin.

Avocados

Avocados are one of the most well-known and versatile healthy fats in a low-carb dieter’s kitchen. Delicious and creamy, they can be eaten as a veggie dip, utilized as a healthy spread, and turned into smoothies and dairy-free ice creams, all while providing you with vitamin A that protects your skin cells and omega-3 fatty acids that help your heart.

Carrots

Famous for improving eye health thanks to their beta-carotene content, carrots do even more to help preserve your youth and vitality. One study found a correlation between carotenoid consumption and romantic appeal and attraction. And if it’s health effects you’re after, the vitamin A in carrots protects your skin from viruses, bacteria, and the potential ravages of aging.

Turmeric

Speaking of brilliantly orange foods, turmeric and its active compound curcumin are famous natural remedies for inflammation, helping to ameliorate significant inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis. Time and time again, in study after study, turmeric exhibits proven pain-relieving attributes and anti-inflammatory capabilities. So if you’re looking to reverse aging with diet, you definitely want to pepper turmeric into your food routine. Add a dash of black pepper to increase bioavailability!

Tomatoes

The tomato is a fruit used in culinary capacities as a vegetable, but no matter how you slice it, the lycopene content inside tomatoes provides valuable disease resistance, specifically against osteoporosis, which affects 1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men over the age of 50. Along with the health benefits of lycopene, tomatoes provide B vitamins like niacin and folate, vitamin C, and vitamin K. Here’s a pro-tip for eating: add a little olive oil to help increase the nutrient absorption in your body.

Beets

Last but not least, maybe it’s appropriate that beets have the approximate shape of a heart, because the nitrates they contain help improve arterial health and blood pressure, as well as help reduce inflammation like so many other anti-aging foods on this list. The nitric oxide content also helps protect your kidneys, and the rich color of beets makes for a beautiful presentation whether in a smoothie or on your plate.

Aging Can Be Reversed

While you can’t turn back time, you can reverse the symptoms of aging that come from the slow-down of processes like autophagy. With the right supplies in your diet and an active lifestyle, you can easily be in better shape at 60 than you were at 30, when, in the brazenness of youth, many people don’t take proper care of themselves. Damage done by poor diets or unhealthy lifestyles can be reversed, and the more you know about how to best strengthen your body, the better prepared you are to improve with age.

The Truth Behind the Apple Cider Vinegar Fatty Liver Detox, Plus Science-Based Advice on Improving Liver Health

Advocates claim that conducting a cleanse with apple cider vinegar helps to flush toxins from the body, regulate blood sugar levels, and encourage healthy weight loss, all of which can improve liver health. However, there’s little scientific support for these claims. Read on for clear, evidence-based information about fatty liver disease, why some people believe apple cider vinegar can effectively treat this condition, and what steps to take to protect and improve your liver health.

Given that pharmaceutical companies have yet to devise a drug to treat fatty liver disease, it’s hardly surprising how much interest there is in natural remedies for this condition. One popular example of this type of home remedy is the apple cider vinegar fatty liver detox. Advocates claim that conducting a cleanse with apple cider vinegar helps to flush toxins from the body, regulate blood sugar levels, and encourage healthy weight loss, all of which can improve liver health. However, there’s little scientific support for these claims.

Read on for clear, evidence-based information about fatty liver disease, why some people believe apple cider vinegar can effectively treat this condition, and what steps to take to protect and improve your liver health.

What Is Fatty Liver Disease?

Before describing fatty liver disease, let’s establish what normal, healthy liver function looks like. The liver, the largest of the internal organs, carries out a host of absolutely vital functions, such as:

  • Cleansing toxins from the bloodstream
  • Metabolizing nutrients
  • Processing lipids and amino acids

When you consume foods that contain protein, your liver uses enzymes (specifically, deaminases and transaminases) to convert the amino acids your body absorbs from the protein into the most bioavailable, utilizable forms. The liver also converts excess carbohydrates into fatty acids and other substances that the body can use as energy sources or store as fat to be used at a later date. A small percentage of those fat molecules get stored in the liver itself.

Factors such as chronic alcohol abuse, long-term drug use, nutritional deficiencies, and metabolic disorders can all interfere with your liver’s ability to fulfill its many essential functions. One of the ways this manifests is that the liver begins to increase the amount of fat stored in its cells. At the moment the amount of fat stored in the liver reaches the threshold of 5% to 10% of total liver volume, an official diagnosis of fatty liver disease (or hepatic steatosis) can be made.

The Two Main Types of Fatty Liver Disease

Though the physical effects of fatty liver disease remain consistent across types, it’s valuable to have an understanding of the different pathophysiologies, as that influences how the body responds to treatment.

There are two primary types of fatty liver disease: alcoholic fatty liver disease and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.

Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease

As the name indicates, alcoholic fatty liver disease arises due to long-term alcohol abuse. Scientists have known for centuries that over-consumption of alcohol leads to liver disease. The majority of the metabolization of alcohol transpires in the liver, making it quite susceptible to alcohol-related injury.

In the first stage of alcoholic liver disease (also called alcoholic steatohepatitis), the liver begins to struggle to break down fatty acids. This can result in high serum triglyceride levels, inflammation of the liver (alcoholic hepatitis), and the development of scars in the liver tissue (cirrhosis).

Early intervention can, in some cases, allow the liver to cleanse itself, thereby naturally reversing the buildup of fat. Subsequently, it can function normally once more. Refraining from the consumption of all types of alcohol for a 2-week period can be sufficient, if this step is taken shortly after liver dysfunction sets in.

The longer the accumulation of fat in the liver goes on, the more extensive the related damage, and the greater the likelihood of long-term impairment of liver function, permanent scarring, and liver failure.

Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease 

Alcohol consumption is not the only risk factor for the development of liver disease. Other health considerations can also cause fat to build up in the liver, such as:

  • Family history of type 2 diabetes
  • Aging
  • Increased body weight, particularly the development of deposits of belly fat

These can also interfere with the body’s insulin sensitivity, and when the body does not properly register the presence of insulin, it responds to the perceived deficit by accelerating its innate insulin production process. This results in elevated insulin levels, which can set off a cascade of ill-effects, including high blood pressure, elevated serum triglyceride levels, and—you guessed it—the accumulation of fat in the liver.

Nonalcholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) can be limited to the presence of excess fat in the liver, with very little inflammation and liver damage apart from that, or it can progress to non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), which involves both liver inflammation and damage. As is the case for liver disease stemming from alcohol abuse, NAFLD and NASH can progress to cirrhosis and liver failure. Experts estimate that between 80 and 100 million Americans have NAFLD, though many of them are not aware of that due to the fact that it’s largely asymptomatic.

14 Symptoms of Fatty Liver Disease

Diagnosing Fatty Liver Disease

Because the early stages of fatty liver disease are often unaccompanied by clear physical indicators, many people do not realize they have the condition until it’s progressed to a more advanced stage or until unrelated medical tests reveal liver dysfunction.

The challenge of detecting fatty liver disease is increased by the fact that blood tests, one of the most common methods of screening for chronic diseases, do not always accurately reflect the health of the liver. Fatty liver disease can cause liver enzyme levels to become elevated, but it’s also entirely possible for individuals with liver disease to have entirely normal enzyme levels, even when the disease progresses to the point of cirrhosis.

Ultrasound may be a more reliable way to diagnose fatty liver, according to a 2018 hospital-based, cross-sectional study published in the Journal of International Medical Research. The authors state that ultrasound’s “sensitivity and specificity in detecting moderate to severe fatty liver are comparable to those of histology [liver biopsy],” a far more invasive procedure. Ultrasound offers doctors a non-invasive way to screen for liver disease in individuals who do not show signs of the disease but may nevertheless be at risk, thereby ensuring they get earlier access to treatment.

Signs and Symptoms of Fatty Liver Disease

As fatty liver disease advances and liver function becomes increasingly poor, signs and symptoms do begin to appear. One clear indication of liver disease is altered amino acid metabolism—because of this, supplementing with amino acids (particularly, branched-chain amino acids) can significantly enhance liver health. We’ll share more on that later in the section on proven treatments for fatty liver disease, but first, let’s go over other indicators of liver disease.

Clinical evidence indicates that the following symptoms may point to the presence of liver disease.

  • Pain and tenderness in the upper-right abdomen, due to liver enlargement
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
  • Weakness
  • Itchiness
  • Nosebleeds
  • Spider veins (clusters of blood vessels that resemble spider webs)
  • Confusion and difficulty focusing
  • Ascites (abdominal pain and swelling)
  • Edema (swelling of the legs)
  • Gynecomastia

What Is the Apple Cider Vinegar Fatty Liver Detox?

If you’re serious about improving the health of your liver, you have likely looked into various liver cleanses. There’s little data to support the supposed beneficial effects associated with several players in this realm, including lemon juice, green tea, olive oil, and apple cider vinegar (ACV).

Made from apples that have been mashed, distilled, and fermented, apple cider vinegar has been rumored to have detoxifying properties for centuries. As scientists have analyzed apple cider vinegar’s efficacy as a treatment for a wide range of conditions, they’ve concluded that the high levels of acetic acid and other compounds it contains may indeed influence human health, though exactly how they do so remains somewhat obscure.

Advocates of the detoxifying properties of apple cider vinegar claim that it can:

  • Flush toxins from the body
  • Facilitate weight loss
  • Bring the body’s pH into balance
  • Even out blood sugar levels
  • Drop high cholesterol into the healthy range

Given that, it’s understandable why those same advocates would believe you can use apple cider vinegar to treat fatty liver disease.

4 Safety Tips for Those Interested in Trying the Apple Cider Vinegar Fatty Liver Detox

Scientific Studies on Apple Cider Vinegar and Liver Health

Researchers have confirmed that the substances we eat and drink can both improve and undermine the body’s natural detoxification processes. What’s less clear, however, is whether apple cider vinegar specifically has a beneficial impact on liver health.

Some research has been conducted on proposed ACV benefits relevant to liver health, but the results are far from conclusive.

Weight Loss

This is perhaps the most hyped benefit of apple cider vinegar. Much of the excitement surrounding ACV’s weight-loss benefits can be traced back to a 2009 study done by a Japanese research team. The researchers found that daily consumption of vinegar resulted in modest reductions to:

  • Body weight
  • Visceral and subcutaneous fat mass
  • Serum triglyceride levels

However, the study did not look at the use of ACV in particular (though the researchers did cite ascetic acid and previous animal studies on its benefits).

A very small study from 2007 looked at the effect of apple cider vinegar on gastric emptying rate (GER) for 10 individuals with type 1 diabetes. They found that participants who paired a cup of water with 2 tablespoons of ACV mixed in with their serving of pudding had slower rates of gastric emptying than those who simply drank a cup of water. Slower gastric empyting can correlate with increased fullness, which can in turn led to weight loss. However, as the study authors themselves noted in their conclusion: “Clearly, a larger, randomized trial involving a greater number of patients would be needed to validate the findings of this pilot study.”

All in all, the enthusiasm about apple cider vinegar’s ability to encourage weight loss has yet to be corroborated by hard facts.

Cholesterol Levels

As we touched on in the previous section, the 2009 study did find some improvements to cholesterol levels, specifically, to serum triglyceride levels. However, that was not the primary focus of the study.

A small Iranian study that enrolled 19 participants with hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol levels) found that 8 weeks of apple cider vinegar consumption “significantly reduced harmful lipids, i.e., total cholesterol, LDL, and triglyceride, in blood samples of hyperlipidemic individuals who had never used any lipid-lowering drugs.”

While those are certainly promising results, further studies with larger and more diverse enrollment need to be conducted before arriving at firm conclusions about ACV’s impact on cholesterol levels.

Blood Sugar Regulation

There’s some evidence to suggest that drinking apple cider vinegar can prevent blood sugar spikes associated with carbohydrate consumption. Controlling blood sugar levels is of paramount importance for individuals with diabetes, who also face a higher risk of developing nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.

A small study that enrolled four men and seven women with type 2 diabetes (all of whom were not taking insulin to control their condition) found that ingesting apple cider vinegar before bedtime had a favorable effect on waking glucose levels. However, as is true of the studies on the benefits of ACV cited in the earlier sections, the findings are limited by the study’s small sample size.

Negative Side Effects Associated with the Apple Cider Vinegar Fatty Liver Detox

Given that there’s no conclusive evidence to support the use of apple cider vinegar to treat fatty liver, those interested in trying this treatment should carefully weigh the potential negative side effects against the benefits they hope to achieve.

One of the most common issues associated with apple cider vinegar consumption is the erosion of tooth enamel. A 2014 study designed to evaluate the effects of different types of vinegar on tooth enamel found between 1% and 20% mineral loss (depending on the pH of the vinegar) after 4 hours of exposure. However, this study was done in a laboratory, so it’s not entirely clear how those results would translate into real-life scenarios.

To be safe, those interested in adding ACV to their wellness routines should put one or more of following precautions in place:

  • Carefully monitor the amounts consumed
  • Mix with a glass of water
  • Rinse mouth after drinking
  • Use a straw

Because of its acidic nature, ACV has also been known to upset stomachs, yet another reason to dilute it in water. If you have a sensitive stomach, be sure to pair your doses of ACV with food.

It’s also important to note that apple cider vinegar can interact with certain medications, such as insulin, digoxin, and diuretics. If you currently take prescription drugs, it’s best to consult a doctor before taking ACV.

4 Proven Ways to Treat Fatty Liver Disease

While the evidence backing the use of the apple cider vinegar fatty liver detox can be characterized overall as weak, there are other natural methods for supporting and restoring liver health with much more robust scientific backing.

The best method for you will depend on the factors that have compromised your liver health, but it’s likely to involve shifts to your diet, increased physical activity and, potentially, weight loss. There are also some supplements that have been shown to produce measurable improvements to liver health.

1. Diet

Research has shown that diet has a strong impact on your risk of developing many health conditions, including fatty liver disease. Certain foods can hinder liver health, such as:

  • Trans fats
  • Simple sugars
  • Red meat
  • Salt
  • Fried foods
  • Processed foods

Eating other foods, though, can bring about significant health benefits. In general, a good fatty liver diet will include plenty of high-fiber plant foods and very minimal amounts of sugar, salt, and both trans and saturated fats. Even if alcohol is not the root cause of your liver problems, it’s essential to cut it out of your diet once your liver function has been harmed.

Those already dealing with liver problems, or interested in avoiding liver problems altogether, should be sure to include the following foods in their diets.

  • Green vegetables, such as spinach, kale, and broccoli, which studies found prevented fat from accumulating in the liver
  • Tofu, because soy protein has been shown to decrease fat buildup in the liver
  • Omega-3 rich fish, like salmon, trout, and tuna, since scientists have discovered polyunsaturated fatty acids substantially improve liver health on multiple levels
  • Nuts and seeds, especially sunflower seeds, which contain high levels of vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant proven to combat oxidative stress and halt the progression of liver disease

2. Physical Activity

To date, studies have shown that physical activity plays an overwhelmingly positive role in treating fatty liver disease. Per a 2018 review of 30 randomized controlled trials, “Physical inactivity is related to the severity of fatty liver disease irrespective of body weight.” After reviewing the 30 trials, the authors concluded that data supports the common-sense conclusion that increasing physical activity improves liver health. It appears that exercise affects the development of fatty liver disease across multiple pathways.

Exercise has been shown to:

  • Decrease insulin resistance
  • Reduce excessive transport of fatty acids and glucose to the liver
  • Increase fatty acid oxidation
  • Decrease fatty acid synthesis
  • Stymie the release of molecules that cause mitochondrial and hepatocellular damage

Both aerobic exercise and resistance exercise produce these positive effects.

3. Weight Loss

Carrying around excess body fat does elevate your risk of developing fatty liver disease. And conversely, losing even a small amount of weight can translate to major liver health improvements. According to a 2016 study, weight loss as achievable as 3% to 6% can decrease liver fat by between 35% and 40%.

4. Supplements

While lifestyle changes involving diet and physical activity produce the most profound effects on liver health, certain supplements do have scientifically validated liver health benefits. Three options we consider to be worthwhile are: milk thistle, turmeric, and amino acids.

Milk Thistle

This herbal remedy for fatty liver disease has potent anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antifibrotic (meaning, it reduces the formation of scar tissue) properties.

According to a study done by an Italian research team, silybin, the primary active compound found in milk thistle extract, has “a remarkable biological effect.” It can reduce liver damage associated with chronic liver disease, cirrhosis, and hepatocellular carcinoma. It has also been shown to increase cellular vitality and decrease the accumulation of liver fat, oxidative stress, insulin resistance, and mitochondrial dysfunction.

Turmeric

According to a systematic review published in 2019, turmeric and its active compound curcumin may decrease the severity of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. However, the authors note that all the trials they analyzed had small sample sizes, leading them to deem turmeric a “promising, but not proven” treatment for NAFLD.

A study published in Integrative Medicine Research in that same year looked specifically at the findings of randomized controlled trials on the use of turmeric and curcumin supplementation on NAFLD in adult patients. The primary outcomes analyzed were levels of two specific liver enzymes, alanine aminotransferase (ALT) and aspartate aminotransferase (AST). The meta-analysis, which included results from a combined total of 228 subjects, found a significant reduction of ALT concentrations among participants who took at least 1,000 milligrams of curcumin daily. This lead the researchers to conclude that high doses of curcumin appear to have a favorable effect on NAFLD, though further large-scale, high-quality studies should be done to confirm that effect.

Amino Acids

A wealth of research supports the benefits of regular amino acid supplementation for individuals who have fatty liver, or who are at risk of developing the condition.

According to a 2018 study, taurine (a sulfur-containing amino acid) can prevent the accumulation of fatty acids in the livers of mice fed high-fat diets. Taurine also prevented oxidative damage and negative changes to liver enzyme levels. These effects led the study’s authors to conclude that taurine could have “therapeutic value” for the treatment of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.

A 2012 study, also done with mice, looked at the use of the three branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) leucine, isoleucine, and valine. The researchers found that supplementing with BCAAs in the early stages of fatty liver disease can slow the progression of the disease—specifically, by decreasing liver fibrosis as well as liver cell death.

Another sulfur-containing amino acid, cysteine—available in supplement form as N-acetylcysteine (NAC)—has antioxidant properties to rival those of taurine. Per a 2010 clinical trial, participants who received NAC had significantly improved results in terms of levels of alanine aminotransfrase, aspartate aminotransfrase, and alkaline phosphatase as well as fat buildup and other measurements of liver function. Based on the results achieved at the 3-month mark, the researchers concluded that NAC can improve liver function in patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and that better results may be achievable with longer use.

Given what scientists have uncovered about the synergistic effects of amino acids, it’s likely that the positive results achieved via supplementation with single amino acids could be amplified when taken in concert with an amino acid supplement that contains all nine essential amino acids. The essential amino acids work together to facilitate the body’s biological processes, and providing a properly balanced supply of all the necessary building blocks not only safeguards and enhances the health of the liver, but also of the entire body.

Proven Methods for Treating Fatty Liver Disease

Conclusion

Unsurprisingly, the high level of interest in natural remedies for fatty liver disease has led to the proliferation of some less than verifiable claims about certain treatment approaches.

While there’s limited evidence to support the use of the apple cider vinegar fatty liver detox, the evidence that exists comes largely from studies done with animal subjects or with very limited enrollment. Plus, none of the studies focused specifically on the impact of ACV on liver health, but rather on effects related to linked health conditions such as excess body fat, high cholesterol levels, and poor blood sugar regulation.

It’s also important to note that the apple cider vinegar fatty liver detox can have adverse side effects, such as the erosion of tooth enamel, stomach upset, and dangerous interactions with prescription drugs.

Given all that, the wisest choice is likely to try a natural treatment for fatty liver that has more substantial scientific backing. Effectively addressing fatty liver disease will likely require adopting a fatty liver diet and increasing your physical activity level, and may necessitate losing weight too. Incorporating supplements proven to improve liver health, like milk thistle, turmeric, and amino acids, can also be a valuable part of a fatty liver treatment plan.

Understanding Autophagy: Loose Skin, Chronic Disease and Cancer—Some Scientists Say It Could Be the Key to Treating and Preventing All of These 

Maximize the ability of autophagy, a cellular cleansing process, to prevent loose skin after weight loss, chronic diseases, and even cancer. Read on to learn about the science behind autophagy as well as how it can help those on weight-loss journeys.

Autophagy (pronounced ah-TAH-fuh-gee), a medical term, describes a regenerative cellular process that decreases your risk of developing a multitude of serious diseases, extends your lifespan, and improves your overall health and well-being. In some circles, there’s particularly intense interest in the impact of autophagy on loose skin following weight loss, a frustrating side effect that can require surgery to address.

Read on to learn about the science behind autophagy as well as how it can help those on weight-loss journeys.

What Is Autophagy?

In simple terms, the concept of autophagy can be defined as follows: without external nutrients, the body begins to consume itself. The term comes from the Greek words “auto” meaning self and “phage” meaning to eat.

While this may sound like the premise for a horror movie, it can be incredibly beneficial. During the process of autophagy, specialized membranes seek out cells that are dead, damaged, or diseased and use their component parts for energy or to make new cells.

“Think of it as our body’s innate recycling program,” said Dr. Colin Champ, assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, in an interview. Other experts have summed it up as “cellular housekeeping” or “cellular quality control.”

Though Belgian biochemist Christian de Duve originated the term “autophagy” in 1963, much of what we now know about this vital process was not discovered until well into the 2000s. In fact, pioneering Japanese biologist Yoshinori Ohsumi won a Nobel Prize for his investigations into the mechanisms of autophagy in 2016. Scientists working in the field, however, caution that what we currently don’t know about autophagy would fill far more books than what we do.

7 Proven Benefits of Autophagy

Autophagy plays a fundamental and essential role in overall cellular function by recycling disused or dysfunctional components that, if left in place, can become problematic. By doing so, autophagy can prevent the development of several types of diseases. Here are 7 proven ways autophagy benefits your health.

1. Decrease Systemic Inflammation

A 2017 review published in Clinical and Translational Medicine states that “increasing evidence” demonstrates autophagy can help to prevent the development of inflammatory diseases.

“Autophagy plays critical roles in inflammation through influencing the development, homeostasis and survival of inflammatory cells, including macrophages, neutrophils and lymphocytes; effecting the transcription, processing and secretion of a number of cytokines, as well as being regulated by cytokines,” the authors state. Essentially, this means that autophagy helps to ensure that all the cells regulating your body’s inflammatory processes are working properly.

The authors go on to say that studies suggest autophagy’s positive influence on inflammatory cells offers promise as a therapeutic intervention for diseases linked to inflammation, including:

  • Crohn’s disease
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Pulmonary hypertension
  • Obstructive pulmonary disease

2. Treat Neurodegenerative Diseases

Findings published in Frontiers in Neuroscience, a leading journal in its field, point to autophagy as a way to slow the progression of neurodegenerative diseases.

As we’ve established, autophagy repurposes cellular components, including misfolded proteins. The accumulation of misfolded proteins is believed to cause symptoms of many neurodegenerative diseases to worsen. So, by preventing that, autophagy can mitigate the severity of those diseases.

3. Safeguard Mental Health

Some research has shown that when autophagy does not occur with sufficient frequency, your mental health can be negatively impacted.

A study published in Molecular Psychiatry, a peer-reviewed journal, looked at the connection between autophagy and mental health. When they analyzed the brains of schizophrenia patients, the authors found clear reductions in post-mortem levels of proteins that control autophagy. They determined that the direct association between autophagy and the progression of schizophrenia could offer a pathway to new methods of treatment.

4. Increase Longevity

A review published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation claims that inducing autophagy can counteract cellular aging processes and enhance the metabolic activity of your cells, resulting in increased longevity.

This claim stems from experimental findings, and it’s not yet clear exactly how autophagy increases anti-aging activity and extends life spans, though studies with mice have shown that to be the case.

5. Suppress Tumor Growth

It’s clear that the process of autophagy is intimately linked to the development of cancer, but exactly what effect it has on tumor initiation and development remains somewhat murky.

Per a review published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, “Many studies have found that autophagy plays dual roles in cell survival and cell death in the context of tumor initiation and development.” The authors elaborate that while autophagy has been shown to suppress tumor formation in certain instances, it also seems to contribute to cancer progression by supplying nutrients to cancer cells in others.

More research is needed to fully understand how to harness the power of autophagy to prevent cancer. In the future, however, the authors believe it could be “a potentially effective therapeutic strategy in anticancer therapy.”

6. Support Maintenance of a Healthy Weight

Some of what we know about autophagy comes from research in what happens in its absence. For instance, a study done with mice and published in Cell Metabolism found that deleting an essential autophagy gene led to higher body weights, increased fat mass, and higher rates of glucose intolerance.

According to the authors, these findings indicate that an autophagy deficiency may play a role in the development of obesity.

7. Prevent Sagging Skin Post-Weight Loss

Though this benefit does not have rigorous scientific support, solid anecdotal evidence indicates that autophagy can help those who have lost weight—particularly, individuals who have lost a lot of weight—from needing skin removal surgeries. Dr. Jason Fung, a nephrologist who specializes in research into fasting, has developed a program designed to help people successfully lose weight and reverse conditions linked to weight gain, such as type 2 diabetes, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), and fatty liver.

“We’ve never sent a single person for skin-removal surgery,” said Dr. Fung in an interview. “We have anecdotal cases where people have lost 120, 130 pounds, and they said their skin also shrank, too.”

Fung believes this happens because the body harvests the protein contained in excess skin. “Remember, during fasting, you’re activating a pathway within your body that says, ‘Okay, we need to buckle down because we’re in a time of famine, so to speak, and we don’t need all that extra skin, so let’s burn it. And if you need it, we’ll build it again.’”

How to Increase the Efficacy of Autophagy for Loose Skin

Is It Possible to Trigger Autophagy?

Though it has not yet been definitively proved that it’s possible to trigger autophagy in humans, studies done with animals indicate that fasting and calorie restriction may be means of inducing autophagy.

A literature review published in Ageing Research Reviews in 2018 found that “the evidence overwhelmingly suggests that autophagy is induced in a wide variety of tissues and organs in response to food deprivation.” In other words, there’s a very high likelihood that if you fast, autophagy will occur.

Studies done with mice have historically delineated 24 hours as the marker for when autophagy sets in, but it’s not clear whether the same would hold true for humans. Dr. Fung believes that autophagy most likely sets in during the later stages of an extended fast, “somewhere around 20 to 24 hours is my guess, and it probably maxes out somewhere around 32 hours, again, my best guess.”

While scientists have yet to agree upon a surefire way to trigger autophagy, this process does occur naturally, though it’s unclear how frequently or extensively it takes place without outside stimulus. Fasting, exercise, and other forms of physiological stress seems to cause the process to accelerate.

However, it’s quite challenging to measure autophagy (technically, what would be measured would be termed autophagic flux) in humans, as it requires tracking the levels of minuscule proteins, including protein 1A and LC3.

Does Autophagy Have Any Negative Effects?

While autophagy clearly has a host of remarkable benefits, it can cause problems too. An article published in PLOS Biology termed it a “double-edged sword.”

Author Andrew Thorburn of the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine explained that “autophagy’s effects may work for both the good and the bad of an organism.” When it comes to conditions like treating bacterial infections, autophagy sometimes leads to improvement and sometimes causes conditions to worsen. According to Thorburn, using autophagy effectively will require a better understanding of which cells it degrades and under what circumstances.

It’s important to note as well that using fasting as a method for inducing autophagy comes with its own risks. There are no universal medical recommendations at this time, but most experts agree that extended fasts—going without food for 36-, 48-, or even a full 72 hour-fast—should only be undertaken by those in good health. Extended fasting should not be done too frequently either. As a general rule, it should only be undertaken 2 or 3 times annually. Confer with a trusted doctor before embarking on a fast to make sure it’s safe for you.

If you have previously engaged in unhealthy food restrictions behaviors or have been diagnosed with an eating disorder like anorexia, it’s likely best to avoid fasting.

Expert Advice on Triggering Autophagy

Because autophagy is a stress response, to intentionally trigger it, you will have to endure some discomfort. “It’s our ancestral and evolutionary response to dealing with feast and famine in times of stress,” said Dr. Champ.

If you’d like to try triggering autophagy, one of these three methods is a good place to start.

1. Enter a State of Ketosis

If the idea of fasting feels daunting or there are reasons you should avoid it, evidence shows you can also activate autophagy by entering ketosis. By restricting your carbohydrate intake and increasing your fat intake, you can shift your body into a state in which it uses fat rather than carbs as its primary source of fuel. This is the scientific basis for the immensely popular high-fat, low-carb ketogenic diet, commonly abbreviated as the keto diet.

In order to adhere to the keto diet, you’ll need to keep your carbohydrate intake at no more than 5% of your total calories, your protein intake between 20% and 30%, and your fat percentage at between 60% and 70%.

Studies have shown that entering ketosis can bring about significant fat loss while maintaining muscle mass. Other proven medical uses for the keto diet include improving the treatment of epilepsy and other brain conditions (in fact, it was developed to treat epilepsy in children), lowering your risk of diabetes, and assisting your body in defeating cancerous tumors.

According to Champ, “Ketosis is like an autophagy hack. You get a lot of the same metabolic changes and benefits of fasting without actually fasting.”

2. Experiment with Intermittent Fasting

Extended fasts can be grueling, but that may not be necessary in order to spur autophagy.

A Brazilian research team published a research review indicating that intermittent fasting can help increase autophagy, which makes cancer treatments more effective and reduces side effects. They note, however: “Additional studies are required to better understand the molecular mechanisms evoked by fasting, aiming to identify the context in which fasting may be beneficial as an adjunct to cancer treatment.”

In the meantime, it certainly seems worthwhile to give intermittent fasting a try, if for no other reason than the wealth of benefits they mention that have been associated with intermittent fasting, such as an extended lifespan and a lower risk of diseases including:

  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Neurodegenerative conditions

As with extended fasting, there are limitations on who should try intermittent fasting. It’s typically not advisable for children, pregnant women, or individuals with diabetes or other blood sugar issues to follow this fasting protocol.

3. Engage in Regular Exercise

As you may know, exercising creates microscopic tears in your muscles. When your body repairs those tears, that process leads to bigger, stronger muscles. It appears that exercise also increases the rate at which your body carries out autophagy.

A study published in Nature, an international journal of science, found: “Acute exercise induces autophagy in skeletal and cardiac muscle of fed mice.” The authors discovered that after 30 minutes of running on a treadmill, the rate at which mice recycled their own cells via autophagy increased significantly and continued to do so until the 80-minute marker at which point rates leveled out.

Scientists have not yet pinpointed the threshold require for humans to kickstart autophagy. Dr. Daniel Kilonsky, a cellular biologist specializing in autophagy, says that at the moment, it’s proving quite difficult to answer that question.  However, he reminds us that exercise, like intermittent fasting, has many other benefits.

3 Possible Methods for Triggering Autophagy

Additional Advice on Naturally Addressing Loose Skin

If your primary interest in autophagy has to do with its potential role in addressing loose skin following weight loss, you may want to incorporate these other natural methods for resolving loose skin without plastic surgery.

A key aspect of doing so is improving skin elasticity. Without proper elasticity, your skin cannot adapt to physical changes such as weight loss. To maintain or enhance skin elasticity, you’ll need to sustain an adequate supply of collagen.

All the collagen in your body begins as procollagen. To make procollagen, your body uses two amino acids: glycine and proline. Certain nutrients have been shown to increase the rate at which your body produces those amino acids, such as vitamin C, copper, selenium, and zinc.

Citrus fruits, strawberries, bell peppers, and raw liver all contain high concentrations of vitamin C. Organ meats are generally high in copper, as are cashews, sesame seeds, lentils, and cocoa powder. You can get plenty of selenium from seafood (salmon in particular) and Brazil nuts, while oysters and red meat are rich in zinc.

Consuming foods high in glycine and proline themselves also boosts procollagen production. Good sources of glycine include gelatin as well as pork and chicken skin, while egg whites, dairy products, wheat germ, mushrooms, asparagus, and cabbage provide lots of proline.

Because your body needs a balanced supply of all the amino acids in order to effectively utilize them, you’ll also want to eat foods with overall high levels of amino acids, like:

  • Red meat
  • Poultry
  • Seafood
  • Legumes
  • Tofu

Interestingly, eating foods high in collagen, such as bone broth, is not necessarily the best way to raise levels in the body. That’s because when you consume protein, your body breaks it down into its component amino acids.

3 Possible Methods for Triggering Autophagy

How to Avoid Loose Skin After Weight Loss

Significant weight loss can result in loose, sagging skin. Studies show these 6 methods can help you avoid loose skin or minimize its appearance.

We tend to treat weight loss, particularly major weight loss, as the triumphant endpoint of a difficult journey. We divide weight-loss journeys into “Before” and “After,” often with a single photo representing the start and finish of that journey. However, this story only captures one aspect of what it’s like to lose weight. What often gets left out of weight-loss stories is that when you move from a higher body weight to a significantly lower one, you may experience other unwanted physical changes, such as loose skin. There is absolutely nothing wrong with embracing loose skin—as individuals like Kenzie Brenna, an actress, writer, and body-positivity activist, have publicly done—in fact, it’s an admirable goal and an indication of deep self-acceptance. That said, there’s also nothing wrong with wanting to learn how to avoid loose skin after weight loss.

For some people, loose skin can be damaging to their mental health and self-esteem. It can also be physically uncomfortable, particularly during physical exercise. Once you develop loose skin, it can be quite challenging to reverse without plastic surgery.

Less invasive options do exist, however, many of which are most effective when put in place preemptively. Before sharing eight ways you can avoid loose skin after weight loss, we’ll first cover some basic facts about the skin as well as risk factors that impact how likely you are to develop loose skin.

How Does Skin Function?

One of the pitfalls of the rapid loss of a lot of weight is the development of excess skin. A New York Times article covering a pioneering study that followed contestants from season eight of the popular TV show “The Biggest Loser” for 6 years after the series finale addressed this issue. Per the article, prior to the finale weigh-in during the show’s finale to determine the winner, contestants “dressed carefully to hide the rolls of loose skin that remained, to their surprise and horror, after they had lost weight. They wore compression undergarments to hold it in.”

In order to understand why rapid, significant weight loss so often results in loose skin, you must have a basic grasp of how skin functions.

The skin—which is the largest human organ—acts as a barrier to keep your body safe from viruses, fungi, bacteria, and other potentially harmful contaminants. Collagen and elastin, two proteins found in the second layer of the skin, (the dermis), allow it to stretch and contract as we move and grow.

As an individual gains weight, those proteins must continually stretch to allow the skin to adapt to that change. This can cause the fibers of those proteins to become weak and damaged. Thus, when significant weight-loss occurs, the elastin and collagen in the skin may not be readily able to contract.

“Skin stretches to form the shape of your body since it’s an ‘elastic’ organ,” Certified Exercise Physiologist Lizbeth Simancas summarized. “Your skin may not contract back to its smaller shape if weight is lost too quickly.” This can be seen most clearly for individuals who undergo bariatric surgery, but those who quickly lose a lot of weight through intense diet and exercise practices, like competitors on “Biggest Loser,” can experience this too.

The more weight is lost, the greater the demand on the skin’s previously overtaxed capacity for elasticity. And, therefore, the greater the likelihood of saggy skin post-weight loss.

What Factors Contribute to the Development of Loose Skin After Weight Loss?

Dr. Christine Choi Kim, medical and cosmetic dermatologist, underlines that fact that the skin is a living organ, and while it responds to weight gain by stretching and expanding, its ability to contract in response to weight loss is inherently more limited. Dr. Kim notes, too, that this ability to tighten depends on a number of factors, such as:

  • Age: The aging process often causes the skin to become less elastic, impairing its ability to tighten after weight loss.
  • Genetics: Some individuals are more prone to sagging skin as they grow older, regardless of weight loss.
  • Baseline strength of elastin and collagen proteins: As is the case when it comes to your genes and your age, you can’t control the impact your baseline skin elasticity will have on its ability to bounce back after you lose weight.
  • Degree of weight gain and loss: As touched on previously, the more weight you lose, and the shorter the period of time in which you lose it, the harder it will be for your skin to adapt.
  • Nutrient intake: To keep your skin healthy, you’ll need to provide it with a balanced intake of nutrients, particularly vitamins C and E and the substances that act as precursors for the development of collagen and elastin.
  • Sun exposure: While some degree of sun exposure is a healthy way to meet your body’s vitamin D needs, excess exposure can lead to skin damage.
  • Smoking history: Yet another reason to kick the habit, or avoid  cigarettes in the first place. A plethora of studies show that smoking speeds the normal aging process of your skin.

Understanding the factors that influence skin elasticity can help you avoid loose skin after weight loss. If possible, it’s best to address this issue preventatively as it’s far more difficult to tighten skin that has already begun to sag than it is to forestall the sagging.

According to Kim, “Excess skin can lead to embarrassment and a lack of satisfaction with your body image—even after significant weight loss.” Equip yourself with the knowledge you need to keep the triumph of achieving a major weight-loss goal from being marred by unexpected changes to your skin.

7 Factors That Contribute to the Development of Loose Skin

How to Avoid Loose Skin After Weight Loss

First, it’s important to be clear that there is no guaranteed way to avoid loose skin after weight loss. Depending on the amount of weight you lose, when you gained the weight and how long you carried it, as well as your skin’s baseline elasticity, some extra skin may be unavoidable. However, the experts say that the following 6 practices can help you avoid loose skin after weight loss, or minimize the appearance of existing excess skin.

1. Lose Weight Gradually

Perhaps the single most effective way to avoid loose skin after weight loss is to progress gradually toward your weight-loss goal. Slower weight loss makes it less arduous for skin to snap back into place.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends aiming to lose between 1 and 2 pounds per week. Not only will this make it easier for your skin to keep pace, but it also makes it less likely that you’ll regain the weight.

Furthermore, a study published in the International Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism found that losing weight slowly results in more favorable changes to body composition. Study participants were randomly divided into two groups—a rapid weight-loss group that followed a diet plan designed to produce a daily 1,000- to 1,500-calorie deficit and a slow weight-loss group whose diet produced an energy deficit of 500 to 750 calories daily.

While both protocols led to reductions in waist circumference, hip circumference, body fat mass, and more, individuals in the slow weight-loss group experienced more significant reductions to waist circumference, hip circumference, fat mass, and percentage of body fat, all of which are linked to improved health.

2. Engage in Regular Cardio and Strength Training Exercise

Adding exercise to your gradual weight-loss plan also increases the odds that your skin will be able to tighten up as your weight decreases.

Both strength training and cardio make important contributions. Cardio, or aerobic exercise, can be a highly effective way to burn calories, which will help you move toward your weight-loss goal. However, if you exclusively engage in cardio training, you may lose lean muscle mass also with fat, which can increase the appearance of saggy skin as well as adversely impact your metabolism.

Strength training, however, can help you build muscle, which in turn raises your metabolic rate. One of the factors that determines your basal metabolic rate (BMR), which accounts for the vast majority of the calories you burn each day, is the amount of lean muscle you have. Muscle tissue has higher energy (calorie) demands than fat while at rest, meaning that even when you’re not working out, having more muscles translates to a greater caloric expenditure. No matter what you weigh, the more muscle and the less fat you have, the higher your BMR.

“If you have more muscle, it burns fuel more rapidly,” stated Columbia University professor Michael Rosenbaum, who specializes in weight loss and metabolism. Rosenbaum cautions, though, that if you do succeed in speeding up your metabolism, “you have to fight the natural tendency to [want to] eat more as a result of your higher metabolism.”

Still, when taking the long view of your overall health, there are clearly more benefits to physical activity than drawbacks, including the fact that weight lifting and resistance training can minimize the appearance of existing loose skin by building muscles that will fill it out. If your goal is to look lean and toned rather than built and bulky, don’t worry, you won’t accidentally develop the physique of a bodybuilder—that requires a high level of intention and commitment.

3. Optimize Your Diet

In order to lose weight and ensure you don’t subsequently gain weight, it’s important to build a diet based on whole, minimally processed foods.

A 2017 clinical trial called the DIETFITS study (the acronym stands for “Diet intervention examining the factors interacting with treatment success) set out to identify factors that predispose individuals to experience greater success when following certain weight-loss diets so that experts can more effectively match patients with dietary interventions.

Interestingly, participants in both the low-fat and low-carbohydrate groups lost comparable amounts of weight. This drew attention among health practitioners reviewing the results to the elements that remained consistent between the two diets.

Both groups were encouraged to:

  • Focus on unprocessed, high-quality foods
  • Eat as many vegetables as possible
  • Prepare meals at home
  • Restrict or eliminate trans fats, added sugars, and refined carbohydrates, including flour

Participants also had regular sessions with dietitians and access to counseling to help them break emotional eating patterns.

The findings are quite encouraging. You don’t need to follow a complicated or overly restrictive diet in order to lose weight. Instead, you can use the principles described above, which leave plenty of room for shaping a diet that accounts for your personal preferences and lifestyle.

4. Stop Smoking

Research unequivocally shows that skin damage is among the many adverse effects of cigarette smoking. In fact, even secondhand smoke exposure has been shown to decrease collagen levels, increase inflammation, and fuel oxidative damage.

A study published in Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications found that when rats were exposed to cigarette smoke, collagen levels in their skin decreased significantly compared to control rats. The authors concluded that long-term secondhand smoke exposure would likely “affect the appearance of the skin [and] accelerate the skin aging process.”

If you’re serious about maximizing the elasticity of your skin, which you will need to do in order to prevent it from becoming loose or saggy, the decision is clear: stop smoking.

5. Try Firming Creams

If you have room in your budget and are looking for a way to immediately tighten loose skin, you may want to try firming creams.

The results of these products tend to be rather subtle, and most impactful when skin is also in need of hydration. These products often use retinoids or collagen as their active ingredient.

One of the ways retinoids work is by preventing free radical damage that negatively impacts skin tone. They can also speed up collagen production, which can boost the elasticity of the skin.

As you know, collagen is one of the key proteins that keeps your skin tight and firm. There’s some evidence that the topical application of collagen can temporarily improve the appearance of the skin, but collagen molecules are too large to be absorbed through the skin so the results will not be lasting.

A popular natural treatment, grapeseed oil, does have some scientific backing. A study published in Pharmacognosy Magazine looked at a number of herbal ingredients touted for their ability to increase skin’s elasticity and found that grapeseed did produce measurable changes to moisture levels, softness, and tightness.

6. Supplement Strategically

As wonderful as it would be if scientists could formulate a magic pill, or combination of supplements, that completely prevents or treats loose skin, that’s yet to be announced. In the meantime, an optimal supply of the following nutrients will ensure your skin has all the raw materials it needs to be maximally healthy.

While you might assume that collagen supplements would be on this list, it tends to be more effective to consume supplements that increase collagen production, such as vitamin C and certain amino acids.

Vitamin C

Scientists have confirmed that vitamin C has impressive abilities when it comes to stimulating collagen production.

A 2018 systematic review examined the efficacy of vitamin C supplementation as a means of promoting collagen synthesis, and found that not only did vitamin C increase collagen synthesis, but it also reduced oxidative stress. The authors also found no evidence of adverse side effects.

Furthermore, an article published in Nutrients in 2017 specifically touched on the impact of dietary vitamin C intake on skin sagging related to weight loss. According to the article, a higher intake of vitamin C can be linked to improved skin tightness.

Glycine

Collagen, one of the most abundant proteins not only in the skin, but also throughout the entire human body, contains between 2 and 10 amino acids. Glycine might be the most impactful of those. This simple, naturally occurring amino acid elevates collagen production, facilitates skin regeneration, and increases moisture retention.

Though your body produces its own glycine from other amino acids, it can be beneficial to increase your glycine intake, either by eating glycine-rich foods like red meat, poultry, fish, dairy products, and legumes or by taking a high-quality amino acid supplement.

Lysine

This essential amino acid plays a vital role in the function of your skin, ensuring that its supportive structures remain strong and intact. Our bodies also need lysine for collagen development, tissue repair, and other important physiological processes.

Good food sources of lysine include:

  • Meat
  • Poultry
  • Fish (especially cod and sardines)
  • Cheese (especially Parmesan)
  • Soy products
  • Spirulina
  • Fenugreek
  • Legumes
  • Nuts

6 Science-Backed Methods for Avoiding Loose Skin After Weight Loss

Losing a significant amount of weight, particularly if you do so after weight-loss surgery, or using another method to lose a lot of weight in a short period of time often causes loose skin to develop. Embracing this physical change is a viable and commendable option, but it’s equally valid to seek out ways to avoid loose skin after weight loss or to encourage skin to tighten.

There’s no one single skin tightening technique that can fully restore skin elasticity for each and every person; however, scientific findings indicate that using one or more of the methods described above will likely prevent or reduce the appearance of loose skin.

L-Phenylalanine: Weight-Loss Solution?

Discover the uses of L-phenylalanine for skin and mood disorders, as well as what it can do to help you achieve weight loss. We’re also covering the possible side effects of supplementation, and where to find phenylalanine from dietary sources.

If you’re looking for proven ways to support weight loss, you may have come across L-phenylalanine, an essential amino acid in your body that is important for muscle development and skin health. L-phenylalanine weight-loss studies are newer to the field, and people are naturally curious: how can L-phenylalanine help you lose weight? Read on to find out, along with its potential side effects and the natural food sources of L-phenylalanine.

What Is L-Phenylalanine?

Phenylalanine is an essential amino acid, and one of the building blocks of protein and the muscles in your body. Phenylalanine is considered “essential” because you need it to function, but your body cannot synthesize enough of it independently, so it must be consumed either from food or via phenylalanine supplementation.

There are two forms of phenylalanine, L-phenylalanine and D-phenylalanine. They are very nearly identical, but with slightly different structures. It’s the L-form molecule that is gained from foods and used to make new proteins in the body, while the D-form of phenylalanine may be used in various medical applications. L-phenylalanine can be found in both animal and plant sources of food.

Above the role phenylalanine plays in protein synthesis, it’s also important for producing other molecules in the body, several of which are important for signal transmission. Phenylalanine has also been the subject of clinical research on skin disorders (vitiligo), pain, and depression.

A note of caution: Phenylalanine is considered dangerous for those with phenylketonuria (PKU), a genetic disorder which causes phenylalanine levels to build up. For more information on possible side effects, skip to the end of this article.

Phenylalanine for Normal Functioning

Phenylalanine is principally needed for protein creation, and proteins are not just located in your muscles. Many proteins are at work in your blood, brain, and internal organs—basically all throughout your body. Even more valuable, phenylalanine is needed to make other important molecules, including:

  • Epinephrine and norepinephrine: These are the molecules that give you the “fight-or-flight” response to danger and stress.
  • TyrosineThis fellow amino acid directly results from phenylalanine, and is used to make protein or converted (if in excess) to the other molecules in this list.
  • DopamineThis molecule allows us to feel pleasure and happiness, and also plays a vital role in the development of our memory and learning skills. Basically every happy memory you have, you can thank dopamine for. 

Without proper functioning of these molecules, your health will be at risk, and phenylalanine is needed to make them. Not only that, medical application of phenylalanine can help treat specific medical conditions.

Phenylalanine for Certain Medical Conditions

Scientific studies have been performed to explore phenylalanine as a treatment for certain medical conditions. For instance, phenylalanine may help treat vitiligo, a skin condition that causes pigmentation loss and the appearance of blotchy patches on the body. Phenylalanine supplements have been studied in conjunction with ultraviolet (UV) light exposure to treat this pigmentation disorder.

Phenylalanine’s ability to produce dopamine has been applied to instances of depression, which is a mood disorder often associated with dopamine dysfunction. Both L- and D-forms of phenylalanine have been studied for treating depression. According to a study published in the Journal of Neural Transmission, of 12 participants with depression, two-thirds showed improvement after receiving a mixture of L- and D-phenylalanine.

Alongside vitiligo treatment and anti-depressant application, phenylalanine has also been studied for use in the following conditions.

  • Parkinson’s diseaseThere is evidence that phenylalanine could be beneficial in treating the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, though more research is required.
  • Alcohol withdrawalPhenylalanine, along with some fellow amino acids, has shown indications that it could be useful in treating alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
  • Chronic painD-phenylalanine may help with pain relief in certain instances (like low back pain), though so far research results are still spotty and not all of the studies produced results with statistical significance.

L-phenylalanine supplements for weight loss. Do they work?

L-Phenylalanine: Weight-Loss Applications

As a dietary supplement, L-phenylalanine may help with weight loss in a couple of ways. First the hormone cholecystokinin (CCK), which is stimulated by L-phenylalanine, may act as an appetite suppressant and thus lead to lower calorie consumption throughout the day. It’s been difficult so far for scientists to pin down whether the consumption of more L-phenylalanine will directly impact CCK production, but it is a weight-loss link that is being explored.

L-phenylalanine’s direct impact on dopamine via L-tyrosine’s weight-loss influence has more evidence to back it up. Because dopamine is responsible for feelings of pleasure (the kind you may get from eating your favorite dessert, for instance), regulating dopamine levels can be beneficial in the treatment of obesity. If L-phenylalanine can be used to keep your tyrosine and thus dopamine levels high while you go on a diet (and cut your usual dopamine supply), it may help reduce food cravings and lead to more sustainable weight loss.

Phenylalanine is also considered a ketogenic amino acid along with tryptophan, tyrosine, isoleucine, threonine, and lysine and leucine (which are exclusively ketogenic, as opposed to the glucogenic amino acids). Phenylalanine is a switch-hitter, and can operate both as a glucogenic (for synthesizing glucose, or sugar) or ketogenic (for synthesizing ketone bodies, or fat burners). Those looking to start a ketogenic diet to lose weight may find amino acid supplementation all the more useful in achieving fast and healthy weight loss.

Possible Side Effects of Phenylalanine Supplementation

It’s “generally recognized as safe” to take L-phenylalanine according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). And various studies suggest no adverse side effects reported for supplementation within 23–45 milligrams per pound of body weight. Still there are still some people who should not take L-phenylalanine.

Pregnant women are advised to avoid it, as are those with the disorder PKU who are genetically unable to properly process phenylalanine and usually are directed to eat a low-protein diet throughout their lives.

For otherwise healthy individuals, phenylalanine is still essential, and can easily be gained from eating foods high in phenylalanine. For those interested in taking it as a nutritional supplement, consult a health care professional for medical advice before adding it to your routine.

Foods High in Phenylalanine

For food sources of phenylalanine, you can choose from both animal and plant products.

  • Animal sources of phenylalanine: Eggs, certain meats like seafood (cod), and Parmesan cheese.
  • Plant sources of phenylalanine: Soy products, seaweed, nuts, and seeds (particularly squash and pumpkin seeds).

Eating a nutritious variety of protein-rich foods should effortlessly provide you with plenty of phenylalanine, as well as the other essential amino acids.

Phenomenal Phenylalanine

L-phenylalanine is the essential amino acid that can help regulate depression, pain, skin disorders, and weight loss if applied properly as a supplement. Otherwise gaining phenylalanine from a normal diet is essential for your overall health and well-being.

Unexplained Weight Loss: What Could It Mean?

Unexplained weight loss could be due to dangerous underlying causes, from infections, to disorders, to conditions as serious as congestive heart failure and cancer. 

Under normal circumstances, people have to work hard to control their weight, whether they’re trying to slim down or bulk up. Sudden, noticeable, weight loss is often a symptom of an underlying health concern, and unexplained weight loss is even more worrying, as it could be an indication that something is wrong with your body, but is currently undiagnosed. This article will detail some of the usual suspects behind unintentional weight loss, so you can better understand how important it is to identify the underlying cause.

How Much Weight Loss Is Concerning?

It’s common to fluctuate between 1-3 pounds per day according to your scale; those are just the vagaries of water weight. However, a loss of 10 pounds or more (or 5% of your body weight) over a 6-12 month period with no known reason warrants concern. If you’ve changed your habits, changed your diet, or undergone a change in life that could explain the reduction in weight, then it may not be that unusual, but you may benefit from asking yourself some questions.

  • Did you start a new job?
  • Did you move to a new area?
  • Are you under some known form of stress (whether happy or unfortunate—i.e. planning a wedding or caring for a sick loved one).
  • Has there been a change in your relationship status?

It’s important to know, because while this sort of steady weight loss would be welcome if you’d changed your diet with the intention to lose weight (by transitioning from processed to whole foods for example), if no alterations to your diet or lifestyle have been made and your weight has still gone down this dramatically, there may be some serious underlying reasons.

Losing Weight Without Trying: Am I Sick?

Unexplained weight loss could be the first sign of sickness, yes. You should contact a doctor or health care professional right away to seek evaluation, as the causes for unexplained weight loss can be quite serious, from infections, to thyroid issues, to the terrifying prospect of cancer (but please don’t go to the extreme scenario…just go to a doctor!).

The good news is that doctors quickly find the cause of abnormal weight loss in over 75% of cases. In fact, even if you think you know the cause, something like general stress and anxiety could be masking a physical health problem, and you should make an appointment to be sure this weight loss isn’t caused by a combination of issues or that it isn’t taxing your health in other ways.

If the first examination isn’t thorough enough, seek a second opinion to rule out other causes. Blood tests, a urinalysis, a thyroid panel, liver and kidney function tests, a blood sugar test, or imaging studies may need to be done to make sure there are no red flags in your health profile.

Your doctor may ask:

  • Have you made any changes in your exercise or diet recently?
  • Has this sort of weight loss ever happened to you before?
  • Do you have any dental problems or mouth sores that could impede your ability to eat normally?
  • Is there a history of any particular illness that runs in your family?
  • Do you have any other concerning symptoms (palpitations, excessive thirst, sensitivity to heat or cold, a persistent cough, shortness of breath)?

Consider your overall health as you prepare for your appointment, so you can make sure your doctor is informed of any symptom that might be relevant to your condition.

Why Diagnosis Is Important

There are many medical conditions that might lead to unintentional weight loss. The American Cancer Society points out that 50% of all cancer patients have a form of cancer cachexia, a wasting syndrome that involves unintentional weight loss and brings on the death of about 20% of cancer patients.

It is the same with cardiac events. One study explicitly states, “Unintentional weight loss was an independent predictor of poor outcomes.” Unintentional weight loss brings about higher morbidity, mortality, and bodes ill for anyone already battling a disease. That is why identifying and treating unexplained weight loss is so important, especially in older adults (above age 65), who are all the more at risk of serious consequences from any sudden change in health.

Possible Causes of Unexplained Weight Loss

We’ll now run down some of the common causes of unintentional or abnormal weight loss.

Unexplained weight loss: possible underlying causes.

Endocrine Conditions

Endocrine conditions include hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid), hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid), diabetes, and Addison’s disease (wherein the adrenal glands don’t produce enough hormones). The thyroid gland is located in your neck, is somewhat butterfly-shaped, and controls your metabolism. An issue with the thyroid gland could be accompanied by heart palpitations, and if type 2 diabetes is at play, you’re likely to experience increased thirst and excessive urination as your body tries to expel all the glucose it can’t absorb.

Infections

Infections include anything from parasites, bacterial infections, and viruses (which HIV/AIDS patients are more susceptible to), along with conditions like endocarditis (an infection of the heart valves), or tuberculosis (an infection of the lungs). In these instances, your body is losing weight because it is using all of its resources to fight off an invasion.

Cancer

Weight loss can sometimes be one of the earliest symptoms of cancer, such as from lung cancer, ovarian cancer, colon cancer, pancreatic cancer, or blood-related cancers like lymphomas and leukemias. About 40% of cancer patients report having experienced weight loss around the time of their diagnosis, and studies have shown that unintentional weight loss is the second highest predictor for certain cancers. Weight loss often occurs as a result of cancer due to the body’s nourishing efforts being hijacked to support an abnormal tumor growth. Doctors will often check first for tumors in the bowels, colon, and esophagus, which can impede swallowing and quickly contribute to unintentional weight loss.

Intestinal Conditions

Conditions like celiac disease, peptic ulcer disease, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and pancreatitis can lead to unexplained weight loss in those who have yet to be diagnosed.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder wherein the small intestine is damaged by gluten intake, leading to GI symptoms like diarrhea and bloating. According to the Mayo Clinic, when the immune system sees gluten as a threat, it reacts, and that reaction means your body doesn’t have a chance to absorb its nutrients properly. Likewise, in an inflammatory bowel disease like Crohn’s, the body’s reaction leads to malabsorption and unexplained loss of weight.

Those with chronic pancreatitis lose weight due to the fact that their body cannot produce enough digestive enzymes to properly break down food (and this may come with nausea, particularly from eating fatty foods).

Heart Failure

Congestive heart failure may cause weight loss due to a lack of sufficient blood flow to the GI tract. In a 2014 study researchers observed that those who had the most dramatic unintentional weight loss were indeed those who had the lowest blood flow to their intestines. Inadequate blood flow makes it harder to absorb nutrients, and the nausea and fatigue associated with congestive heart failure could lead to a loss of appetite.

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders like bulimia and anorexia nervosa can cause dangerous weight loss, and while it might not be a completely unknown cause to the person suffering from the condition, it can be an indicator to a loved one or parent that something is wrong. Moreover, because of the nature of body dysmorphia, those coping with these eating disorders may not fully realize just how significant their weight loss is until it starts causing other health symptoms due to malnutrition.

Psychological Conditions

Depression and anxiety disorders often come with loss of appetite as a side effect, and can be an underlying cause of unexplained weight loss. It often goes unnoticed until the weight loss is significant enough, and will involve a different sort of diagnosis, as these are not conditions that can be found via imaging scan or blood test.

Drug Abuse

Be they extralegally obtained drugs or prescription medications, drug dependence can alter your body’s metabolic and digestive processes, and change your eating habits. Side effects from medications could lead to nausea, loss of appetite, or laxative effects that can contribute to unintentional weight loss as well.

Neurological Conditions

Unintentional weight loss is frequently seen in those with Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s. This is possibly due to the increased energy expense of rigidity, tremors, or dyskinesia (involuntary movements) associated with Parkinson’s, or the reduced energy intake due to poor health, stress, or the side effects of medication.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

When the immune system causes inflammatory reactions in healthy tissues, as in those with rheumatoid arthritis, it can also lead to a loss of appetite or an inflammation of the gut that interrupts nutrient absorption.

Reproductive Issues

Unexplained weight loss during menopause is unnatural, as it’s more common that menopause cause weight gain in women experiencing the change. Unintentional weight loss surrounding menopause could indicate that the changes in hormones has caused or made you susceptible to some other condition (stress, diabetes).

Likewise, unexplained weight loss during pregnancy is the opposite of the normal course of order. In the first few months, a loss of appetite due to morning sickness could be the culprit behind unintentional weight loss, but excessive weight loss could be a sign of a thyroid dysfunction or hyperemesis, a pregnancy complication that entails vomiting, severe nausea, dehydration, and weight loss. Your obstetrician should be made aware of any such symptoms.

An Explanation Is Necessary

Unknown causes of weight loss include a lot of scary and potentially life-threatening concerns. It’s normal for your weight to fluctuate by a few pounds here or there throughout the course of the year, but if you cannot determine a cause for sudden, steady weight loss, it’s important to consult with a medical professional and investigate: in fact, it could save your life.

Autophagy and Fasting: What Does the Science Say?

Autophagy is the body’s recycling program, which can be triggered by intermittent fasting. Autophagy is key in removing the toxins associated with neurodegenerative diseases, reusing residual proteins for energy and repair, and prompting the regeneration of cells throughout our bodies.

This article will discuss what autophagy fasting is, how it works, and whether or not the science backs up this practice.

What Is Autophagy?

We’ll start with the definition of autophagy: “auto” meaning “self” and “phagy” meaning “eats” tells you that the literal translation of autophagy is “self-eating.” That sounds scarier than the reality—we’re not talking about some flesh-eating bacteria or even the more common sort of self-cannibalization that our bodies do to our muscles when in need of energy, catabolizing.

Autophagy is more like a recycling program, or cutting your hair to keep it healthy and free of split-ends. It’s the body’s process of clearing out damaged cells so that it can regenerate new and healthier cells in their place. It’s almost like the internal equivalent of the exfoliating we do outside to keep our skin healthy.

The Details of Autophagy

Autophagy is a highly regulated process that delivers cellular waste material to lysosomes to be degraded, recycled, and then used to generate molecules to fuel cellular metabolism. For the specifics: scientist and Nobel prize winner Christian de Duve coined the term autophagy in 1962, when researchers discovered an increased amount of lysosomes in rat liver cells after an infusion of glucagon. It was also discovered that autophagy is regulated in part by the kinase mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR), which promotes or represses autophagy as needed.

Autophagy and fasting: your body's recycling program.

What Does Autophagy Do?

The normal process of autophagy impacts your body and your health in various ways.

Promotes Metabolic Efficiency

The dysregulation of autophagy may contribute to developing metabolic disorders like insulin resistance, obesity, diabetes mellitus, osteoporosis, and atherosclerosis. From the very cellular level, autophagy can be used to improve the efficiency of mitochondria. The mitochondria in cells are the energy-makers, and the process of autophagy feeds them proteins from damaged cells that would otherwise either go to waste, or clog up other processes in the body.

Assists Against Neurodegenerative Disorders

In cases of Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and Huntington’s disease, selective autophagy can help clean up the specific proteins that form in and around the brain’s neurons and result in neurodegenerative symptoms. While autophagy was previously thought of as a nonselective process of digestion, it’s now understood that autophagy receptors make this a selective process, involving a cellular form of quality control.

Fights Infectious Disease

One of the central functions of autophagy is to control infections. It removes the toxins that create infections and helps your immune system adapt its response to infection. Viruses as well as intracellular microorganisms and bacteria can be removed via autophagy.

Improves Muscle Performance

The oxidative stress placed on our cells during exercise can trigger instances of autophagy to help remove some of the damaged cellular debris and support our energy needs. Autophagy is necessary for exercise-induced muscle adaptation and the improvement of physical performance.

Prevents Cancer Growth

This is a double-edged sword, because while autophagy can clean up the damaged DNA and chronic inflammatory aspects of cancer development, some forms of cancer will attempt to usurp the process and use it to a detrimental advantage. Regulating the autophagy pathway is important for inhibiting cancer growth.

What Is Autophagy from Fasting?

Autophagy via fasting occurs when you take the reins of autophagy by carefully controlling your dietary intake. This is usually done in an attempt to trigger safe yet fast weight loss. Here are two types of dieting that can bring about targeted autophagy.

Autophagy via Intermittent Fasting

Stressing your cells is a quick way to turn on the autophagy process in your body, but you don’t want to overly stress your body for too long lest the cure be worse than the cold. Intermittent fasting can create a useful nutrient deprivation in your cells, just as exercising will create a certain amount of oxidative stress to purposefully trigger your repair mechanisms into building muscle.

Intermittent fasting is not so much a diet as a pattern of eating, with daily short-term fasting of 16 hours, or longer fasts of 24 hours twice a week. How long until autophagy from fasting begins? It begins whenever your liver glycogen depletes, which occurs between 12-16 hours into a fast. This isn’t a deprivation so much as a return to the eating pattern humans evolved to survive under when we didn’t have supermarkets open 24/7. Intermittent fasting in that sense is more natural than eating three square meals a day, and can lead to long-term, sustainable weight loss, as well as better overall health when practiced…well, intermittently.

Autophagy via Ketosis

The ketogenic diet (or keto diet) is another way to get the benefits of fasting without actually fasting. This high-fat, low-carb diet breaks down to about 75% of your daily calories from fat, 20% from protein, and 5% from carbohydrates.

By putting a caloric restriction on carbs, you end up shifting your body’s go-to source of energy from quick glucose to fat. That fat burning starts first with the fat you eat, and then quickly turns to burning the fat stores already on your body for a reliable energy source. This produces ketone bodies that bring protective effects, and research suggests that ketosis can also bring about periods of autophagy, which has its own health benefits for the body.

Autophagy via Exercise

Exercise is a non-diet-related way of inducing autophagy. An animal study suggests that physical exercise may bring about autophagy in specific organs that are involved in metabolic regulation, namely the pancreas, liver, adipose tissue, and muscles.

Adding intermittent fasting and regular exercise to your lifestyle is an excellent way to stimulate autophagy in your body. To make sure you have the ability to build muscle while fasting or utilizing calorie restrictions, you may want to supplement with a full host of the amino acids necessary for protein synthesis. That way the required ingredients for new muscle are never out of balance.

The Potential Benefits of Autophagy

Autophagy is the body’s way of replacing old cells with new and younger ones, a regeneration effect that can help optimize our lifespans. As with any process in the body, autophagy declines as we age—waste accumulates and the regeneration rate decreases. This invariably leads to many symptoms of aging, which is why targeted autophagy fasting is so appealing.

Autophagy and Anti-Aging Potential

The benefits of autophagy are still being explored by scientists for its anti-aging potential, from the cellular level of the brain to the surface level of the skin. Those looking to employ autophagy via fasting to the loose skin left over after dramatic weight loss can find hope in studies suggesting that the slowing of natural autophagy is associated with a deterioration of dermal integrity, and that the fibroblasts that produce collagen (which keeps our skin youthful and pliable) suffer when autophagy decreases as we age. It stands to reason that if our collagen-producing fibroblasts get clogged due to a lack of autophagy, a targeted increase in autophagy frequency can free them up again, thus preventing and counteracting the aging of our skin.

Autophagy and Anti-Cancer Potential

The buildup of cellular waste affects our bodies from surface to core, as discussed previously with neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s. Fasting and autophagy applied to cancer treatment have been shown to inhibit tumor growth. Autophagy fasting is still being fully explored by researchers hoping to prevent cancers from forming via the clean-up efforts of autophagy.

Some studies indicate that cancerous cells can be detected and destroyed through autophagy, before they can proliferate and start using the body’s processes against itself. Targeted use of autophagy, and keeping that process from being hijacked by cancers, may lead to new therapies for cancer treatment.

Fasting for Autophagy

Autophagy is our body’s recycling program, beneficial in removing the toxins associated with neurodegenerative diseases, reusing residual proteins for energy and repair, and prompting the regeneration of new and healthy cells throughout our bodies. On a cellular level, it’s like a regeneration episode of Doctor Who, but instead of science fiction, this process is science fact, and you have the ability to use it to your health’s advantage via targeted fasting.

Most Popular Supplements for Muscle Growth

Learn the chemistry behind the traditional top supplements for muscle growth, and find out about the newest and most comprehensive supplement that’s about to revolutionize muscle building.

If you’re looking for supplements for muscle growth, you’ve probably already noticed that it’s a pretty crowded field. Different proteins and combinations and timing strategies get discussed, and before you know it you feel like you need about half a degree in chemistry just to build muscle at the gym! We’re streamlining the relevant information on muscle-building supplements, their pros and cons, so you can decide on the best supplements for your own fitness goals. If you’re in a rush, skip to the end, because there’s a new supplemental option that combines the best muscle growth nutrients you’ve ever known, all in one complete, balanced formula that will best all the rest. Read through to learn about the ideal muscle-building combo, a powerful protein trinity.

The First Steps Towards Muscle Building

Getting the most out of your workout involves taking a few first steps before you can start targeting muscle gain specifically. The first steps after taking up regular exercise are:

While supplements are not mandatory to reach these goals, they can be excellent aids to quicken your progress and maximize your protein intake without bringing unpredictable calories to your diet. Next up we’ll discuss the top supplements for muscle growth that you can choose from when attempting to gain muscle mass, and reveal a cutting-edge, scientifically-backed newcomer to the muscle-building supplement world.

Traditional Top Supplements for Muscle Growth

Over and above eating well and lifting weights, here are some protein and muscle-building supplements you can use to augment your workout goals, some of them more effective than others.

Top supplements for muscle growth and bodybuilding.

Carnitine

Carnitine is the general term for a group of amino acid compounds that include L-carnitine, acetyl-L-carnitine, and propionyl-L-carnitine. Carnitine is a transporter that moves long-chain fatty acids into mitochondria, where they’re oxidized or burned for energy.

A popular supplement for fat-loss, carnitine can also aid muscle growth by increasing blood flow to muscles, lessening muscle soreness, and increasing nitric oxide production, all of which improve your post-workout recovery. The combination of these benefits makes carnitine a strong asset for energy-boosting while you’re building muscles through exercise, especially when utilized in pre-workout and post-workout shakes. Though it doesn’t directly contribute to muscle building, it does provide valuable energy assistance, and improves performance during endurance athletics.

Pros

  • Aids athletic endurance by providing energy transport.
  • Helps ease muscle soreness and improve post-workout recovery.

Cons

  • Does not directly increase muscle, but instead aids in workout energy.
  • Carnitine is only a peripheral aid to individuals working to build muscle via exercise.
  • Carnitine would need to be taken alongside direct protein or amino acid supplements to be most effective.

Whey Protein Powder

A milk protein derived from whey, which is the watery part of milk that separates from the curd, whey protein is an excellent supplement affecting protein synthesis. With a high level of branched-chain amino acids or BCAAs, and including some amount of all nine essential amino acids (EAAs), this protein supplement digests relatively quickly and can help with rapid muscle building.

Whey protein can help increase blood flow due to its content of peptides, and is regularly consumed by bodybuilders immediately after their training sessions (within the hour). When choosing a whey protein, it’s recommended that you find a powder containing whey protein hydrolysates, which are proteins broken down for faster digestion.

Pros

  • Whey protein is a complete protein, containing all nine essential amino acids.
  • Whey protein is high in the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs).

Cons

  • While whey protein is a fast-absorbing whole protein, free-form amino acids can be absorbed much more quickly.
  • Whey protein’s amino acid content is not optimally balanced, and a properly formulated essential amino acid supplement can have 3 times the effectiveness rate as a whey protein powder supplement alone.

Glutamine

Glutamine is an amino acid that not only helps build muscles by increasing the levels of the essential amino acid leucine in muscle fibers, but it also helps fight against muscle breakdown, and has been shown to play a significant role in protein synthesis.

Incidentally, glutamine can also be recommended for those with digestion issues (diarrhea or constipation), anxiety, cravings for sugar and/or alcohol, and those with poor wound healing.

Pros

  • Valuable as a precursor to the essential amino acid leucine.

Cons

  • Glutamine aids only one of the nine essential amino acids needed for muscle building, and so is far from being the most effective muscle-building supplement.
  • Glutamine is unnecessary if you’re taking a complete blend of essential amino acids.

Casein Protein Powder

Casein is the other milk protein that is derived from the curd of the milk and not the whey. Casein has a slower digestion rate than whey protein does, which makes it an excellent protein to take before bed, as it digests while you sleep and helps to prevent catabolism (which is to say destructive metabolism, a kind of self-cannibalism the body sometimes resorts to for energy).

Because increased calorie intake is also needed to build muscle, casein can help by being less filling than whey, allowing you to consume more alongside it. However, it’s also suggested that taking a combination of whey (or better yet free-form essential amino acids…read on!) and casein after a workout can help with muscle protein synthesis better than taking either one of them alone. Be advised that a casein protein product with micellar casein is the slowest-digesting form of casein readily available, and is your best bet when buying it as a supplement.

Pros

  • Casein protein has a slower digestion rate than whey, which can help prevent catabolism during sleep.

Cons

  • Works best when combined with stronger protein supplements like whey protein or free-form essential amino acids.

Beta-Alanine and Carnosine

Beta-alanine, an amino acid and key component of the dipeptide carnosine, aids in increasing carnosine levels and thus heightening muscle strength and muscle endurance. Higher levels of carnosine also increase the force of muscle contractions, and combining it with creatine (next on the list) has the greatest effect on losing body fat and gaining lean tissue, as was seen when the two were studied during a 10-week resistance training program conducted with collegiate football players.

Pros

  • Carnosine contributes to muscle endurance, leading to more powerful workouts, which can then translate to increased muscle.

Cons

  • Carnosine does not directly build muscle, but instead helps aid in workout endurance.
  • Carnosine is most effective in combination with proteins like creatine or free-form amino acids, and so is best as peripheral support for muscle building.

Creatine

Popularized as a workout supplement in the 1970s, creatine is made up of three amino acids—glycine, arginine, and methionine—and is vital for supplying the energy for muscular contraction. Creatine can be found in the forms reatine alpha-ketoglutarate (AKG), creatine monohydrate, and creatine malate. Creatine has been shown to increase the levels of insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) in resistance-exercise training, which is essential for stimulating muscle growth.

Creatine is converted to phosphocreatine (CP) in the body, which then provides energy for explosive exertions like heavy weight lifting or sprinting. The creatine-phosphocreatine system provides an increase in energy supplied to muscle cells when your body is using more ATP (adenosine triphosphate) than is being regenerated in the cells’ mitochondria. This increases your athletic endurance.

Pros

  • Provides energy for increased exercise performance, especially when you’re using more ATP than the mitochondria of your muscle cells can regenerate.
  • Creatine helps stimulate muscle growth.

Cons

  • Creatine is not most effective when taken alone, but is instead at its best when paired with an essential amino acid (EAA) supplement, where it will help provide the energy needed for increased muscle protein synthesis.

Nitric Oxide Boosters (Arginine)

Nitric oxide (NO) in the body serves to dilate blood vessels, thus allowing better blood flow to muscles, providing them with energy, nutrients, water, anabolic hormones, and oxygen—everything your muscles need to function, grow, and thrive. Nitric oxide boosters do not contain nitric oxide, but instead provide it via the amino acid arginine, which the body converts into nitric oxide.

Arginine supplements are often marketed based on their association with muscle growth, increased muscle strength, and loss of bodyweight. However, we recommend supplementing with citrulline to increase arginine, as arginine supplements don’t produce significant increases in blood arginine concentrations due to the liver‘s effectiveness at clearing absorbed arginine. Citrulline, on the other hand, is converted into arginine by the kidneys, and the arginine is then released into the bloodstream; this more effectively increases your arginine levels. Additionally, there are no adverse effects associated with citrulline supplementation, while arginine consumption can sometimes lead to gastrointestinal discomfort.

Pros

  • Arginine in the bloodstream leads to more readily available amounts of nitric oxide, essential for muscle functioning.

Cons

  • Counterintuitively, arginine supplements are often ineffective at supplying useable arginine to the bloodstream.
  • Instead citrulline is recommended to supplement for an effective increase in arginine, and can be taken alongside or included in EAA and protein supplements for optimal muscle performance.

ZMA (Zinc, Magnesium Aspartate, Vitamin B6)

Supplementing the minerals zinc and magnesium aspartate along with vitamin B6 is sometimes important to bodybuilders because they become depleted during intense training and need to be specifically replaced. These nutrients are necessary for maintaining proper sleep and hormone levels, as testosterone particularly can be compromised by intensive training.

Athletes who take ZMA have been shown to have increased levels of IGF-1 and testosterone, both of which have an influence on muscle gains. ZMA is recommended to be taken before bed on an empty stomach, to allow for better uptake and to help improve sleep quality and the muscle recovery that sleep provides.

Pros

  • Can help correct vitamin and mineral deficiency caused by intensive weight training.

Cons

  • ZMA supplementation does not lead to direct muscle growth, but can be taken as needed alongside free-form amino acids or traditional protein contributions like whey or creatine, depending on your workout style and your body’s needs.
  • Not everyone will need the extra supplementation of ZMA.

HMB (Beta-hydroxy beta-methylbutyrate)

Beta-hydroxy beta-methylbutyrate or HMB is a molecule derived from the processing of the essential amino acid leucine, and helps protect against muscle protein breakdown. HMB is often recommended only for those who are beginning weight-training exercises, as the scientific results seen in those who are more experienced with muscle training are less significant. This is due to the fact that HMB is heavily reliant on a steady and abundant supply of EAAs to be effective. When the EAA supply dips down, so does the effectiveness of HMB; it cannot work alone.

Pros

  • HMB supplementation can be good for resisting extreme catabolic states, such as in individuals with critical wasting illnesses.

Cons

  • HMB without an excess supply of EAAs is only marginally effective.
  • EAA supplementation is also needed to derive maximum benefits from HMB supplementation.

Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)

The branched-chain amino acids are a subcategory of essential amino acids, and are designated by the molecular structure of leucine, isoleucine, and valine. BCAAs make up 14% of the amino acids that reside in your muscles, and it’s been shown that taking a supplement of BCAAs during resistance-training exercise increases muscle strength, fat loss, and lean mass.

However, while research shows that leucine in particular stimulates muscle protein synthesis, and that together these three amino acids diminish cortisol (a catabolic hormone), increase energy, and reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness, BCAAs when consumed alone are not fully effective. All nine essential amino acids are needed to make new muscle, and in fact, the the rate of muscle protein synthesis is directly affected by the availability of all your essential amino acids—the more you have, the faster your rate of muscle synthesis, and the fewer you have, the slower the rate. Because of this, research actually shows that BCAAs when taken alone have little to no effect on the rate of muscle protein synthesis in humans.

Pros

  • BCAAs are valuable amino acids that can be taken to help some aspects of muscle building.

Cons

  • BCAAs are only three of the nine essential amino acids, and all essentials are needed to create new muscle.
  • BCAAs have little to no effect on muscle protein synthesis when taken alone.

An Essential Amino Acid (EAA) Blend: The New Top Muscle Growth Supplement

If BCAAs ever sounded good, you’ll probably be more interested in a complete EAA supplement. Our unique EAA supplement is an ideally proportioned blend that combines the strengths of whey protein, creatine, and the eight essential amino acids that contribute directly to muscle growth. With our EAA blend, you’ll not only get the BCAAs mentioned above, but also a full cocktail essential amino acid supplement. It contains the key factors that make whey protein and creatine effective too, giving you the best of every top effective traditional supplement on the market.

EAAs and Muscle Protein Synthesis

The human body is made up of about 20% protein, and amino acids are used to form our muscles, tissues, and organs (not to mention the hormones needed for cognitive and physiological function). The key to our muscle-building product that helps make it more effective than other supplements, and even some dietary sources of essential amino acids, is its absorption rate and digestibility.

The EAAs derived from dietary proteins have to be digested first and then absorbed, while free-form amino acids are absorbed more quickly and completely. With eight of the nine essential amino acids (minus tryptophan which is not necessary to supplement for muscle protein synthesis), the amounts of EAAs are maximized more than any naturally occurring protein can deliver.

EAAs with Whey Protein’s Support

While free-form EAAs provide faster absorption, an intact protein like whey provides for a longer absorption period, sustaining the supply of EAAs after the rapid absorption of the free-form EAAs. Designed to work in concert with one another, our muscle-growth supplement combines its EAA profile with a balanced inclusion of whey protein for steady, ongoing support of muscle protein synthesis.

EAAs and Creatine’s Energy

Because creatine-phosphate provides the energy for sudden bursts of physical activity like lifting heavy weights or sprinting, it’s included in the Amino Co.’s technology to provide the energy needed to convert EAAs into muscle via muscle protein synthesis. Instead of waiting for the mitochondria of muscle cells to metabolize ATP for energy, creatine covers the time gap when needed, completing the full circle required for ideal muscle building: the rapid essential ingredients, the long-haul supply, and the energy to put them to use.

The Amino Company Advantage

Our product is a unique, patent-pending blend of essential amino acids, whey protein, and creatine that outperforms all other supplements in increasing muscle mass. Good for increasing strength in the elderly and easy to include in drinks or smoothies, Amino Co. supplements are scientifically proven to be effective in muscle protein synthesis over any other supplement, food, or protein choice currently available.

The ABCs of Muscle Growth

On a first glance at muscle growth supplements, it looks like an alphabet soup of vitamins and molecules and chemistry notes, but the more knowledgeable you become about your own body’s strengths and needs, the closer you’ll approach a PhD’s level of understanding when it comes to which supplements best support your goals. Effectiveness is key, bolstered by practical results that can be not only felt, but also scientifically proven. In the end, you can see which supplement brings you the greatest value.

The strongest performers from the traditional list of muscle growth supplements have been brought forward to the new frontier: an EAA blend that brings the best of everything essential to building and maintaining new muscle. The Amino Company provides the full circle of quick, long-lasting, and energized EAAs for muscle building. When you take our unique blend, you’re guaranteed to have an optimally balanced formula designed specifically for human muscle growth (and not lab animals). With the Amino Co. on your team, you can reach higher heights of strength faster and more effectively than ever before!

Best Amino Acids for the Ketogenic Diet: Which Ketogenic Amino Acids Should You Be Eating?

The value of a ketogenic diet? To burn fat rather than just lose weight on the scale. The core question: in what foods can the six essential ketogenic amino acids be found?

The value of a ketogenic diet? To burn fat rather than just lose weight on the scale. Beginners at dieting often attempt to lose weight with short-term crash diets, which put the body in starvation mode and cause it to stockpile more fat as soon as possible (an evolutionary protection against times of famine). Conversely, the ketogenic diet puts the body into more of a sustainability mode, a stable way to reduce and optimize calorie intake, while focusing on foods that provide the essential amino acids for the ketogenic conversion of fat into energy.

So which ketogenic amino acids should you be eating, and where can you find them?

Amino Acids: the Fat Burning, the Sugar Forming, and the Switch Hitters

The building blocks of protein, amino acids can be categorized as exclusively ketogenic, exclusively glucogenic, or like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: radically both. This is based on the end products produced during amino acid metabolism.

Essential amino acids for the ketogenic diet.

As you can see, the predominant category is the glucogenic group, with 13 amino acids. The carbon skeletons that result from the breakdown of glucogenic amino acids can be used via gluconeogenesis to synthesize glucose, simple sugar and an important energy source found in many carbohydrates. These are not the amino acids that will derive energy from your body’s pre-existing fat stores.

The second largest category contains five amino acids, the switch hitters that when catabolized can yield both glucogenic and ketogenic products.

Exclusively ketogenic amino acids are just that: exclusive. Lysine and leucine are the only two amino acids that produce Acetyl CoA or Acetoacetyl CoA without any glucogenic byproducts.

Acetyl CoA (the precursor of ketone bodies) and Acetoacetyl CoA are the first steps of the Krebs Cycle of energy production, which combines glycolysis and pyruvate oxidation with the citric acid cycle (which itself includes α-ketoglutarate, succinyl CoA, fumarate, and oxaloacetate—all byproducts of glucogenic amino acids). To access citrate synthase, the catalyst of this cycle, without glucose or carbohydrates is the value of ketogenic amino acids: it’s like buying the product you need without bringing home any unnecessary or harmful packaging around it.

Acid Eater: the Amino Acids Essential to a Ketogenic Diet

Classes of amino acids can be further categorized as essential vs. nonessential, essential being the ones you must eat to obtain, and nonessential being those that naturally occur in the body, and are not reliant on the food you eat.

Nonessential amino acids:

  • Asparagine
  • Alanine
  • Glutamic acid
  • Aspartic acid

Essential amino acids:

  • Histidine
  • Valine
  • Methionine
  • Isoleucine
  • Phenylalanine
  • Threonine
  • Tryptophan
  • Leucine
  • Lysine

You may have noticed those last two are the exclusively ketogenic amino acids, meaning they only come from sources outside the body. Likewise, four out of five of the switch hitter or versatile amino acids are on this essential list as well, excluding only tyrosine, a conditional essential, as it’s derived from phenylalanine (which is itself essential). Regardless of that particular debate, the core question remains: in what foods can the six essential ketogenic amino acids be found?

The Key Ingredients to Ketogenesis

Intro 101 of the keto diet is to go deeper when dieting, to the cellular level of biological sciences. This is more advanced than the grocery aisle surface choices people often make between low-carb and no-sugar-added options. It’s important to remember that the colorful labeling on the front of food packages can often be subjective. It’s better to know how to read the nutrition label with a keen (keto) eye.

Better yet, know what basic foods have the ketogenic keys to turn fatty acids into ketone bodies. These ketone bodies will then provide energy from your fat stores, without adding carbohydrates, and without impacting insulin or blood sugar levels. Here are where the six essential ketogenic amino acids reside.

1. Isoleucine

Along with leucine and valine (glucogenic), isoleucine is an isomer (isolated form) of leucine that is one of the three branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), all of which help to promote post-exercise muscle recovery. Involved in hemoglobin production, isoleucine can be found in:

  • Protein sources like meat, fish, and eggs
  • Dairy, particularly cottage cheese
  • Seeds, grains, nuts, and beans including almonds, brown rice, cashews, lentils, and chia seeds

2. Phenylalanine

The source of tyrosine and one of the aromatic amino acids, phenylalanine is used in the biosynthesis of norepinephrine, dopamine, and thyroid hormones (huge players when it comes to mental health). Possibly effective in treating mood disorders, phenylalanine is contained in:

  • Olives, figs, raisins, avocados, pumpkins, and most berries
  • Meat, chicken, fish, and eggs
  • Rice, beans, quinoa, and seeds
  • Spirulina, seaweed, and leafy greens

3. Threonine

An essential nutrient in the diet of vertebrates, threonine supports the central nervous system, along with the heart, liver, and immune system. A key component in the production of collagen, elastin, and muscle tissue, threonine can be gained from:

  • Beans, nuts, lentils, and quinoa
  • Lean beef, lamb, pork, and chicken/turkey
  • Seafood including shellfish, particularly salmon, whelks, cuttlefish, octopus
  • Seeds, including chia and hemp seeds
  • Raisins, figs, avocados, and pumpkin
  • Spirulina, watercress

4. Tryptophan

Needed for nitrogen balance, tryptophan is also used to produce melatonin (for regulating sleep and wakefulness), niacin, and serotonin, the neurotransmitter known as the “happy” chemical. Tryptophan can be found in:

  • Turkey (rather famously), as well as red meat, rabbit and goat meat, eggs, and fish
  • Milk and cheese, particularly reduced fat mozzarella
  • Pumpkin and squash seeds, along with chia, sesame, and sunflower seeds
  • Almonds, peanuts, bananas, and chocolate (ideal ingredients for a sundae)
  • Spirulina

5. Leucine

Another of the BCAAs, and one of the two exclusively ketogenic amino acids, leucine builds muscle by stimulating protein synthesis. It can be sourced from:

  • Nuts, peas, beans, seeds, and pumpkins
  • Chicken, beef, and pork
  • Seafood including tuna
  • Soybeans, whey protein, and plant proteins
  • Cheese, particularly Parmesan

6. Lysine

Necessary in the formation of collagen, connective tissue, and muscle growth and repair in the body, lysine can be found in:

  • Protein sources like meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs
  • Beans, peas, almonds, cashews, and chia seeds
  • Spirulina, parsley
  • Cheese and yogurt
  • Whey protein

The Ketogenic Conclusion

You may have noticed some foods dominating the field; when it comes to essential amino acids for a ketogenic diet, where you find a good source of protein, you often find the ketogenic advantage. Donald K. Layman, Ph.D. along with Nancy R. Rodriguez, Ph.D. penned a paper for Nutrition Today titled “Egg Protein as a Source of Power, Strength, and Energy,” but in it pointed out that egg is not the only food that packs that much value. With so many high-yield proteins, any dietary practice—be it vegetarian, vegan, kosher, or allergy-restrictive—can still gain you the essential amino acids for perfecting your ketogenic journey if you’re diligent about ensuring your protein macros.

Your body is not so much a temple as a laboratory, a series of chemical reactions. Providing your body with the right ketogenic amino acids (instead of an overabundance of glucose precursors) sets you up for the ideal fat-burning catabolic pathways. This leads to healthy protein turnover for muscle growth, weight loss, and the energy to propel you forward.

Taking an essential amino acid supplement (which includes the ketogenic amino acids lysine and leucine) can help protect against any protein insufficiencies you may encounter while following dietary restrictions, such as the high-fat, moderate-protein requirements of the keto diet.

Essential Amino Acid Supplements and Bariatric Surgery

Let’s take a look at the different types of bariatric surgery available, the benefits and risks of these procedures, and how amino acids can help you maintain the nutrition so important to your health both during recovery and long after this weight-loss procedure is over.

According to figures from the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS), the number of Americans choosing to undergo bariatric surgery has risen steadily over the past several years, with over 200,000 undergoing the procedure in 2017 alone.

However, while the obesity epidemic leads more and more people to consider a surgical solution to excess weight, many may not realize that the physical changes to the digestive tract caused by bariatric surgery also result in changes to the body’s ability to absorb nutrition.

In this article, we’re going to take a look at the different types of bariatric surgery available, the benefits and risks of these procedures, and how amino acids can help you maintain the nutrition so important to your health both during recovery and long after the procedure is over.

Types of Bariatric Surgery

Bariatric surgery is performed on severely obese individuals who have not been able to lose weight with diet and exercise alone.

Generally, the procedure is not recommended unless you have extreme obesity, characterized by a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or greater, or a BMI of 35 and at least one obesity-related health problem, such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, or heart disease.

The surgery works by changing the shape of or removing portions of the stomach and (sometimes) small intestine. In the United States, three types of bariatric surgery procedures are most commonly performed:

  • Gastric bypass
  • Gastric banding
  • Gastric sleeve

Each type of surgery also has its advantages and disadvantages.

1. Roux-en-Y Gastric Bypass

The Roux-en-Y gastric bypass works by dividing both the top of the stomach from the bottom and the first part of the small intestine. The bottom end of the small intestine is then attached to the newly created pouch at the top of the stomach.

This procedure reduces both the amount of food the stomach pouch can hold at any one time and the small intestine’s ability to absorb calories and nutrients. This type of gastric bypass surgery is also typically not reversible.

2. Biliopancreatic Diversion with Duodenal Switch

In this second, more complicated form of gastric bypass, approximately 80% of the stomach is removed. The majority of the small intestine is then bypassed by connecting the end portion of the intestine to the duodenum.

Like the Roux-en-Y gastric bypass, this procedure works to reduce both stomach capacity and calorie and nutrient absorption. However, because it also carries with it more risks, the biliopancreatic diversion with duodenal switch is generally limited to people with a BMI greater than 50.

3. Laparoscopic Adjustable Gastric Banding

Gastric banding is a laparoscopic surgery in which an inflatable band, commonly known as a lap band, is placed around the upper portion of the stomach. When the band is inflated, it creates a small pouch that restricts the amount of food the upper portion of the stomach can hold.

4. Sleeve Gastrectomy

Gastric sleeve surgery actually makes use of the first part of the biliopancreatic diversion with duodenal switch, drastically reducing the size of the stomach until it’s shaped like a tube.

Benefits of Bariatric Surgery

Bariatric surgery can help patients avoid serious health problems by improving many of the health risks associated with severe obesity. These include:

In addition, the weight loss that results from bariatric surgery may improve mobility and reduce symptoms of arthritis, thereby increasing the ability to engage in physical activity.

Side Effects of Bariatric Surgery

Bariatric surgery also comes with both short-term and long-term risks. These include:

  • Infection
  • Acid reflux
  • Bowel obstruction
  • Dumping syndrome
  • Low blood sugar
  • Malnutrition
  • Diarrhea
  • Hernias

The Longitudinal Assessment of Bariatric Surgery (LABS) program of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recruits bariatric surgery patients in order to track both short-term and long-term outcomes of surgery.

LABS has found that approximately 4% of individuals have at least one major adverse outcome within a month of surgery. The program has also shown no difference in adverse outcomes with different bariatric procedures.

Bariatric Surgery and Body Composition Changes

Bariatric surgery causes weight loss in most individuals, and the greatest percentage of that weight loss is a reduction in fat mass. However, it’s been demonstrated that lean body mass is reduced by approximately 20% as well.

This is an unfortunate finding, as lean muscle lays the foundation for successful weight loss and maintenance as well as optimal health.

However, the good news is that the addition of an amino acid supplement to the diet following bariatric surgery can minimize the loss of lean body mass.

Essential Amino Acid (EAA) Supplements and Weight Loss Following Bariatric Surgery

Weight loss following bariatric surgery is fundamentally governed by the same principles that govern any other weight-loss program—that is, weight is lost due to a negative energy balance.

In other words, the amount of energy you consume throughout the day must be less than the amount of energy you expend. And since calories are the unit of energy we’re talking about here, a negative energy balance simply refers to a caloric expenditure that’s greater than caloric intake.

However, losing weight isn’t as simple as dropping pounds. If it were, it wouldn’t matter whether those pounds were in fat or muscle.

But you want to lose fat and preserve muscle, so weight loss must be focused on losing just the fat. After all, that’s the definition of successful weight loss.

Unfortunately, when you reduce the number of calories you eat, you potentially negatively affect muscle mass in two ways.

Protein Intake

If you don’t change the composition of your diet, your protein intake is going to be cut in half along with your caloric intake. To avoid this, you need to keep your protein intake high so you can preserve lean muscle mass during weight loss.

But to do this, you have to double the percentage of calories you’re taking in as protein just to maintain the same amount of protein you normally eat.

For example, if you consume 25% of your calories as protein, to keep protein levels constant during weight loss, 50% of the calories you eat need to be protein.

And given that most forms of protein provide at least half their calories as carbohydrates and/or fats, that means your entire diet may have to be composed of foods from the protein food group.

Muscle Protein Synthesis

In addition to the negative effects on protein intake, a negative energy balance also makes it much harder to maintain the same rate of muscle protein synthesis when calories are cut.

In the human body, protein is constantly being built up and broken down. And we’ve known for more than a hundred years that the amount of protein needed to maintain this balance between protein synthesis and protein breakdown is influenced by energy intake (in the form of nutrition), which fuels the energy cost of protein synthesis.

However, when you reduce the number of calories you eat, muscle protein is inevitably lost. And this is the fundamental challenge of maintaining muscle mass when you’re losing weight.

How does all this play out in light of the negative energy balance created by bariatric surgery?

Muscle can only be preserved following bariatric surgery if enough essential amino acids (EAAs) are available to stimulate muscle protein synthesis to a degree sufficient to maintain muscle mass. And the most effective and practical way to accomplish this goal is by increasing dietary EAA intake.

Bariatric surgery is for severely obese individuals who have not been able to lose weight by calorie restriction.

The loss of lean body mass—and muscle mass, in particular—is dramatic following bariatric surgery.

This undesirable effect reflects, in part, an impaired ability to digest intact protein (the “whole” form of protein we ingest via food sources, made up of strings of individual amino acids connected to one another, as opposed to the separated amino acids found in free-form amino acid supplements) effectively, especially in the first few weeks after surgery.

In addition, patients who go through any surgical procedure may develop anabolic resistance. When this happens, intact protein loses its normal effectiveness in stimulating muscle protein synthesis.

Unlike intact proteins, such as meat and eggs, free EAAs are extensively digested and absorbed even after bariatric surgery, so their effect on muscle protein turnover is fully retained.

The fact that free-form EAAs can be formulated to overcome anabolic resistance is another potential advantage of relying on EAA-based nutrition following bariatric surgery.

How Many EAAs Are Needed to Maintain Muscle Mass After Bariatric Surgery?

You need to consume at least 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight each day to maintain muscle mass during weight loss. So, if you weigh 350 pounds, you need to eat 190 grams of protein, or about 400 grams of protein food sources such as meat, fish, and dairy products.

That’s about 2,000 kilocalories just from protein food sources alone!

Add to this the fact that the normal total caloric intake during weight loss following bariatric surgery is about 1,200 kilocalories per day, and it’s clear the numbers don’t add up.

You just can’t get enough protein from food sources to maintain lean mass.

This is particularly relevant when we’re talking about weight-loss surgery, as the amount—and sometimes type—of food bariatric surgery patients are able to eat after the procedure is limited.

Thankfully, this disadvantage can be remedied by supplementing with a free-form EAA formula. Not only have EAAs been proven to help you lose the fat, but they can also ensure you retain that all-important muscle.

Let me explain how this works.

Based on our earlier example—and given the normal proportion of EAAs in high-quality dietary proteins—a protein intake of 190 grams per day would translate to about 80 grams of EAAs.

However, in the early stages after surgery, it may not be feasible to eat more than 50 grams of protein per day, or about 20 grams of EAAs.

In this scenario, your diet would be 60 grams short of enough EAAs to maintain lean body mass, so to make up the difference, you’d need to consume 60 grams of EAAs in the form of a dietary supplement.

And this is as simple as taking a 15-gram dose of EAAs 5 times a day. In fact, a recently published study showed that 5 × 15 grams of EAAs was sufficient to maintain lean body mass during weight loss.

As your ability to obtain protein from food sources increases with time, the amount of supplemental EAAs required to maintain muscle mass will decline, but an intake of at least 30 grams of EAAs will ensure continued maintenance of muscle mass.

If you think you or a loved one may be a candidate for weight-loss surgery and would like more information on the different procedures available and what to expect before, during, and after surgery, I encourage you to visit the ASMBS website.

And if you’re already preparing to undergo bariatric surgery, I recommend exploring essential amino acid supplementation to support your nutritional intake during recovery and beyond.