Imagine a single biochemical pathway in our body for optimal health, wellness and longevity. What would it look like?
It would result in an optimized metabolism and maintenance of a healthy weight. Hunger and cravings would be eliminated and appetite controlled. We would have better immune function and less acute illnesses. Inflammation levels would be decreased in all our tissues. We would have increased sexual function and higher fertility rates. Our mood and sense of wellbeing would be enhanced, as would our ability to tolerate pain and stress. Our hormone function would be optimized which would increase mental and physical capabilities. There would be improvements in our blood flow and our blood pressure would be well regulated.
A single pathway that could achieve the above seems too good to be true. But wouldn’t evolution (which takes place over the course of thousands, and even millions of years) strive to build something like this in us overtime? Introducing the leptin-melanocortin pathway. This pathway exists between our fat tissue and our brain, and unfortunately, modern living keeps us blinded from it.
First and foremost, this pathway requires an optimized circadian rhythm; that is, our body’s ability of adapting to the light cycle and having a synchronized rhythm to it. This means waking with the sunrise, and falling asleep shortly after sunset. Such a pathway would also require multiple mechanisms to activate it so we can thrive in various environments we may be exposed to. For instance, in summer we have longer light cycles and warmer temperatures, but in winter we have the opposite. A normal warm adapted human’s circadian rhythm is entrained to light (via the eye and the skin) and this is when carbohydrates are eaten when they grow in long light cycles. How does this work? In summer, we use VIP (vasoactive intestinal peptide) to entrain the circadian rhythm to light. It’s role is to direct blood flow toward intestinal regions of the body because we need to support our digestive system in a time when food is plentiful. In long light cycles, the foods we eat (i.e. carbohydrates) help our brain adapt to this summertime environment. Additionally, the consumption of carbohydrates stimulate a chemical called NPY (Neuropeptide-Y) which stimulates our appetite, food-seeking behaviors and encourages fat accumulation because summer is the time when food is available. Now you know why eating just one cookie when five are in front of you seems impossible; you can thank NPY for that.
As the light cycle begins to decline and winter hits, cold becomes the dominant stimulus on our skin, and our brain rewires itself by entraining circadian rhythms to temperature. When cold is sensed on our skin, there are changes to how energy flows between us and our environment. Cold activates the sympathetic nervous system (our fight or flight system), and this drives the rewiring of this biochemical pathway in the brain. Norepinephrine (one of the adrenaline hormones) is released in massive quantities, and mobilizes stored energy. It directs blood flow away from the gastrointestinal tract and toward muscle and fat tissue. One of its important effects is converting WAT (white adipose tissue – aka our body fat) into BAT (brown adipose tissue). BAT takes up energy and burns our calories as free heat. As this occurs, we begin to preferentially burn fatty acids because they release more heat, and insulin is shut off in the cold, because we are no longer eating carbohydrates because Mother Nature says they can’t grow under these conditions. When carbohydrates are not eaten, NPY is no longer expressed, and sugar/hunger cravings disappear. Additionally VIP no longer entrains the circadian rhythm to light. Instead Norepinephrine expresses eNOS (endothelial nitric oxide synthase) which results in the production of NO (nitric oxide) to drive the show by increasing blood flow to BAT to burn off glucose and fatty acids as pure heat. Diabetes hint: This is a mechanism to lower blood sugar without even requiring the ability to produce insulin, or requiring insulin sensitivity! Can you also say bye-bye to the whole concept of calorie counting for weight loss? Wow the calories in versus calories out theory just went right out the window! Doesn’t that feel nice? Evolution is pretty badass, I must say.
So, cold induces fat burning via activation of the sympathetic nervous system. What happens to our body fat as it is being burned? A hormone called leptin that is produced by fat cells is liberated in massive quantities. What does leptin do when it gets released? It travels to an area of the brain called the hypothalamus where the leptin receptor lies. Leptin binds to the receptor and activates it which results in the production of a neuron called POMC (proopiomelanocortin) in the brain. POMC is where a lot of the magic happens with regards to my definition of what the ultimate pathway of health, wellness and longevity is.
POMC cleaves into several different neuropeptides that exert specific effects:
- ACTH (adrenocorticotropin Hormone)
- Stimulates release of cortisol, a potent anti-inflammatory, anti-stress and blood sugar modulator hormone
- Modulates immune-endocrine function
- MSH (Melanocyte Stimulating Hormone)
- Stimulates melanocytes in the skin to produce melanin to induce tanning and protect the skin from excess UV exposure
- Suppresses appetite and increases energy expenditure
- Increases sexual arousal
- Regulates sodium levels and blood pressure
- Activates opioid receptors to:
- Decrease pain and increase sense of wellbeing
- Decreased bodily stress
- Enhance pleasure and reward
- Stabilize behavior
- Reduction in calcium efflux into cells, reducing excitotoxicity and creating a calming effect
- Activates opioid receptors to:
So you can begin to check off much of what I mentioned earlier in this blog with regards to the ideal biochemical pathway for wellness. Now, we’re not quite done, because there is some physics that is critical to understand moving forward.
Broken record REMINDER: cold condenses matter. This means, our cells shrink and dump excess energy (i.e. fat) as heat. Now what surrounds all of our cells? Water. What does cold do to water? It expands it. What does heat do to water? It shrinks it. Why is this important? Because water has to absorb a lot of heat in the cold in order to shrink it to maintain the optimal density in our cells that allow for better transfer of energy. This is why even drinking cold water alone induces fat burning, because we release heat from our tissue. This is a simple hack to release more energy. Imagine that, a single factor: cold can give us energy for free! Isn’t physics and thermodynamics awesome?
So, why did I bring up the fact that cold condenses matter once again? Because it’s a freaking huge deal from a physics and energy efficiency perspective. The less mass an object has, the less energy it requires and this means stability. For humans it means longevity, because we can get by with less energy. How does this relate to hormone function? Brace yourself:
All hormonal systems follow a feedback loop: the hypothalamus of the brain generates a signal to the pituitary gland, and the pituitary gland releases a “stimulating” hormone that travels to the endocrine organ and acts as a messenger to force the organ to “work” to produce its specialty hormone. We have the sex hormones: estrogen, progesterone and testosterone, the stress hormones: cortisol, adrenaline and the thyroid hormones: T3 and T4. When it comes to hormone function, most focus in on the lab numbers on a blood test. But what if this was a poor way to measure hormone function? What happens after a gland produces its hormone? Is the job completed? Not so fast… The hormone now gets secreted, and has to travel via the blood circulation to reach its receptor in various tissues, at which point it must bind to the receptor and activate that receptor in order for proper gene expression to take place. How efficiently this occurs will be reflected in how functional we are with regards to the effects of that hormone. Once a receptor is activated, the brain receives a signal, and begins to shut off the production of that hormone via negative feedback loop.
If you chase hormone numbers on a bloodtest as a measure of optimal endocrine function, guess what you may have forgotten? The more hormone your glands have to produce, the more “work” it takes to activate your receptors. Wouldn’t you want your organs to work LESS to exhibit the end goal of the hormonal effect? That is why the fact that cold CONDENSES matter is a big deal: because it shrinks the size of your receptors, so less hormone has to be produced to get the same effect! What does this mean? It means you become more sensitive to your hormones, and you spare your organs so they will last you longer! Can you say longevity? Can you see the flaws in conventional wisdom now with regards to hormone replacement? Why might this idea get thrown into our brains as the future for anti-aging?
For the skeptics, and the “mighty” men who strive for HIGH testosterone: is having high insulin good or bad? Isn’t it associated with insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes? On the contrary is high blood sugar good or bad? Is high cholesterol and triglycerides good or bad? Are you starting to see my perspective? Too much of something in the blood is a sign there is a lack of energy flow. Things aren’t getting to where they need to get to. The cold simply fixes that because it shrinks things down, and this improves the thermodynamics by decreasing the distance of energy travel. Not only that, but cold increases the magnetic effect. Magnetism is the natural force of attraction; hormones work via the magnetic effect: the hormone is released, and has to bind to its receptor. Cold increases this ability to create more sensitivity while heat decreases it and creates more resistance.
So you can see how activating this pathway is really the key to health, wellness and longevity, and my entire ideology and theories with regards to human wellness is about activating this pathway. It is simply incredible what the cold can do for us if we are willing to accept it back into our lives. In future blogs, we will discuss some of the practical takeaways from all this science, and really pick apart the flaws of conventional wisdom.