Notes For the Survival of the Smartest Lecture by Diana Schwarzbein

Thanks to a comment by Diana, I was tipped off to the July 2014 Survival of the Smartest lecture (p1, p2). It fits in with the discussion on why Intermittent Fasting can feel good in the short term but can be stressful to one’s health as one ages.

In this post I am going to save you two hours. I watched the lecture twice and took notes. Prior to Diana’s comment, I was unaware of Dr. Schwarzbein, but I have since learned that she has influenced Matt Stone, an author who I’ve referenced a few times on this site. Schwarzbein shows up in Diet Recovery 2.

She states that running on adrenaline and wearing yourself out actually feels really good – whereas rebuilding feels kinda lousy.

This sentence sets the stage for understanding the lecture. What feels good and what is good for your body might be two different things, especially in the short term. When we push dietary habits such as low calorie, low carb or fasting that accelerate the usage of stress hormones we run the risk of running into health problems. Not at first, but later.

diet-recovery2

Diet Recovery 2 by Matt Stone

Lecture Notes

Some of these sentences are taken verbatim from slides or Dr. Schwarzbein and some are my summaries.

Building or Using

The starting premise of the talk is that our metabolism is either in a building or using state.

In order to stay healthy, you must replace or restore the hormones you have used or depleted. When you use at a greater rate than you build then you are breaking down. This is accelerated aging. It feels good to break down until it doesn’t. This is the body compensating for your survival. 

Breaking down at a rate greater than one can rebuild is inviting degenerative disease. Our ability to rebuild is reduced as we age.  At one point Dr. Schwarzbein states that breaking down triggers rebuilding until about age 35 in women and 40 in men. After this point, our body greatly loses its ability to rebuild. Breaking down becomes aging.

  • Insulin is major rebuilding hormone. “insulin is your best friend”
  • Adrenaline, Noradrenaline and Cortisol are major using hormones.
  • Combined effects of these hormones determines whether building or using.
  • Can only be in building or using mode – not both.

Aging is losing the ability to rebuild and repair. Our diminished ability to process alcohol as we age is one example.

Blaming Insulin

If a body is in a highly using mode, where stress hormones are high, the body will try and compensate by making more insulin. This results in high levels of insulin in the blood stream. Then we see disease. And insulin gets blamed, when it is really adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol that are killing you.

Hormones Are Regulated by Your Habits

As long as your hormones system is intact, you regulate your hormones. The five elements that dictate this regulation are:

  1. Nutrition – How you eat, when you eat, how much you eat, ratios of what you eat, and your demeanor when eating.
  2. Stress – Your response to stress
  3. Sleep – How much and how deep
  4. Chemicals – What you ingest, how much you ingest (caffeine, sugar, alcohol, medications, hard drugs)
  5. Movement and exercise – And how much.

Reaching for chemicals to feel better is a sign there is something wrong with your metabolism.

Fasting, Low Carb

You can deplete your glycogen stores at night depending on how much complex carbs you had that day. Reduced carbs and fasting can make one more prone to hypoglycemia at night, which is one thing that can wake you up. Symptoms can come on slowly. It may not happen the first time, but might happen gradually over the course of years.

After glycogen is depleted. Hormones are used to make sugar from amino acids. It can take 72 hours to get into fat stores. When fat is being broken down the body is still in using mode (not rebuilding proteins).

If the body goes into stored fat that means insulin has gone down and adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol have gone up. The body is in the using side of the physiology. Not a place to live. This is for emergencies.

You don’t want to go into ketosis. It is all about breaking down. And breaking down can feel good (nicotine, caffeine).

Low carb dieters are inducing diabetes. They are lowering their insulin and raising their adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol. That drives gluconeogenesis and they start to become hyperglycemic. Eating carbs reverses the process.

When you go low-carb, cortisol goes up. Early tests will show this, but cortisol levels will drop if prolonged. Could lead to adrenal burnout.

Degenerative Diseases

All degenerative diseases of aging have:

  • higher blood sugar
  • higher blood pressure
  • excessive clotting
  • increased inflammation and oxidation

Chronic disease is your body’s way to keep you going. It does this by breaking down.

  • You do not survive with low blood sugar so the only viable disease is one with high blood sugar.
  • You do not survive with low blood pressure so the only viable disease is one with high blood pressure.
  • You do not survive without the ability to clot, so over clotting is the problem that survives.
  • You do not survive with inflammation so the inflammatory diseases “win”.

All autoimmune diseases live in the using side of metabolism.

Living Longer in a Healthy State

Dr. Schwarzbein states humans used to live to at most about 50 and if your goal is to live to 50 years old you can do whatever you want to do. However, if you want to live longer you’ve got to honor physiology and biochemistry.

Losing weight is not how you stay healthy. Being healthy is how you lose weight.

Last Words

These notes are just an overview. If you are really interested in the details, especially in regards to diabetes, watch Part 2. The lecture inspired me to seek out more information, so I’ve just started reading The Schwarzbein Principle II. As a male over 40 years old that consumes a fair amount of caffeine, Dr. Schwarzbein has got my attention.

schwarzbein-principle-2
The Schwarzbein Principle II, The “Transition”: A Regeneration Program to Prevent and Reverse Accelerated Aging by Diana Schwarzbein

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MAS

Critical MAS is the blog for Michael Allen Smith of Seattle, Washington. My interests include traditional food, fitness, economics, and web development.

15 thoughts on “Notes For the Survival of the Smartest Lecture by Diana Schwarzbein”

  1. Thanks for the summary. I’m reading The Schwarzbein Principle II: The Transition now.

    Also, since watching that lecture, I’ve learned that Dr. Schwarzbein is also associated with Suzanne Somers and JJ Virgin. I don’t really know much about the two, but JJ seems to be somewhat aligned with Bulletproof now.

  2. Good job on the summary! This is interesting stuff.

    This sends up a red flag for me, however:

    “Losing weight is not how you stay healthy. Being healthy is how you lose weight.”

    Sure, there are plenty of obese people with bad health markers, but there are plenty whose number are OK for now as well. Many even exercise quite a bit. So… what do they do to “get healthy” in that case?

    People want to lose weight, and obviously it’s quite hard for 99% of those who try. So if the way to do it becomes, “Be healthy,” that’s not really a clue, is it? I can guarantee that unpacking that “be healthy” guidance involves adhering to a very strict regimen of something or other. About as useful as the “diet and exercise” advice.

    Let me put it another way. Do you know anyone who can say, “I just did things to improve my health, and then I became exactly the weight I wanted to be!” I don’t.

    I think the evidence points toward the body getting metabolically stuck at a certain weight, and it’s very hard to budge it from there.

  3. Very interesting notes, thank you! I will have to look farther into what she has to say.

    Matt’s comment reminded me of another blog that I just read at gokaleo.com . She is working as a coach for a Habit building group/community/support- I’m not sure what to call it. But this is what she said:
    “So, how do we do it better? More and more researchers, doctors and fitness professionals are realizing that focusing on people’s weight is not the answer. A growing movement is afoot, one that focuses on positive, health promoting behaviors like daily physical activity, quality sleep and diet improvements rather than fad diets that eliminate foods and food groups.” https://gokaleo.com/2015/09/22/body-positivity-its-science-bitchez/
    She has a lot more to say about it but I wonder if people they are working with are indeed ending up at the weight they wanted to be- or at least close to it.

  4. Char, I doubt it.

    I think, with respect to weight loss, we are where doctors were in the 19th century trying to cure various infectious diseases. What they needed was (in terms of 21st century medicine), antibiotics and antiviral drugs. Instead, they had some things that *kinda* worked: some herbs, some genuine drugs like Laudanum that could at least treat some symptoms, and good old watching and waiting. There was very little they could do, but they tried.

    Have you seen the movie Elysium? Not great, but that medical system they have is basically what we need: it just fixes everything in you, can reconstruct you from a half-alive mess. Well, with such a system, a person would just scan out fat and be done with it. Eat all you want, scan out some more fat. Nothing to it. Such a system may be 100 or 1,000 years in the future, but that is what people are going to do.

    In the meantime, having an appetite suppressant that genuinely works and doesn’t kill you would be great. Doctors used to widely prescribe amphetamine for weight loss, and it worked. But that’s not good for you, to say the least.

    The problem is that people, through no fault of their own, have a messed-up relationship between satiety and weight gain. If they eat to satiety, they gain weight up to a certain point. Even if they lose the weight, the satiety issue still exists. Unless they count calories like a mofo, they will inch back up, inexorably.

    I have managed to lose some weight and keep it off by replacing fat with muscle. It’s taken a lot of work, and I’d still like to lose 15 more pounds of fat. (In 2012 I weighed about what I weigh now, high 190s, but I’ve probably gained 15 pounds of muscle and lost that much fat. My body seems to “accept” this new, more muscular weight as normal and doesn’t try to gain beyond it.) But I would never claim this would work for everyone, and I didn’t have a monumental amount of fat to lose in the first place. But it is still a mini success story, I guess.

  5. @Matt – Weight loss was not covered in the lecture, but my guess is she would work on getting one to reduce stress hormones first. Doing this would benefit metabolism and eventually help with weight loss. Not doing this would likely result in unsustainable fat loss. This is speculation. I’ll read her book and report back.

  6. I read a book by Schwarzbein 10 years ago. I agreed with a lot of what she had to say.

    “Dr. Schwarzbein states humans used to live to at most about 50 and if your goal is to live to 50 years old you can do whatever you want to do. However, if you want to live longer you’ve got to honor physiology and biochemistry.”

    Supercentenarian diets come in two basic flavors according to Paul Jaminet:

    1. Calorie restriction and intermittent fasting
    2. High (saturated and monounsaturated) fat… restricted-carb diets

    Luigi Cornaro was born in 1467 and lived until the age of 102 on a calorie restricted diet. You might read his four discourses.

    IF

    There is no problem at all with eating one good meal daily. Some people can thrive on one meal daily.
    Most people do better on two meals. A few people need three. Consuming more than 3 meals daily/snacking is a disaster.

    Intermittent fasting can be handled easily by some people, and not by others. Some people can maintain
    blood and brain sugar during a 24 ­hour fast, and some can’t. Some people can easily transition into
    ketosis, and some can’t. Some people can fast without over­stimulating catecholamine response, and
    some can’t. Some people can fast without excess corticosteroid production and protein catabolism, and
    some can’t.

    Don’t stimulate excess insulin production by eating between meals…and allow the metabolic machinery to
    run with perfect efficiency and perfect timing 7 days a week. Choose low glycemic load meals, adequate
    protein, and fat reasonably evenly divided among 3 meals.

    Some people can fast and engage in high intensity exercise without losing glycemic control and
    without excessive protein catabolism, and some cannot.

    But ­­­ there is another complicated factor here. Exercise in a fasting state stimulates production and release of growth hormone. Studies are mixed in their analysis of whether this growth hormone production is good or bad. The small amount of growth hormone released after high intensity exercise (not fasting) is good. The higher quantities of growth hormone provoked by exercise in a fasting state are probably not at all good.

    Probably the most severe consequence of high intensity exercise during intermittent fasting is that most
    people who exercise overtrain already. In other words, they are already in a chronic catabolic state.
    Adding to the catabolic burden by fasting would likely be devastating to these people.

    The once daily eating plan is fine for anyone who can maintain glycemic control on that regimen. ­­­ That
    plan neatly sidesteps insulin resistance and all the pathologies (cancer and cardiovascular disease in
    particular) whose incidence is increased by frequent eating.

  7. Here’s what doesn’t make sense to me:
    1) per Gary’s point – some studies show fasting/low cal. life to lead to longer lifetime, and thus less aging (contrary to the statements above)
    2) advocating a lack of stress and inflammation seems counter to the hormesis argument, whereby a rational amount of stress leads to strengthening of the system

  8. My post got garbled. Paragraphs disintegrated. I will try again here.

    BTW, Schwarzbein is pals with Suzanne Somers. I will have a few comments with regard to this association.

    __________

    I read a book by Schwarzbein 10 years ago. I agreed with a lot of what she had to say.

    “Dr. Schwarzbein states humans used to live to at most about 50 and if your goal is to live to 50 years old you can do whatever you want to do. However, if you want to live longer you’ve got to honor physiology and biochemistry.”

    Supercentenarian diets come in two basic flavors according to Paul Jaminet:

    1. Calorie restriction and intermittent fasting
    2. High (saturated and monounsaturated) fat…restricted-carb diets

    Luigi Cornaro was born in 1467 and lived until the age of 102 on a calorie restricted diet. You might read his four discourses.

    There is no problem at all with eating one good meal daily. Some people can thrive on one meal daily. Most people do better on two meals. A few people need three. Consuming more than 3 meals daily/snacking is a disaster.

    Intermittent fasting can be handled easily by some people, and not by others. Some people can maintain blood and brain sugar during a 24­hour fast, and some can’t. Some people can easily transition into ketosis, and some can’t. Some people can fast without over­stimulating catecholamine response, and some can’t. Some people can fast without excess corticosteroid production and protein catabolism, and some can’t.

    Don’t stimulate excess insulin production by eating between meals…and allow the metabolic machinery to run with perfect efficiency and perfect timing 7 days a week. Choose low glycemic load meals, adequate protein, and fat reasonably evenly divided among 3 meals.

    Some people can fast and engage in high intensity exercise without losing glycemic control and without excessive protein catabolism, and some cannot.

    But ­­­ there is another complicated factor here. Exercise in a fasting state stimulates production and release of growth hormone. Studies are mixed in their analysis of whether this growth hormone production is good or bad. The small amount of growth hormone released after high intensity exercise (not fasting) is good. The higher quantities of growth hormone provoked by exercise in a fasting state are probably not at all good.

    Probably the most severe consequence of high intensity exercise during intermittent fasting is that most people who exercise overtrain already. In other words, they are already in a chronic catabolic state. Adding to the catabolic burden by fasting would likely be devastating to these people.

    The once daily eating plan is fine for anyone who can maintain glycemic control on that regimen. That plan neatly sidesteps insulin resistance and all the pathologies (cancer and cardiovascular disease in particular) whose incidence is increased by frequent eating.

    The problem is there comes a point when food restriction becomes a stressor on the body. Two things happen: The body enters a catabolic state which radically increases the aging process.Second, the metabolic rate slows as a defensive measure against what the body perceives as famine. How long each individual can go without eating and not experience negative health consequences depends on the glycemic control issue that we have already discussed, but also can be monitored by body temperature and heart rate. If you are unable to maintain body temperature and particularly if a low body temperature is accompanied by a very slow heart rate, you have gone too far.

  9. @Gary – Great comment. Like myself, you see “stacking stressors” as problematic.

    I think what we have is a measurement problem. Would be nice if we had real time data for these hormones to tell which side of the equation we are on at that moment. Someday I expect we will.

  10. “I don’t really know much about the two, but JJ seems to be somewhat aligned with Bulletproof now.”

    Yes, after Asprey savaged Mercola for hijacking the Bulletproof eating plan infographic, they recently hugged each other in a 40 minute podcast. Why? Alliances generate traffic and revenue.

    There is quite a bit of idiocy in Bulletproof coffee. It amuses me how a “so-called” expert (purportedly used to weigh 300 pounds), wears his erstwhile corpulence as a badge of honor.

  11. Here’s one point that stood out for me about Schwarzbein’s approach. Starts at about time 39:40 in part 2 of her presentation. Someone asks a question about carb cycling.

    Q: Couldn’t there be an effective [carb] cycling instead of reaching an equilibrium that you have to maintain?

    S: “Explain that to me since I’m not really sure what you’re saying.”

    Q: So, if that’s the case and they did it [reduced carbs] for 2 years, couldn’t they go on a much shorter cycle, so instead of having regular carbs all the time, taking it out, and then feeding it back into the system to make sure that all their levels aren’t depleted, and they continue to produce nitric oxide continuously?

    S:”Well, again, the problem is, the moment you take a da — that’s fine for someone who’s not damaged, but then I think it’s gonna cause damage – but you cannot take somebody who has a physiology of not making nitric oxide and remove carbs at that moment, for how long you want to do that, and expect them to make nitric oxide. They’re already deficient in nitric oxide, at any moment at any given time, you do not want to lower it more.

    “So I think where the problem arises in some of these studies, or people trying to look at things, is that they’re taking healthy individuals and doing that with them, or more healthy, they’re not doing this in diabetics.”

    She says, “but then I think it [carb cycling] is gonna cause damage.” But is it? In a healthy person? I don’t know what she is basing that on.

    In any case, her focus is clearly on the very ill diabetic patient, and her evidence is pretty compelling that for them, reducing carbs is not the way to go.

  12. Matt, why are you trying to lose fat? Are you unhealthy? Or just worried about your looks? Our bodies have set points (different for each person) and they fight really hard to not go below that. (Though those of us prone to eating disorders can bypass that fairly easily, unfortunately.) On the other hand, we have settling points above the set point, where we can hover if, say, we’re ill or not eating the right mix of nutrients for us. So if you’re above your set point, getting healthy will get you lower. But if you’re already at your set point, trying to lose weight will mess you up.

    Personally, I would not take advice tailored for diabetics and apply it to me unless I were diabetic. Diabetes is not a risk factor in my family, to my knowledge. Arthritis is (nightshades!) and anemia is, and celiac/gluten intolerance might be, so that’s a different set of issues.

    My body has been under a ridiculous amount of stress for decades (poverty, disability, social isolation). I’m 50 now, but based on family history I am likely to make it to my 90s regardless of my health, so for me the issue is not longevity but quality of life. My relatives who died notably younger than that smoked and/or drank. Or had serious illness when younger (TB).

    I’m pretty sure people used to only make it to their 50s because of violence or accidents (there was a lot of violence back in the day – most men in the Viking sagas don’t even make it to their 40s), or stressors we don’t have (for example educated populations tend to be less stressed), not because of degenerative diseases. There have always been people who lived longer (and a lot who died as kids). So I’m skeptical about that.

  13. Anemone wrote,

    ||Matt, why are you trying to lose fat? Are you unhealthy? Or just worried about your looks? Our bodies have set points (different for each person) and they fight really hard to not go below that. ||

    Basically want to alter my looks. 15 more pounds off, and I’d be ripped (that would be a reasonable 15% body fat). Ya know?!

  14. @Matt – Vanity!
    I’m vain too, but I gained so much fat last year that I can lose some but still have tons and feel thin in comparison, as I already have. I do want the muscles, though, goddess be willing.

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