Thermodenyics in the Incestral Health Community: It Began with Atkins
For the past couple of months, I've been somewhat obsessing about thermodynamics having written the AARR piece and a few blog posts, not to mention revisiting several dating back to near the beginnings of this blog. I began this a while ago as a single lengthy post, but it's gotten out of hand and finding time to tidy up such a post vs. publishing shorter chunks in parts became impossible. Not sure how many parts this will have. This series will put several members of the IHC "on the record" so to speak. While I've done so in the past, the hope is to have it all in one place.
Robert Atkins the Calorie Guy!
Surely Atkins is an honorary member of the IHC, even though he passed away over a decade ago before this community reached the level that it has. Most of the "greats" have learned something (perhaps essentially everything) they know about low carb diets and tangentially about thermodynamics/calorie theory from the "late great one" himself.
In 1972, Atkins came out with his first book, Dr. Atkins' Diet Revolution, with the subtitle "the high calorie way to stay thin forever". I have the paperback version of this from Bantam Press (1973) though it went through many reprintings. Atkins never intended to be a calorie guy. After all he titled Chapter 8: To Stay Fat - Keep On Counting Calories, wherein he attempted to debunk the "calorie hoax" and repeatedly blasts this as failed. Interestingly, he even states that we'd been counting calories for 60 years, which would put our national obsession with such dating to the early 1900's ... an odd claim to be sure. On page 94 in that chapter, Atkins wrote:
The calculation of calorie outflow is based on the assumption that fat, as it is burned in the body, is completely degraded (biochemically broken down) to yield all the potential heat (energy) that it contains. (The end products are the basic substances, carbon dioxide and water.) If a portion of the fat molecule were to leave the body in another form containing potential energy, the calorie theory would be proved wrong.
In actuality, this is not true! Atwater and others have always taken into consideration what was excreted unabsorbed (feces) and incompletely metabolized (urine, breath). Atkins goes on to make this rather exciting claim:
We already know about our wonderful friends those ketone bodies and how they are being excreted in the urine. We measure them with our "turning-purple" sticks. Dr. Kekwick and Dr. Pawan, in their pioneering research, were the first to point out that a significant amount of latent energy is excreted in this form. On a low-carbohydrate diet nearly three times as much energy is lost in the urine and stools, mainly in ketones, as on a high-carbohydrate diet. (italics are Atkins')
Atkins goes on to exaggerate the additional ketones lost in breath. The above (highlighted) claim is probably factually accurate, perhaps even a conservative estimate. But it is misleading as the amount of ketone energy lost to the urine is minuscule and three times minuscule is still going to be pretty minuscule! Atkins sought to replace the existing calorie theory with what he called The Diet Revolution Calorie Theory. I snapped a picture of this on my cell phone and augmented it a bit for effect.
This was over 40 years ago. Atkins merely misrepresented the First Law or Calorie Theory or whatever you want to call it, (noting that calories in are chemical potential energy of absorbed molecules):
Calories In = Calories Expended + Energy Stored
Calories In = Calories Expended + Energy Excreted + Energy Stored
It's not really anything groundbreaking or different. Atkins just grossly misrepresented the magnitude of the energy excreted as being quantitatively significant (which it is not). A formal complete accounting of energy in the human body -- no gimmicks required -- would include energy excreted. Most don't because this has been measured to be on the order of less than 1% of total energy in the low carb dieter.
Atkins version 1.0 = First Law of Thermodynamics or CaloriesIn-CaloriesOut energy balance. That's the bottom line. Ketones were simply a "magic" CO term in the CICO.
Atkins Said Something Really Dumb!
... but Dr. Mike can forgive the man as a doctor, not a scientist. In 2007, the co-author of Protein Power, wrote a blog post entitled: Thermodynamics and weight loss. Seven years ago now, he wrote:
Probably no laws of physics have been so over invoked and less understood than the laws of thermodynamics. Everyone it seems is using the laws of thermodynamics to justify every position imaginable in the field of weight loss. Journalists often throw out the laws of thermodynamics to prove or disprove dietary regimens they’re writing about. Authors of various blogs and other online sites rabbit on about how the laws of thermodynamics are aligned with their pet theories. And even worse, research scientists – who really should know better – more often than not misquote the laws of thermodynamics, especially when talking about the possibility of a dietary metabolic advantage. ‘It can’t be valid,’ they sniff, ‘it violates the laws of thermodynamics.’
So, I figured is was time to delve into these mysterious laws so that readers of this blog at least can know thermodynamic nonsense when they see it.
Snicker. That second paragraph can be read as if Eades is about to serve up a load of thermodynamic nonsense. Heck ... can I snicker again? :-) I'll get to the thermo per se in a moment, but first ...
And it helps to understand the vituperation heaped on Robert Atkins who wrote one of the most hubristic and outright ignorant statements imaginable showing a total lack of understanding of the laws of thermodynamics when he said:
- When I make this claim, that you can lose more weight on a higher number of calories, I seem to be breaking the law—one of the hallowed laws of thermodynamics. Many powers-that-be get terribly provoked when I repeal their laws. But the calorie theory is a false law that is meant to be broken, and ketosis/lipolysis is the instrument for breaking it.
Actually, it's only Atkins' schtick that got him in trouble when ketosis was the instrument, he just meant the "simple calorie law that ignores excreted ketones" was a hoax. After all, IF excreted ketones were of a quantitatively significant caloric amount, his original claims didn't violate any inviolable laws after all!
Lipolysis, Ketosis and Breaking the Law
One of the things I love so about internet search engines, is that when someone like Eades quotes someone without sourcing the quote, it's not all that difficult to find it. As it turns out, Atkins wrote the above in Dr. Atkins' NEW Diet Revolution. DANDR is like the low carb Bible of the IHC. It turns out what Atkins put forth in that book did violate the First Law, but also a more fundamental concept that one barely needs to understand any science to accept. I'm talking about conservation of mass, which boils down to: what goes in must come out, or it adds to the number on the scale. It is important to understand that all absorbed fatty acids make their way out of the body in only one quantitatively significant manner:
Fatty Acid → [ β-oxidation + Krebs ] → CO2
The β-oxidation + Krebs part is the "metabolism" of fatty acids resulting in production of some heat, some ATP, and a large number of so-called "reducing equivalents" that will produce much more ATP (cellular energy currency) in the Electron Transport Chain. You don't see mass escaping your body, but the carbons that were originally contained in the larger fatty acid molecules are exhaled as carbon dioxide. Atkins' original claim was that enough molecules escaped the Krebs cycle and were excreted before being fully metabolized for their caloric content. The vast majority of β-oxidation to burn fat for energy occurs in organs like the heart and skeletal muscle. Once a fatty acid is committed to the β-oxidation pathway they are oxidized completely down to carbon dioxide.
The definition of lipolysis sounds like Nirvana to a person longing to lose weight. It means "the process of dissolving fat." Isn't that exactly why we're all gathered here today? Now I will tell you the "secret" to unlocking the latent power of lipolysis. When you burn fat, it breaks down into glycerol and other fatty acids. How does the process actually work? Are there any drawbacks? There are plenty of laypeople and even physicians who think there must be.
So it would appear that confusing lipolysis with β-oxidation is yet another common gimmick that can be traced back to the "late great one". Gone from the new book was the Diet Revolution Calorie Theory as Atkins instead threw calories completely out the window as there were even grander claims to be made!
As for the weight loss phases of Atkins, they are simple and overwhelmingly effective. I don't see any reason why I should understate the facts. Lipolysis is one of life's charmed gifts. It's as delightful as sex and sunshine, and it has fewer drawbacks than either of them!
Wow! Sign me up for unrestrained lipolysis right away!!
In the earlier editions of this book ... I said: "The term `ketosis,' when it applies to the benign, diet-induced type we're talking about, is really a shortening of the term ketosis/lipolysis, which is enough of a tongue twister that you can see why it is commonly referred to only by the name ketosis." ... The Atkins Nutritional Approach stimulates the process of lipolysis, a state I hope you are always in: burning your fat for energy. A secondary process of lipolysis is ketosis. Ketosis occurs when you are taking in a low level of carbohydrates from the food you eat, as you will during the Induction phase of Atkins. Lipolysis results in the creation of ketones (that's ketosis), a perfectly normal and natural function of the body.
Lipolysis does not make the index of the original book. Perhaps its in there, but I have neither the time nor inclination to even drudge back through the entire sections on ketosis. In the end it doesn't really matter if he equated ketosis with lipolysis back then, he did it here and "now" with DANDR first copyright in 1992. And in that book he also coined the term "Metabolic Advantage" ... a term that has come to mean different things to different people in the 20 or more odd years since. This next and last paragraph cuts to the core of the scientific bankruptcy of advocates of LC diets. I'll break it into bullet points in order to make comments directly to each issue:
- How does lipolysis work? Lipolysis simply means that you're burning your fat stores and using them as the source of fuel they were meant to be.
WRONG: Lipolysis is the breaking apart of triglycerides into fatty acids and glycerol. Fat burning is the breakdown of the fatty acids into CO2.
- The by-products of burning fat are ketones.
WRONG: Ketones specifically produced, mostly from fatty acids, by the liver. Most fatty acids are "burned" completely to CO2 in the heart, other organs and skeletal muscle.
- When your body releases ketones -which it will do in your breath and your urine- it is chemical proof that you're consuming your own stored fat.
WRONG: Medium chain triglycerides have been known to generate ketones without carbohydrate restriction. Further, on a high calorie high fat diet, there is no evidence that stored fat is the source of those fatty acids, nor that even if burned, there is a net loss of body fat in the process. Also, see Jimmy Moore in 2014 :-)
- Once more, for emphasis: When a person on a safe, controlled carbohydrate plan such as mine is releasing ketones, he or she is in the fat-dissolving state of lipolysis. This process is simply the most efficient path ever devised for getting you slim. And the more ketones you release, the more fat you have dissolved.
|From Guyton & Hall |
Textbook of Medical Physiology
GIMMICK & HYPE: (Also wrong.) Ketones in a state of ketoacidosis are indeed the result of unrestrained lipolysis and excessive fatty acid delivery to the liver. Those fatty acids are "released" from their proper storage depots (fat cells) but not released from your body.
The plot at right is for glucose, FFA and ketones after removal of the pancreas (in dog). Both glucose and FFA level off at an elevated level because glucose eventually exceeds re-uptake thresholds and is excreted in the urine (CO!) while FFA diffuse into non-adipose tissue such that the maximum level of fatty acids is roughly double the usual circulating amount. Note that the ketones keep rising.
Another way to look at this is that ketoacidosis would not be possible if the body had an efficient way of ridding itself of these molecules. Yet another way of looking at this is that if carbohydrate restriction "unlocked" your fat in the manner claimed, you would be looking at ketoacidosis instead of the mild ketosis observed under even the most stringent of conditions.
- Lipolysis is the biochemical method of weight loss -the alternative to using glucose for fuel, the very process that has made you heavy.
WRONG: Using glucose for fuel doesn't make you heavy so long as your total caloric intake doesn't exceed expenditure.
- Lipolysis can be your life raft, giving you both slimness and health, and distancing you from the obese person's perils of diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
WRONG: Lipolysis -- or unrestrained lipolysis accompanied by inadequate recycling within the adipocyte -- is what leads to the "perils of diabetes" associated with obesity. Most of the obese have long ago used this "life raft" unwittingly, as most obese have elevated circulating levels of free fatty acids.
- Most of all, of course, it is the key to achieving your goal to use up the fat stored on your body.
WRONG: To repeat, lipolysis is not fat burning, and therefore not a route out of your body for stored fatty acids.
- The phenomenon of lipolysis or fat burning being the major alternative fuel system has been so well researched that it is simply not disputed in academic circles. It is scientific fact.
THIS CANNOT BE MORE WRONG: Yes, these metabolic pathways are well researched. Yes, they are a matter of scientific fact at this point. But -- to repeat once more -- lipolysis is NOT fat burning.
The Thermodenyics of Atkins:
To sum up this first installment then, Atkins didn't really begin as a First Law denier or what I'll call a Thermodenialist. He merely misunderstood the process of constructing a valid equation based on the principle of conservation of energy. However in DANDR, Atkins earned his full PhD regalia from the school of Thermodenialism. While he still hung his hat on ketosis, the new calorie balance equation that factored in ketone energy losses went missing, replaced by the magic of lipolysis and the flat-out erroneous notion that lipolysis is synonymous with fat burning.
Once you absorb the molecules=calories, any explanation of what comes next must comply with the laws of thermodynamics (most specifically the First Law, or more broadly the Law of Conservation of Energy). Even Dr. Eades stated this point blank. Lipolysis, the breaking down of triglycerides (storage form of fat) to free fatty acids (transport/usage form of fat) and glycerol, is not the rate limiting factor in what comes next: the breaking down of fatty acids to CO2.
Furthermore, one might ask themselves why, if ketones are evidence of body fat burning, they are not present at similar levels in all humans who are actively losing body fat?!
Stay tuned ... A Thermocraptastic exposé of the mirdled low carb guru is in the queue.