February 14, 2023

Signals that make your body get and stay fat | Dr. Richard Johnson

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Do you ever get that feeling that your body just loves putting on fat and keeping you that way? You're not wrong. Dr. Richard Johnson has uncovered a signaling system in our bodies that do just that.  On episode 577 of the 40+ Fitness Podcast, we discuss his book, Why Nature Wants Us Fat.


Let's Say Hello

[00:04:08.900] – Allan

Hey, Ras, how are things?

[00:04:12.650] – Rachel

Good, Allan. How are you today?

[00:04:14.520] – Allan

I'm doing great. I'm doing great. You came on to the podcast all bundled up.

[00:04:19.190] – Rachel

I am. It's only 20 degrees up here today, and we're expecting it to dip down into the single digits pretty soon. It's about to get cold.

[00:04:29.130] – Allan

Don't know why you do it. You can go up there in the summer and come down here in the winter.

[00:04:36.540] – Rachel

Yeah, it's all tempting.

[00:04:37.820] – Allan

But anyway, let's just say it's not 20 degrees here, at least not 20 Fahrenheit, which is good. Things are going pretty good here. I'm pretty excited. I've been planning the retreat, so I've been spending some time really thinking about what we're going to do and how we're going to do it and how it's going to work. And so I've really gotten some of the baseline planning for the retreat together. So this will be out. And I'll just say, if you didn't already join the interest list, I hope that you didn't miss out because I offered this pre-sale to the interest list, and I'm going to give them first shot at the slots because it's limited. It's me at Lula's deck, and there's only a certain number of people we can fit on that deck and make it work. And there's only a certain number of rooms for the VIPs that are going to come in because there's a VIP level that stays at Lula's and gets included breakfast and a lot more time with me and extra workouts and extra time to do stuff.

[00:05:40.360] – Allan

So there's at least two levels, the basic and then the VIP. I've put that all together and planned that out. But if you don't get on the interest list, then you may miss your chance. And some of you may have already missed a chance. I'm not sure because we're recording this a few weeks out from when this will have already happened. The list will go live from a recording this a week, but by the time you hear this, it's already been out more than a week. So I would go out there and check out 40plusfitness.com/retreat. And by now it's not an interest list anymore. It's an actual page describing what's going on here in Bocas Del Toro in May 28 through June 2 with some activities the day before and some activities the day after that are just extras that I'm throwing in there. But it's going to be really cool. I'm going to enjoy that. But the planning is really exciting because I'm like, Okay, this is all the cool stuff we're going to do, and this is all the cool stuff we're going to talk about. So I'm excited about that.

[00:06:35.980] – Rachel

It sounds wonderful. Sounds like a really fun time in a beautiful location.

[00:06:40.320] – Allan

Oh, it is. It is. And the deck looking out over the water, it's just magical. So it's going to be a really cool time.

[00:06:47.690] – Rachel

Wonderful. Sounds great.

[00:06:49.560] – Allan

Well, how about you? The slight shivering and bumbling.

[00:06:53.460] – Rachel

Yeah, I actually ran a half marathon in the snow over the weekend, so I spent some extra time outside on the snowy, icy trails. And it was tough. I won't kid you, not every mile was magnificent, but it was actually a really good time to be out and about and enjoying the beautiful… It is beautiful. The snow is gorgeous. Cold but gorgeous. So it's a fun time.

[00:07:14.680] – Allan

I saw a picture of you in a Tshirt, maybe shorts, but I saw it out in the snow and I was like, I wouldn't even want that to be like a filter on my phone. It just looked so miserably cold. But you enjoy it.

[00:07:27.800] – Rachel

Yeah, you got to love it. Otherwise, the winners would be miserable. So got to learn to love it.

[00:07:33.760] – Allan

I learned to love it. Jesus. I can learn to love a lot of things. Cold is not one of them, but I get it. I get it. It's not mine, but good. Good. All right, are you ready to talk to Dr. Johnson?

[00:07:49.440] – Rachel



[00:08:41.000] – Allan

Dr. Johnson, welcome to 40+ Fitness.

[00:08:43.950] – Dr. Johnson

Allan, it's great to be here.

[00:08:46.140] – Allan

There's this book called, Nature Wants Us to Be Fat. And to be honest with you, conversations I've had with clients, things I see online, my own experiences, it made me wonder if biology was just flawed for one reason or another, and there really wasn't a way to lose the weight and keep the weight off. You can just look at the obesity levels and the overweight levels within any country that's westernized at all. And it almost looks like, yes, there's somebody out there pulling strings that's just keeping us fat.

[00:09:22.180] – Dr. Johnson

Yeah, you just have to look around and you know that nature wants us to be fat when you just see how common it is. And the truth is that there really is these pressures from nature that I should say, genetic changes that we've taken on that make us predisposed to getting fat. It's the truth. Don't feel bad if you're getting fat because nature wants you to be that way.

[00:09:45.150] – Allan

Well, and the core of it is that there can be some competitive advantages for a species that can get fat. Can we talk a little bit about that? Because I think when you're going to get to the biology of this and understanding why our body gets fat and why nature wants us fat is there's actually some benefits to it, if you will.

[00:10:05.060] – Dr. Johnson

Well, most of us, when we think about being fat, we don't see any advantage at all.

[00:10:10.230] – Allan

I can't outrun the lion anymore.

[00:10:12.240] – Dr. Johnson

Exactly. You can't. You can't outrun that lion. And not only that, being fat increases our risk for diabetes and increases our risk for fatty liver, increases our risk for high blood pressure. I mean, it's pretty hard to give an argument that fat is good. But the reality is that in nature, there are a lot of animals that will purposely try to become fat to help them during periods when there's no food around. And so when is there no food around. Well, in this dead of winter, it can be very hard for animals to find food. And so animals will hibernate and try to sleep through the winter. And in order to survive by just sleeping for four months, they have to have fat, and they use that fat to generate calories, because when they burn fat, they basically are producing energy. Fat is stored energy. Not only do they produce energy, but when you break down fat, you produce water. So these hibernating bear will get its water and energy from the fat that it's got. And so it's really important for the bear to become fat before it hibernates. So they actually maintain their normal weight throughout the summer.

[00:11:32.250] – Dr. Johnson

Spring and summer, they can run. They can evade a tiger if there was one around or fight it. But anyway, the bear will, in the fall, beginning two or three months before it hibernates, suddenly it will activate some mechanism where it will just come hungry all the time and will forge for food and it will eat as much as it can eat. It will gain 10 pounds or more a day. That's when you get fat pretty quickly. That way it'll double its fat. It'll become insulin resistant. All the things that we think of is bad, and yet it uses that to help it survive, because when it's insulin resistant, it keeps its glucose levels up and the brain uses glucose for its main fuel. And so it will keep the glucose levels up in its blood even when it's hibernating because it's insulin resistant. And that keeps the brain fueled while it's sleeping through the winter. And so it turns out that fat can be a survival mechanism. And other animals use fat, like in the desert, fat can be a source of not just calories because there's not a lot of food in the desert, but it can produce water.

[00:12:49.330] – Dr. Johnson

And so the animal has a hump of fat, and it will use that when it needs water. And the whale wants to be fat because it doesn't drink seawater, doesn't like seawater. It doesn't like seawater. And so it's too salty. So it tries to get its fresh water from the food it eats, and about a third of the water gets from the fat. So fat has a purpose. Fat can be good. And you want to have fat if you are in a period where there's no food. Now, in humans, there's pretty good data that people who are fat survive famines better than people who are not. And you certainly can show that in animals, that if you fatten a laboratory rat and then do caloric restriction, severe caloric restriction, it can survive because it can break down the fat that it has. So there's all this stuff that suggests that fat can be good. And what happened was humans in our past, it turns out evolutionarily, that there were times in our past when we went through periods of severe food shortage. And there was one period millions of years ago, there were been at least two times.

[00:13:59.960] – Dr. Johnson

And we had mutations that occurred then that increased our risk to become fat. And at that time, those mutations helped us store fat so that we could survive. And they didn't really make us fat. They just helped us store fat more effectively. But in today's society, these mutations are actually helping drive obesity because we're eating foods that are really not quite fattening and having these mutations just adds on to it. And so we have this great predisposition for fat.

[00:14:31.840] – Allan

Well, yeah. And then the key of it is not only is it easier to get fat, it's also you basically lower your energy usage. And so it's this double whammy that I think many of us have experienced. It's like my metabolism is nothing, and I'm gaining weight and I'm hungry all the time. If you've ever felt that, you've probably tripped what you call the survival switch. Can you talk a little bit about what the survival switch is? Because I've never faced a famine unless it was self induced. And then even then, I could walk away from it anytime I wanted to.

[00:15:07.630] – Dr. Johnson

Well, so we were very interested in what was this trigger that made animals gain weight. And so we've been studying this, and I've been studying this for over 20 years, and we discovered this switch, and the switch is driven. So remember that it's all about energy, right? You want to have energy to be able to do the things you want. And when you store fat, you're actually storing energy, and so you can use it. But what makes you store the energy? So it turns out that normally when an animal eats anyone, anything you eat, you get calories from it, and the calories are used to make energy. And the easiest way to think about this is that there's two types of energy. There's the energy that's immediately available that we use to do everything we want. We call that ATP. And then there's the stored energy, which is the fat. And so if you eat too much food, the extra gets turned over into fat. And if you don't eat enough food, then the fat you have gets broken down to provide the energy. And so you got the usable energy and the stored energy.

[00:16:16.150] – Dr. Johnson

Now, in most foods, the goal is to maintain high energy levels in the cell. So most animals, when they eat food, they're using it to generate high ATP levels, and the left over goes to fat. But when you eat a particular food called fructose, which is a sugar, it's present in table sugar, it's present in high fructose cornstarch. When you eat fructose, it acts differently than the other foods. And what it does is it blocks the production of ATP by knocking down the activity in the mitochondria. The mitochondria are in our cells, and that's what's making most of our ATP. And fructose induces oxidative stress and raises a substance called uric acid. And that uric acid suppresses the ATP production by the mitochondria. So now instead of the calories going to make ATP, you're blocking that so the calories get shunted to make fat. So the calories, the energy balance has to maintain. So if you're eating energy from food and you can't make the ATP, it goes into the fat. And then fructose also tries to block the fat from being turned into energy into ATP. So it blocks the burning of fat. So the fat accumulates and your ATP levels stay low.

[00:17:42.150] – Dr. Johnson

And when your ATP levels stay low, you become hungry and you have a low metabolism, just like you say. So it's really easier to gain weight because your metabolism is low, you're hungry, and the food you're eating is preferentially going to fat. And so this is like a switch. So normally, we don't have that going on. Normally it's the usual thing to try to maintain high ATP. But when you activate this switch, you suddenly are shifting the energy you eat into fat and reducing your metabolism. And so you like that bear. And that's exactly what happens to the bear. It starts eating all these berries and fruits that have a lot of fructose in it. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that fruits are necessarily bad. Often, the kinds of fruits we eat are often tart, and they have all these good vitamins like vitamin C and all these things. And they have things called flavanols, and they help neutralize the fruit dose. And then we only eat one or two fruit at a time. So we're only getting small amounts of fructose, whereas the verily 10,000 varies in a 24 hours period.

[00:18:53.720] – Dr. Johnson

And so they're getting a big dose of fructose. And when the fruit ripens, it tends to go good stuff tends to go down and the sugar goes up. So when a fruit ripens and they like really ripe fruit, we like it a little more tart. We don't like it mushy normally. And so the fruit dose is the problem. You can get it from fruit. But for us, the take home message is that eating a few natural fruits is not going to do it. But if you make a smoothie and you put 10 fruit in one, you break it down and make this big juice. With the juicer, what's happened is you end up with a fair amount of fructose and it's like drinking a soft drink. And so you can activate the switch by drinking fruit juice or drinking a soft drink. So soft drinks are the number one way to do this, but you can do it with fruit if you want.

[00:19:48.850] – Allan

Now, one of the interesting things as I was reading through your book and you were talking about fructose, I was thinking back to earlier in the book when you were talking about Emperor Penguin and how they want to put on fat because they've got to go inland and lay an egg. The one when the girl lays the egg. And of course, then the which I think is awesome, the guy, because he can put on more weight, he's going to sit there and sit on that egg and protect that egg until it's time. And then she'll come back after she's feeding and be there to feed the baby and deal with all that, then he can go eat. So they're putting on weight for survival purposes.

[00:20:20.480] – Dr. Johnson

Yeah, they're not eating fruit. Aren't they?

[00:20:23.500] – Allan

They're not eating fruit. And so a lot of people say, Well, I cut out sugar and I lost some weight, but now I'm putting it back on and I'm hungry and I want that. I want that very, very badly. And hey, we're coming up on Girl Scout cookie time.

[00:20:38.050] – Allan

So they're catching me every time I go in and out.

[00:20:42.300] – Dr. Johnson

I love Girl Scout cookies. Those thin mince cookies too.

[00:20:46.680] – Dr. Johnson

But yeah, it's depressing when you study it.

[00:20:49.580] – Allan

How is fructose playing into that?

[00:20:52.080] – Dr. Johnson

So that was the big question we had too, Allan. The question was, sure, okay, sugar can do it. I give sugar to animals to get fat. It turns out it's from the fructose. If I block the fructose because I have ways to block fructose metabolism that I can do in animals, for example, I can create an animal that can't metabolize fructose, and they stay thin and they're immune to the effects of sugar. And so I can really show that fructose can trigger this. And it explains very well how the bear activating the switch. But what about the Emperor Penguin? There's no apple trees and there's no bananas down there. So how do they do it? Well, this was a big question for us. And one of the things that we discovered was that you get fructose from food, of course, like sugar and high fructose corn syrup. And that's probably the major source of fructose for most of us. But you can also make fructose. This was so depressing, Allan, because I didn't really think that the body really made a lot of fructose. But we started studying this and we found to our amazement that the body can make a lot of fructose.

[00:22:08.860] – Dr. Johnson

And there's now data in humans showing the same. But our work initially was in laboratory animals. And one of the biggest sources is from carbs and especially these things called high glycemic carbs like cereal and bread and rice and potatoes. And all the things that I thought when I was originally studying this, I go, Oh, the problem of carbs is fructose. That's the problem. If I just take fructose out of my foods, it should solve the problem. And I knew that French fries weren't good, and they don't have fructose. But I kept thinking that it was the fructose had to be the problem because it didn't seem to be anything else. But it had to be involved something else. And it turns out that it is still fructose but it's being produced in our body. And when you eat high glycemic carbs like bread, rice, a lot of people say, Well, what's bad is blood glucose goes up in your blood and that stimulates this hormone insulin, and then the insulin makes you fat. And there may be a little bit of truth to that for sure. But when we did our experiments, we found that if we gave carbs like bread or rice or glucose to animals, they do get fat.

[00:23:29.560] – Dr. Johnson

But if we blocked fructose, we could prevent them from getting fat, and their insulin levels were still high. So this made me realize that actually the main mechanism by which carbs are causing obesity is because when the glucose goes up in the blood, that triggers some of it to be turned, converted to fructose. So it's still important to have carbs that raise glucose. It's really important. And if you have a glucose monitor and you're monitoring your glucose and you want to keep it the normal range, that's a good move. But it isn't just because you're blocking insulin, you're actually blocking the conversion of glucose to fructose. So it's the same benefit. I actually love the glucose monitor and I try to avoid eating high glycemic carbs. Really try not to eat a lot of rice and bread and potatoes because even though they taste good. And try to keep it down because they can be converted to fructose, and that is a mechanism for activating this switch. If you give bread to a bear, I bet you he'll get fat, because he'll do the same thing that we do. They'll convert that over to fructose. But the Penguin is not eating bread either.

[00:24:51.660] – Dr. Johnson

It's not eating rice and potatoes. And so it turns out there's yet a third way to do that. There's actually four big ways. And the third way is it's eating… So it turns out that the mechanism involves raising uric acid. And there are times in the year where the Penguin will start eating quill and things like this, as well as a lot of fish that are high in uric acid. And particularly, there are certain seasons where the uric acid goes up in the fish. And it's not so much the uric acid, it's like the RNA. And there are these things called the booming of the frill. And that's when the frill suddenly increase in numbers. And that's associated with a huge increase in nucleic acid in the cricket, which I don't know if we should go on into that. But then the fish eat that, and basically every animal starts feeding it and they start using it to get fatter. And then the pig will eat those fish in the frill, and it would times with the increasing of fat. And we found that is another mechanism. So I had a friend who was in the shrimp business, and shrimp is one of those foods that can also contain a lot of this stuff that makes uric acid.

[00:26:15.820] – Dr. Johnson

And he was eating fried shrimp. And I was thinking, well, he's off carbs. He's not eating a lot of carbs, but he's still gaining weight. The guy gained a lot of weight and became overweight. And I think it was because he was eating a lot of this shrimp that triggered the switch. And then having the fat in the fry was the calories that he could put on the weight quickly that way. So there are different ways to do this. But the number one way is probably from carbs and sugar. And so that's why the low carb diet works so well. The Keto diet works so well because it's blocking you from eating a lot of high glycemic carbs and also sugar and fructose.

[00:26:59.760] – Allan

Now, there was one other way that you brought up in the book that I thought was really interesting, particularly when someone goes low carb, you tell them, okay, well, because you're low carb, you're going to flush some water. And as a result, we want you to have more electrolytes so you can hold on to some of that water. And so folks are starting to salt their food a little bit more and do a little bit more. But that could also be problematic, couldn't it?

[00:27:21.220] – Dr. Johnson

Yeah. So let's talk about that. So it turns out that animals, as we mentioned, they use fat as a source of water. And actually, when you go on a low carb diet and you start burning the fat that first week and you're burning the glycogen and stored carbohydrates, they release water. And so it's very common in the first week of a low carb diet to lose a lot of water because you're basically breaking it. When you break down the fat and the carbs stored, the stored carbs like the glycogen, you release water. And so you do lose a lot of water. And it's not uncommon to become a little dehydrated the first few weeks on a low carb diet. Drinking a lot of water is very beneficial for sure. And this is well known in the low carb field. But what is not so well known is that mild dehydration can be a stimulus for obesity. And when you an animal is in the desert, they are living in a low water state, and so they tend to be mildly dehydrated. And that actually helps them store fat. If they become severely dehydrated, they'll break down the fat.

[00:28:31.080] – Dr. Johnson

But if they're just mildly dehydrated, they will gain fat. And the way that works, it's interesting. When you get mildly dehydrated, the salt concentration in your blood goes up because you're losing water. So blood is basically a combination of water and salt. And if you lose a little water, the salt concentration goes up. And when that happens, it triggers the release of a hormone called Vesopressin. And this helps you hold onto water because it concentrates the urine. And that's why when you dehydrate, the urine, it gets dark yellow. And it's because this hormone is turned on. And we found that that hormone actually triggers basically this survival switch as well. And when the hormone goes up, it tries to stimulate fat storage and so forth. Now, if you get really dehydrated, it goes into emergency mode and starts breaking down the fat. But in the mild dehydration, it actually stores fat. I don't know if you saw this, but in the last few months, there's been a number of papers that have come out showing that mild dehydration is a real risk factor for obesity, diabetes, and even premature mortality, and dementia, and all these things.

[00:29:46.370] – Dr. Johnson

It's like being associated with a lot of chronic diseases. And there was a paper from the National Institute of Health that looked at your serum salt. So whenever you get a blood test, Allan, you can get a serum salt and sodium, and no one ever looks at it because it's usually in the normal range in the vast majority of people.

[00:30:06.070] – Allan

I do because I actually like it.

[00:30:07.430] – Dr. Johnson

Good for you, man.

[00:30:08.780] – Allan

Well, okay, but only because I had an incident, an event. I went, what do they call it?

[00:30:16.000] – Allan


[00:30:16.130] – Dr. Johnson


[00:30:17.360] – Allan

Yeah, basically too much water and not enough salt. And I flushed too much sodium out. And what I didn't know was I tend to be on the low end of the sodium. And so for me to lose sodium is not necessarily a good thing, and so I have to be careful with it. And yeah, my sodium dropped down to that level where I went into spasms and could have gone into a coma. But fortunately, I'm not.

[00:30:40.190] – Dr. Johnson

Oh, my gosh. Well, let's talk about that. Let's go into that a little bit.

[00:30:44.120] – Allan


[00:30:44.720] – Dr. Johnson

So it turns out you have this thing called sodium. And when you get your blood test, it's almost everyone has this measured. And the sodium is NA, that's the symbol. And when you look at the sodium, the normal range is like 135 to 145. And what these studies show is that if you're in the 142 to 145 range, which we call normal, you actually have an increased risk for all these terrible diseases. Now, interestingly, if your sodium goes low, it also increases your risk. So if your sodium goes under 135 to a low level, it can be associated with its own problems, a lot of problems. And the most feared one is what happens to marathon runners. So when you're running a marathon, if you get a little bit behind in your fluids, you can start holding on to water because this vasopressin hormone goes up because you get dehydrated. And sometimes the vasopressin level will go up really high and you can start holding on to the water. And instead, normally the way vasopressin works is it helps you hold onto water.

[00:31:58.890] – Dr. Johnson

But when the serum sodium comes back to normal, it turns off. Then it turns off and then you just pee out the water and everything's good. But when you're a marathon runner, occasionally the vasopressin doesn't turn off. And when it doesn't turn off, the water you can… The serum sodium can actually become low and you can get into trouble. And so most people that's not the case because they're not running marathons and they're not holding on to water. But in some people, it can. And like you do, it apparently did. If that happens, you have to be very careful not to drink a lot of water. You need to talk to your doctor, maybe eat more salt and drink less water. But in most people, it turns out that we're usually on a high salt diet. We're eating a lot of salt, just like we're eating a lot of sugar. And all this processed food is injected with salt and salt and French fries and salt and pretzels and salted peanuts, and we're eating all this salt. And so most of us are eating a lot of salt, and we tend to run our sodiums. A lot of people run their sodium a little bit on the high side, mimicking dehydration.

[00:33:12.480] – Dr. Johnson

And what we found was that if you put animals on salt, that over months and months, in the first couple of months, nothing happens. But after several months, they start to become obese. And it's because they're stimulating this vasopressin chronically, and their sodium is a little high. And so they're turning on this survival switch and gaining fat. And when we looked at people who are overweight, most of them are on high salt diets, and most of them have evidence that they're eating too much salt. So it fit that that could be another risk factor for obesity. And then we found that high salt diet predicts obesity, and high salt diet predicts fatty liver, and high salt diet predicts diabetes. And then we took animals and we gave them water, and we could reduce the obesity from sugar by increasing water intake. And what we're doing is we're increasing it to eight… In a human, it would be eight eight ounce cups a day. That's where you want to go. You want to have your urine volume, like two to three liters a day. Normally, it's like one to two liters. So we're looking at trying to increase things a little bit more.

[00:34:22.430] – Dr. Johnson

So everyone is drinking four or five cups of water a day on average. And we're saying let's go up to eight, maybe 10. I'm not telling you to drink liters and liters and liters and liters because if you do, you might get hyponic traviates, spasm, and have seizures.

[00:34:41.440] – Dr. Johnson

There was a case a few years ago in the Boston Marathon where a young lady dropped dead, she was drinking huge amounts of water while she was running and she wasn't getting rid of it because her vasopressin was still turned on.

[00:34:56.820] – Allan

So we've talked about a few things here which I think are really important. So basically, these four known mechanisms. There might actually even be more. You're not done yet. So we're talking about fructose, we're talking about simple carbs, we're talking about uric acid, and we're talking about salt and making sure we get adequate water. Those are some high level things that I think a lot of us when we go on a diet of some sort or another, or our doctors talking to us about our blood pressure, we do a bit of this. And as a result, for at least a period of time, we actually see the benefits. We lose some weight, we're feeling good in spry, and lo and behold, a few months go by and something happens and we lose it all. When I say lose it all, we actually gain it all and we gain it all back and sometimes more. What are some things that we can do about that? Because I'm a solutions guy. I'm a guy who wants to have a question roll things. So what do we do to get ourselves on track here and moving in the right direction?

[00:35:55.030] – Dr. Johnson

Yeah, let's talk about that. So the way this switch works is you generate fructose, and then the fructose works on the mitochondria to block the energy production. Over time, the way it does it is it generates uric acid, which attacks the mitochondria, causes what we call oxidative stress. And initially, that is, it damages the mitochondria, but it's temporary. So it knocks down the mitochondria a bit, and then the mitochondria recover. But if you're doing this continuously with the drinking soft drinks and all these other things every day. Over time, the mitochondria becomes damaged permanently. And when they start getting permanent damage, then it's harder for them to come back up to normal. And so what happens is it's harder to lose weight because your mitochondria are low, so you're living on a low energy state. And so you can die and lose weight, but it seems like anything you eat will cause you to gain weight again. And so the question is, how do you break that? And the answer turns out to be scientifically simple, but hard to do. So let's just talk about it. So the scientific solution is to quit damaging the mitochondria. So cut out or reduce foods that can damage the mitochondria.

[00:37:15.620] – Dr. Johnson

The main thing is to reduce sugar and reduce carbs. That's difficult. But then the second big thing is to try to stimulate those mitochondria to regenerate. And there are ways to do it. And what you're doing now, this whole thing about fitness, fitness is a fantastic way to stimulate mitochondrial growth. So even just endurance exercises can stimulate those mitochondria and working, doing a stationary bike or biking or walking fast. The classic teaching is you want to exercise to the point where you can still talk, but not easily. And if you can still talk to your friend while you're jogging or walking really fast, but it's hard, that's the perfect place to be. And you want to do that for 30, 40 minutes. And regular exercise with weights, that's good too. They definitely help. But that endurance exercise can stimulate those mitochondria to come back. Taking things like vitamin C, vitamin C helps the mitochondria recover. Taking 500 milligrams twice a day, that's a wonderful way to do it. And it also lowers your acid without you having to take a drug. Another great thing to do is dark chocolate contains these things called flavanols, and they contain one that's called Epicatecan and green tea is another.

[00:38:40.680] – Dr. Johnson

It contains a similar one called Epigallic, but these flavanols helps stimulate mitochondria growth. And there's over the counter things like carnotene and some of these things are really CoQ10 or whatever. And there's a lot of these things that are probably good for mitochondria. Vitamin. Vitamin B1, 100 milligrams a day can really help stimulate energy in cells. It's an antidote we use when people have low energy from alcohol in their cells and they can get… Because vitamin can be a magical drug, and it's a vitamin. So what the heck? Anyway, so there are these things to do to try to stimulate the energy factories. And so reducing sugar, drinking more water, cutting back on salt, and following your preachings, Allan, following your preachings. And all these things can help. But even so, it's very hard if your mitochondria are knocked down, it takes months to rebuild them. So you have to have faith. You have to just keep going.

[00:39:48.440] – Allan

And that's one of the cool things with your book. This isn't just stuff you're throwing out a bunch of science at the end. You do have the switch diet, which you talk about, and that can help you. And in a sense, just really start building the platform for getting better. And then once you start losing the weight and then making sure that you're now getting the exercise to help keep it off, those are great. And that's all in your program. That's all in your book. I'd encourage someone, if you're really struggling with this and you just feel like your biology is fighting against you, this is a big part of the answer why it's hard. And if it were easy, then everybody would be thin and healthy, but it's not. So this is a challenge. And I appreciate that you've given us an opportunity book to know not just what to do, because that's what most books do. This is why it will work for you and having the patience to stick with it.

[00:40:41.510] – Allan

Dr. Johnson, I define wellness as being the healthiest, fittest, and happiest you can be. What are three strategies or tactics to get and stay well?

[00:40:51.220] – Dr. Johnson

So you want me to give you three recommendations. The first one is avoid sugary beverages. They are the number one driver. If you drink a soft drink, you're getting a big load of sugar in a very short period of time. So avoid sugary beverages. That includes sugary teas and it includes power drinks and it includes fruit juices. That's number one. Number two, drink more water. People are just not drinking enough. If you have a slow sodium problem, talk to your doctor about it. But for the vast majority of the world, people are not drinking enough water. There's so much data, eight eight ounce cups a day. They used to think it was a myth. The data now is very clear and just do that. I think the third one is develop a program for yourself that involves exercising three to four times a week and reducing those foods that we know aren't good for you, like carbs and especially high glycemic carbs and sugar, salty foods. They can do it. And there are certain meats, processed red meats in particular, a lot of seafood, especially shellfish, like shrimp and crab, those are rich foods for a reason.

[00:42:13.740] – Dr. Johnson

We call them rich foods, and they have a lot of this uric acid capability. But if you're on a low carb diet, you're probably protected from these meats because the way you make fructose is you make it from glucose. And so it turns out that a lot of if you're not eating any carbs at all, it's hard to make a lot of fructose. So you can get away with eating these foods, like a lot of them you can get away with. But still be careful not to eat too much of these really rich liver shrimp. A lot of them are. But I am a big fan of low carb food and the low carb diet. So I do like high protein diets, but there's just certain foods that are high protein that may not be the healthiest. And then also reduce alcohol, especially beer. Beer is one of the easiest ways to put on extra weight. It's similar to sugar, actually. So maybe I gave you four things.

[00:43:11.000] – Allan

That's awesome. All right. Like I said, I love the book. There's just so much in it, and I'm a geek. So if you want to just get in and really get into the biology of this and the studies he did to get to some of this information that's now been covered by others and basically verified. These are things, and I don't think any of this is really a surprise, but understanding that there is a biological switch that makes this happen for a very good reason. We just are switching it for the wrong reasons. And we need.

[00:43:44.350] – Dr. Johnson

nature wants us to be fat.

[00:43:46.560] – Allan

Nature wants us to be fat.

[00:43:49.120] – Dr. Johnson

And so don't feel bad if you're fat. Nature wants us to be fat. But there are things we can do.

[00:43:54.270] – Allan

Dr. Johnson, if someone wanted to learn more about you and learn more about your book, Nature Wants Us to Be Fat, where would you like for me to send them?

[00:44:01.780] – Dr. Johnson

So I have a website, drrichardjohnson.com, and it's kept up to date with a lot of information. And then my book is available through any bookstore, Amazon, Books a million, it's very easy to find. I do have an Instagram, Dr. Richard J. Johnson, that I use for a fair amount. But I think my website is probably the best place to go.

[00:44:26.350] – Allan

Okay. You can go to 40plusfitnesspodcast.com/577 and I'll be sure to have links there. Dr. Johnson, thank you so much for being a part of 40+ Fitness.

[00:44:37.420] – Dr. Johnson

Thank you, Allan.

Post Show/Recap

[00:44:47.780] – Allan

Welcome back, Ras.

[00:44:48.820] – Rachel

Hey, Allan. I probably could have listened to you guys chat for a little bit longer about all these different triggers and the reasons why our bodies want to get fat and stay fat. It was actually really fascinating. But I'm going to tell you right now that fructose was not at the top of my list of things to be concerned about. Honestly, I was thinking 20 other things before that came up, but it was an interesting discussion.

[00:45:11.330] – Allan

Well, I think a lot of people lose sight of where fructose is. I think they think, oh, well, that's fruit. That's fruit. Fructose is fruit. And that's the only… No, table sugar is 50 50, glucose and fructose. That's table sugar. High fructose corn syrup, as the name implies, has more fructose than glucose. Fructose is sweetener than glucose. That's what makes it cheaper is they put it in the food. It's also shelf stable. There's a lot of other stuff. It's in almost everything that's processed. It's crazy. It's in ketchup. It's in your spaghetti sauce. It's anything that's in a box, bag, jar, or can you want to see. And two things to look at is you can look at the order. It happens in the ingredients list. You can look at the total amount of sugars because that's also going to be on the thing. But sugar can apply in multiple levels. So you may see high fructose corn syrup, and then you're going to see agave syrup, and then you're going to see nectar. You'll see these different words, and all they're saying is fructose. There's more fructose. And then, hey, here's a little more fructose to throw in there.

[00:46:28.460] – Allan

And that's all part of it. They'll tell you how much sugar is in it. They'll tell you, you're never really going to get that breakdown. Is this mostly glucose? Is it mostly fructose? And there's no need for you to memorize all this stuff. What I would say is if it's in a box, bag, jar or can pay attention. And then if you're looking at that label, how much of it is added sugars and how much of it is sugar, because that's really where the rubber hits the road. Now, there are other triggers that he brought up because he was mentioning the Emperor Penguin. And these guys are really cool because… Well, I didn't know, but again, I love reading this stuff because I learned things. But the Emperor Penguins, okay, so the males and the females will just go get themselves morbidly obese. And then right after they do that, the women go out and they lay the eggs. And then the boys, because they can put on more fat, they're bigger and they put on a lot more fat, they can sit out there on the egg for a lot longer than the female can.

[00:47:24.380] – Allan

So they go out there and sit on the egg and the female goes back to the Coast to eat and feed and then comes back and then the chicks are born and then she can regurgitate fish and stuff and feed the animal, feed the baby. But it's like, so they have to get morbidly obese so that they can survive. And if for one reason or another that the male didn't get fat enough, he has to leave the egg and go back to the Coast so he can feed because he can't feed out there. So it's a cycle that keeps them alive. But then you say, Okay, well, wait a minute, they are not eating fruit. This doesn't look like this is a great plan. Oh, wow. Here's this Emperor Penguin eating apples. It's like they don't even have hands, but they're eating apples. No, but that's why our bodies can create fructose. It can create those things. And so there's other triggers that are happening that are creating this environment in our body that says, get fat because something bad is about to happen. The famine is about to happen. The cold weather, the lack of food is going to happen and we need the excess or lack of water because we talked about how you look at a whale, there's no fresh water out in the ocean.

[00:48:37.780] – Allan

So the whale can't drink saltwater either. You think, okay, is a fish thirsty?

[00:48:47.760] – Rachel

What a concept.

[00:48:49.460] – Allan

Whales are thirsty and so they're not drinking enough water. They're not drinking water. And since they're not drinking water, well, because they can actually do ice and stuff like that, but they're not that much. So they're eating fish and all that. They're getting some water from that. But building fat in their fat stores then provide the same thing with camels. The hump in their back is not some water tank that they just fill up. It's fat. It's a series of fat that collects, and then they use that for water. So apparently, I guess when they're out of water, their little lumps are floppy. So again, it's this whole biological process where our body is triggering us to put on body fat to protect us from a coming winter or whatever. And unfortunately, we don't have those anymore. I mean, obviously, yeah, it's 20 degrees up there and it's 24 degrees down here. So we do have winters, but you're able to be in a house bundled up. You are not out in the elements nearly as more than most because you've got your running thing. But you don't need a whole bunch of body fat to survive the winter because you've got the manmade stuff that keeps you alive despite it.

[00:49:59.080] – Allan

So because we're not in that environment, because we're in a food abundant environment, we don't need those triggers. We don't need them, but we keep doing it. We keep triggering it and we don't understand. It's like, Well, I'm not. I look at the calories. I don't understand, or I'm always hungry. I don't know why I'm always hungry. And it's because you've triggered. And the trigger says, eat more. Just eat more.

[00:50:23.800] – Rachel

And hold on to it.

[00:50:25.190] – Allan

And hold on to that body fat. So it lowers your metabolism. It's not that you're not eating enough and that's lowering your metabolism. It's not that you're getting older and that's lowering your metabolism. Yes, our metabolism does start to slow down a little bit, but it's actually not that big until you're like 90. So a 90 year old's metabolism relative to a 40 year old's metabolism is lower, like maybe 20 % lower. But it's not this drastic number where you're like, when I was a kid, I could eat anything, and now I can't. It's not that drastic, but it does lower it when you got the trigger on because the process requires, the nature requires, the biology requires you to put on body fat. So it's doing both, lower the metabolism and increase your hunger. And that's what makes this so hard.

[00:51:17.460] – Rachel

But there's more to it. It's not just the fructose, it's all of the simple carbs, the high glycemic food items that we eat. And you also discuss uric acid and their level of hydration or dehydration has an impact as well.

[00:51:34.790] – Allan

Yeah. All of those are signals, I would say. I think anyone listen to this podcast that didn't know sugar was on that list, shocker, because he brought up, he was doing the research and it was like, Oh, wow. Everything's pointing to fructose. But then it didn't make sense what's going on with some animals that aren't eating fruit. How is that happening for them? And it was like, okay, there's something else going on. And he even talked to someone who was popular in the online space in podcasts and books around the low carb stuff. And he's like, the guy told him, he's like, I can't just cut out fructose. I have to cut out all carbs because otherwise, I don't lose weight at all. And so he was like, well, okay. At the time, they didn't jive with his model, his scientific model. But then he came back to realize it's like, what happens when we eat excess glucose? So it's high glycemic index foods. So bread, potatoes, rice, white rice. So anything that would come up as high in the glycemic index, or in some cases, glycemic load, if you're eating a mix of foods.

[00:52:46.320] – Allan

But if it's high in that glycemic index, then that's excess glucose. And your body will say, We can convert some of this to fructose.

[00:52:54.840] – Allan

And then it's going to trigger all those same things. And then if you're someone who's struggling with gout and you know your uric acid levels are high because this is another trigger high uric acid. And if you have gout, then you realize, okay, you know that it basically, because there's this excess uric acid, it turns into crystals. And so most people know and experience the arthritis that comes from having those crystals embedded in their joints and how painful that is. Here's what I got from the book. Those are also being embedded inside your arteries and inside your heart. And so if you're high in uric acid, if you've had episodes of gout, you're probably also having higher issues with cardiovascular problems. And so, again, another reason, even if you aren't overweight, but you do have uric acid issues and gout to keep those under control, which interestingly enough, fructose is one of the things that makes that happen as sometimes does red meat. So not that you have to avoid those things, but just knowing your status and how it's triggering. And then, yeah, it was the hydration.

[00:54:07.220] – Allan

And beyond just that of seeing that that could be your trigger, there's a lot of other reasons to stay hydrated. One is a lot of times we get hungry because we're dehydrated and we're actually thirsty, but we experience it as hunger because a lot of our water actually does come from the food. So you get a cucumber or watermelon or even most meats, there's a lot of water content in those things. And you see that, like, okay, if you dehydrate a stake to make jerky, the mass of it, the size of it, you're like, Well, where did the volume go? Well, the water. That much water was in that stake. So it gives you an idea of how much water, if you dehydrate something, how much smaller it is. But you can see how that's happening. So we eat those things for water. And so you need to make sure that you're drinking plenty of water so that you're not overly hungry, even though it's really thirst. And then the other side of it is when our liver is this really cool thing, it's smart. And I'm going to be talking to Dave Asprey in a few weeks.

[00:55:08.300] – Allan

And it's one of the things he puts out there is this laziness principle. And I think our liver is exactly like that. And what it is is that you're… And it sounds terrible, but it's actually how things work is everything's going to want to use as little power, as little effort, as little anything as it can to still get the job done. That's just smart. That's not dumb. And it's not things say lazy, but the reality is it's just smart. Our liver is the same way. And so we put all these chemicals in our liver based on what we're eating, drinking, smelling, and of course, what industry and everything else is putting in our environment. Thousands and thousands of chemicals and those get into our body and our liver is responsible for helping us deal with that. And if we're putting on body fat, our liver says, Well, I can just store this in this body fat. It's actually the easiest way for me to do this. So this person is eating plenty of fructose and all these chemicals because this and that. And I got to get rid of these, but I'm just over here building this fat for this person because they want me to.

[00:56:10.120] – Allan

And then it just says, Let's put those in there, too. So it just puts those toxins in the fat. And it's efficient because now I don't have to do anything about it. It's like you lift up the carpet and you sweep that dirt under there. Or you guys remember, clean up your room and you took everything and threw it in the closet and shut the door. I'm done. It's like, oh, wait, you're done. And it was just we covered it up and therefore, out of sight, out of mind, it's the same thing. But the problem then is when you do actually start losing the weight.

[00:56:41.100] – Allan

You're going to start what? Hitting that fat and processing it and using it for energy, which means it's going to get released. So you may notice you start a diet, you start losing a little bit of body fat, you got a headache. Not just Keto, but a lot of them, you start getting headaches. You're like, why am I so headic here? It's like you've released those chemicals into your system because you're now mobilizing that fat. So drinking plenty of water helps your kidneys, helps your liver, helps the whole process, lymph nodes, and everything else work better because you're not dehydrated. When you're dehydrated, then we got other things to worry about. We don't need to be worrying about lymph and getting rid of this stuff in the liver and all that. It's like, yeah, well, we'll keep them alive, but that's about it. And so that's the whole process is to make sure you're getting plenty to drink, you're eating whole foods. So if you need to, paying attention to the glycemic index of the food you're eating and potentially what it's doing for your uric acid levels.

[00:57:45.120] – Rachel

Perfect. Those are all great triggers to keep an eye on and to change. If you're stuck at a weight and you are trying to lose it, then these are the things you might want to look into.

[00:57:56.050] – Allan

If your body is constantly telling you you're hungry, even though you know you're eating enough and you're not losing the weight, in fact, you're putting it on and you're like, I'm not eating enough to get fat, but yet here we are, then that's something you want to pay attention to. It's not just calories in, calories out. Your body will make you eat more and it will make you stored as fat because it'll lower your metabolism and be pushing you to be hungry all the time. And that's a miserable way to be. So make sure you're giving yourself really good quality food where you can, dang off the high glycemic stuff and the added sugars and the fructose and all that and stay hydrated. And this is going to be a thousand fold easier for you. And so as Dr. Johnson says, nature wants us to be fat, but nature really wants us to be fat when we need to be fat.

[00:58:49.070] – Allan

And we don't need to be fat, so you can do something about it.

[00:58:54.920] – Rachel

That sounds great. Great interview.

[00:58:57.200] – Allan

I enjoyed it a lot. It was a really good book. You're interested in all of that. He did a lot of rat studies. And so he talks about his rats or the rats he has to get to be able to study how these different biological functions are happening of fructose and glucose and rats that can't process it, rats that don't like it, rats.

[00:59:19.900] – Rachel

Oh, my gosh. It's like a nightmare.

[00:59:23.710] – Allan

Yeah. Well, can he genetically modify me to not like sugar? That'd be great.

[00:59:30.040] – Rachel

If only it was that easy.

[00:59:31.400] – Allan

If only it was that easy. But we're not there yet. And so from a health perspective, what you can do right now, he does give you an idea of what those triggers are. And then you can structure your own self-experiment and figure out what works best for you.

[00:59:47.000] – Rachel

That's awesome. Fascinating.

[00:59:48.320] – Allan

All right. Well, Rachel, I'll talk to you next week.

[00:59:51.720] – Rachel

Take care, Allan.

[00:59:52.820] – Allan

You too.

Music by Dave Gerhart


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