Welcome everyone to another edition of the Doctor’s Note where we talk about what’s on our minds when it comes to your health. This week I’m going to talk about why protein is so important to your overall health. I don’t emphasize it enough. I’m usually telling people to get lean: eat less calories, more good fats, less carbs, less food overall. But just as important is the amount of protein in your diet. You’re probably not eating enough.
Let’s talk about it.
The Importance of Proteins
Almost everyone who has a chronic ailment is protein deficient. Protein deficiency leads to all kinds of problems:
- Tissue breakdown
- Hair loss
- Muscle wasting
- Gut problems
- Mental problems like anxiety and depression
- Decreased cognition
- Poor balance
- Bone loss
- Premature aging
The anatomy of a protein consists of a long string of amino acids. These are molecules that are made of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen. There are 22 different ways that amino acids can be put together and configured in our body for use. Of the 22 amino acids, 8 are what we term ESSENTIAL. Note: Some people say 8 and some people say 9, but there are really 8. This means that we need to get these from our food or supplements because our bodies can’t make them.
Amino acids go down one of two pathways when you ingest them. They’re either used for anabolic purposes (building up), or they’re used for catabolic purposes (breaking down). These amino acids get into a cell on one of these two paths. On the anabolic path, it’s building proteins. These proteins could be (a) a hormone, (b) an enzyme, having many different functions in the body, (c) neurotransmitters, (d) muscle fibers, hopefully many, or (e) even hair.
The anabolic path builds things. Unlike carbs and fats, there is no energy released through the process. Note: That’s how proteins are different from carbs and fats. In addition to carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atoms, all proteins contain nitrogen and sulfur atoms (plus traces of other elements).
The other pathway is a catabolic (breaking down) pathway. This pathway does release energy. When the amino acids get into your cells, and it’s not needed for protein synthesis, it’s broken down into molecules of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. In other words, these are carbohydrates that can be used for fuel (energy).
The other breakdown molecule is nitrogen. Note: This is important because you can actually measure it. Nitrogen, in this case, is a toxic waste and it’s processed by the body into urea which is eliminated through your urine. You see how important proteins are?
There’s a lot of common myths about proteins.
Myth #1: All proteins are the same. They’re definitely not.
The balance of these 8 essential amino acids must be exact. If just one of these essential amino acids is low, it throws off the entire system (the nutritional profile). It’s really dependent on the amino acids that are utilized. You can eat a lot of protein, but if they’re low quality and not getting utilized, you’re not building in the muscle, or breaking them down for energy. For example, next time you look at the side of your yogurt carton and it says 14 grams of protein, be aware that only 16% is usable. A typical Balance Bar has 14 grams of protein, but only 16% is usable. A can of tuna fish has 16 grams of protein, of which 33% is usable.
Note: When you look at yogurt, or nutrition bars or supplements, look at the extra stuff in them. Read the label. There’s a lot of other processed things and chemicals in there that you don’t want. There’s often a lot of junk in there. You don’t need those other ingredients.
Like it or not, animal proteins are definitely the best natural source of essential amino acids for our bodies to function. Remember, it needs to be grass fed, pastured, or wild caught. Plant proteins, on the other hand, have mixes of amino acids, but they’re usually lacking in one or two of them. They are much less bioavailable (i.e., they may be missing a lot of methionine, lysine, or tryptophan). A lot of plant proteins don’t have these in enough abundance to really build muscle and do all those other things you need to do when you enter the growth phase. It’s a myth that all proteins are the same. They certainly aren’t.
Myth #2: People are getting enough protein. This concept is very flawed. It’s wrong.
The dietary reference guide says that a sedentary adult needs .36 grams of protein per pound, meaning that the average person needs about 56 grams of protein a day. Really you need at least one gram of protein per pound of body weight, especially if you want to build muscle and maintain muscle. As you age, you have a more difficult time maintaining muscle. You have to eat so much better. Everybody’s goal should be to build and maintain muscle their whole life. As you get older, this becomes more difficult.
Plus, you have to be able to digest the protein! That’s why your gut function is so important. You have to have enough stomach acid. Think about PPIs that take all that away. Think about pepsin, that digestive enzyme that you need. You have to have sufficient pancreatic enzymes plus an intact intestinal wall to absorb the protein. If you have a gluten problem, parasites, yeast, or a lot of bad bacteria in your gut, you’re not going to absorb the protein. We always circle back to gut health.
If you read last week’s Note where I talked about Dr. Attia’s new book, OUTLIVE, he thinks the standard recommendations for proteins are a joke. Active people with normal kidney and liver function need at least one gram per pound of body weight, which is 3 times what the RDA is! So, you really need more protein. Note: Most people don’t need to worry about over consuming protein.
As a side note, Dr. Attia is not big on plant proteins either, nor am I. They’re just not bioavailable enough. For one thing, the protein in plants is for the benefit of the plant, which means that it’s largely tied up in indigestible fiber. Fiber is good for you, but you’re not going to get the protein that you need from it to build your muscle, and produce your hormones and everything else.
Note: If you have liver or kidney problems, you may need to watch it. There’s something on a blood panel called a BUN, Blood Urea Nitrogen. This is a common number on a blood test that can alert you to the fact of what your protein status is, and state of hydration. If your BUN starts going up, you may have some liver or kidney problems (this is not common). It’s either that or you’re dehydrated. It would be really hard for even a semi healthy person to eat too much protein.
Myth #3: Soy is a good source of protein. Some people think that soy is a good source of protein. It’s actually a terrible source of protein! Besides being so estrogenic and throwing hormonal balances off, it’s just not an ideal protein. Whey protein is a little better, but it’s not ideal either.
Myth #4: Collagen is a good source of protein. Collagen is good for the skin, hair, nails, and maybe your joints, but it’s a zero in utilization to build muscle, enzymes, and hormones. It has its function, but it’s not really a good source of protein to build your muscles, etc. I do take a collagen supplement, but it’s not my main supplement for protein.
Myth #5: Branched chain amino acids are so great for you. They’re promoted for athletic reasons and muscle, but it really only has three amino acids in it. They’re good, but if you don’t have the other essentials it won’t work.
Myth #6: Egg whites are a good source of protein. They’re not. You need the yoke. You need the whole egg. Besides breast milk, eggs are definitely the best source of protein for you.
Supplementing With Perfect Aminos
The truth is that most of us are malnourished protein wise. You can almost look at a person and see if they’re malnourished. If they look old, anemic, debilitated, or wasted, they probably aren’t getting enough absorbable protein. Think about consuming more clean animal protein, especially if you’re sick, have a poor immune system, or feeling weak and tired.
Note: Heal your gut if you have an absorption problem (so many people do).
If you have liver or kidney dysfunction, or for some reason are vegetarian or vegan, consider a supplement called Perfect Aminos. I take it on top of eating animal proteins. It works really great for many of my patients, as well as myself. It gives me energy. It helps me heal. There’s hardly any calories in it, yet it has the equivalent of 30 grams of protein in a very small half teaspoon. You just put that in water everyday. Perfect Aminos are easily digested (practically digested for you). It’s 99% utilized. Think about that. The can of tuna fish I mentioned earlier in this Note is 33% utilized, which is really good. Perfect Aminos are 99% utilized! If you’re worried about your weight, or have digestive issues, this is your answer.
Note: You can take Perfect Aminos even if you have kidney or liver problems. Even if you are on dialysis, this can help. Most people with kidney failure who are on dialysis have anemia. Perfect Aminos gives you eight essential amino acids to support and maintain your body’s muscular, skeletal, enzymatic, and hormonal systems. Your goal is to regain optimal health and not become debilitated.
If you can’t get enough animal protein (which you may not be able to), you need something like Perfect Aminos. Think about how much you weigh. You need at least a gram per pound of body weight. That’s a lot of protein. I’ll guarantee you’re not getting enough, unless you are intentionally trying.
Getting the right amount of protein is critical for maintaining optimal health, growth, development and function throughout life. It’s that important. My challenge for you today is to measure how much protein you are consuming. Think about the sources. Think about your gut. Consider supplementing with Perfect Aminos. Try eating more protein and see if it makes a difference in the way you feel. It did with me.
Till next week.