Grounded in physics as we are means that our thinking is somewhat different to the mainstream.
First and foremost, we recognise that we all have a lot in common in how our bodies work, and that it is, in fact, possible to make universal recommendations about health. However, we also recognise that our genetics, environment, personal tendencies, and preferences can make a big difference.
In practice, to be most effective in improving our health, we can focus, each time we make a decision, on the best next action. Our goal is to help you find what that best next action is, motivate you to act on it, and guide you to habituate it.
We have organised our thinking in a coherent holistic quantitative framework that is used as a compass to navigate the intricacies and subtleties of the science underlying our vision of optimal health. In this article we want to give you a taste of what we mean and where our thinking is different from the mainstream. We will look at three topics:
- Insulin and aging
- Cholesterol is good for you
- You’re probably not eating enough (good) salt
Focus on insulin as an aging agent
If you’ve read the blog posts related to carbohydrates, insulin, and diabetes by our co-founder, Guillaume, (see for example We were never meant to eat simple or starchy carbohydrates, and Reversing diabetes: understanding the process), you’ll be surprised to find that this time, we are not talking about insulin as the master metabolic hormone that regulates the storage into cells of nutrients circulating in the bloodstream. Instead, what we’re focusing on today is one of the 20th century’s greatest discoveries, namely the role of insulin as the primary regulator of the rate of ageing.
Ageing is not inevitable
Conventional wisdom suggests that aging is inevitable. Well, we disagree. We, and many others, prefer to think that aging is a disease, and humanity is making progress in fighting it. But in the here and now, our best defence against aging are our daily habits and nutrition. Specifically, it involves a long genetic chain of events (link below) which centers on insulin and insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1).
Insulin and IGF-1 promote growth, which is vital because nutrient absorption and cellular growth and reproduction are essential for life across all living organisms.
This leads us to carbs
The truth is that any additional stimulation of insulin, promoted by eating simple and starchy carbs, actually deregulates the proper balance of hormones that the body is trying to maintain. This deregulation from a sugar-heavy diet in children explains the widespread health problems in our youth, most important of which is childhood obesity and the metabolic and physiological stresses this brings on.
Ultimately, mother nature knows how to best regulate the concentration of insulin in the bloodstream. What we can do to help our biochemical balance is by not ingesting refined carbohydrates: it’s the last thing anyone needs for good health and long life.
Very simply put, the easiest but also the only natural way to slow down the rate of ageing is to eliminate insulin-stimulating carbohydrates—sugars and starches—from the diet. For most people, this will, within 16-20 hours, allow insulin levels to drop to a functional minimum. The low blood sugar level will allow the pancreas to reduce production, and thus insulin levels to drop little by little.
Lowered insulin will then eventually allow the cells to start using the fat circulating in the blood, and in time, increase in efficiency, thereby dropping triglyceride levels lower and lower. And this is the path to healthy tissues and organs, and slowing down aging.
You can find more about this subject and Professor Cynthia Kenyon’s work on the effect of insulin on the DAF-2 Gene here: Living healthy to 160 – insulin and the genetics of longevity
Cholesterol: it’s a good thing
Cholesterol doesn’t have an easy ride. Its varieties are called “good” and “bad” and it’s universally accepted that high total cholesterol, and/or bad cholesterol is terrible news, leading to cardiovascular disease.
Using scientific research, we argue that cholesterol is nothing less than vital for life, development, growth and reproduction. It is ultimately vital for life to emerge, and for life to sustain itself.
No such thing as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ cholesterol
Firstly, cholesterol comes in only one form: there is no such thing as good and bad cholesterol. It doesn’t make a difference if it is the cholesterol contained in the dark orange yolk of an organic egg, the cholesterol synthesised by your liver through a complicated chain of steps that we still do not completely understand, or is the cholesterol produced by the individual cells like the glial cells in the brain (or in any other tissue or organ other than the liver.)
It is very telling that, unlike almost any other molecule, cholesterol is maybe the only one that probably every cell in every tissue can produce.
Our point is simple, but very important: cholesterol is beyond good or bad—it is absolutely vital.
What are LDL and HDL?
What is usually referred to as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ cholesterol (the naming convention being a result of some ingenious marketing), are in fact molecules called lipoproteins. They are proteins that transport lipids in the bloodstream (hence lipo-protein), and in particular cholesterol, to and from tissues in different parts of the body.
Cholesterol is a waxy, fatty substance that is not soluble in water and therefore cannot flow in the bloodstream that is mostly water. For this reason it needs to be transported where it is needed by some other molecules: the lipoproteins.
LDL stands for Low Density Lipoprotein, and HDL stands for High Density Lipoprotein. The reason why this erroneous association and misguided use of these terms came about is based on the fact that one of the functions of LDL molecules is to transport cholesterol from the liver, where most of it is manufactured, to cells and tissues that need it for repair and regeneration.
Since LDL helps to carry cholesterol out from the liver and into the bloodstream to tissues, in thinking that cholesterol in the blood should be minimised, then this is clearly a terrible thing. Hence LDL was dubbed the ‘bad’ cholesterol.
This makes no sense to us—cholesterol is necessary for the manufacture, maintenance and repair of the membrane of every single one of the 50 trillion cells in the body.
Cholesterol is essential
Naturally, for a molecule as important, as complex to synthesise, and therefore as precious as cholesterol, the organism has evolved a way to collect and reuse it. One of the roles of the HDL carrier molecules is to scavenge around for unneeded or surplus cholesterol and bring it back to the liver.
So we know that one of the roles of LDL and HDL molecules—certainly the most obvious one—is to transport cholesterol from the liver to cells and tissues, and back to it for reuse and recycling or breakdown into other molecules. LDL and HDL work together as essential partners in the cholesterol transport system.
HDL and LDL: beyond cholesterol transport - evidence speaks volumes
Compiling all the data we have from studies that measured lipoprotein levels in the blood and death rates, we find that the lowest mortality from all diseases occurs in people with total lipoprotein levels between 200 and 240, centred on 220 mg/dl. These are age-corrected data, so as we age levels should gradually rise. But that’s not the only thing we find from looking at this graph of compiled data: there is an inverse relationship between lipoprotein levels and mortality such that the lower the lipoprotein levels are, the higher the death rate! To those who know what HDL and LDL molecules do, this is not surprising at all. It is, in fact, perfectly sensible.
As much as some may believe that the main role of LDL and HDL molecules is to carry cholesterol to and from tissues for cellular maintenance and repair, some would argue that their main role is not simple transport of cholesterol, but in fact, it is to protect the organism from bacterial and viral pathogens. It is firmly established that lipoproteins bind to endotoxins to inactivate them and protect against their toxic effects, including arterial wall inflammation.
Cholesterol and the brain
Although all cell membranes rely on cholesterol for structural integrity, neurons or brain cells are highly enriched in cholesterol, which makes up more than 20% of their dry weight. The importance of this enrichment can be appreciated when we consider that our brain accounts for about 2% of our body weight, but it contains about 25% of the cholesterol in the body. This means that the concentration of cholesterol in the brain is 12.5 times higher than the average bodily concentration. Isn’t this enough to convince you of the extreme importance of cholesterol for proper brain function?
As elsewhere in the body, cholesterol is found in the cell membrane—for brain cells this is the myelin sheaths that insulate them. But, in addition, cholesterol is the main constituent of the synapses through which nerve impulses are transmitted from one neuron to another. And contrary to common wisdom that lipoproteins cannot cross the blood-brain barrier, and therefore brain cholesterol must be synthesised in the brain, it has been shown that if something prevents brain cells from synthesising the precious cholesterol, then they use whatever they can get from the lipoproteins circulating in the blood.
With all of this in mind, is it surprising that when cholesterol synthesis is partially or completely de-activated using statin drugs, some of the most common symptoms seen are memory loss, dizziness, mental fog, slowing reflexes, etc., all of which are obviously related to brain function? Is it surprising that Alzheimer’s patients tend to have lower cholesterol levels both in the blood and in the brain? Well, no. It’s not surprising at all.
Cholesterol and hormones
What more needs to be said to emphasise the importance of cholesterol for healthy hormonal function than that all steroid hormones are made from it. Steroid hormones, as the name suggests, are steroids that act as hormones. Hormones are messenger molecules that tell cells what to do and when to do it. To carry out their function—to pass on their message—they must reach the nucleus of the cell. But to reach the well protected nucleus and bind to specific receptors in it, hormones must pass through the fatty cellular membrane. For this reason, hormones are made of fat: they are lipids. Since lipids are not water soluble, as is the case of cholesterol, hormones rely on specialised proteins to transport them in the bloodstream throughout the body.
Too much cholesterol? Get real
The phrase “too much cholesterol” is overly simplistic, and hides the complexities of high cholesterol as a symptom for something else.
The body produces exactly what it needs depending on the conditions, and as such, the amount in circulation is a consequence of other factors.
Lipoprotein levels, reflecting the amount of cholesterol in circulation, are a function of genetics and of the state of the body. Genetic tendencies are what they are. The state of the body, as far as cholesterol is concerned, means primarily the condition of the tissues. And the condition of the tissues reflects the amount of damage they sustain in relation to the amount of repair that takes place: in other words, the rate of ageing. Since cholesterol gives cell membranes strength and integrity, it is needed to repair and rebuild cells.
The more cellular reproduction, as in growing children, the more cholesterol is needed; the more damage to cells, the more cholesterol is needed. The damage sustained by tissues is mostly from glycation, free-radicals, and chronic inflammation, all of which are intimately related because blood sugar triggers both free-radical production and inflammatory processes, but much inflammation also arises from the action of toxins and infectious agents like viruses and bacteria.
Cholesterol and arterial plaque
It is true that the accumulation of plaque can lead to heart disease. It is also true that plaque is very cholesterol-rich. However, the reason why plaque is formed is due to the arterial tissue being damaged and needing to be repaired. The cholesterol-rich plaque is like a scab whose role is to allow the damaged tissue to heal. And just as a scab, once the tissue is healed, it ‘falls off’ and is brought back to the liver for recycling. And for that, the cholesterol is part of the healing agent.
The damage to the tissue comes from other things, whether it is inflammatory endotoxins released from pathogenic bacteria, cigarette smoking-related chemicals, or glucose sticking haphazardly to proteins, damaging the arterial walls and forming advanced glycation end-products.
To sum up, our view is that cholesterol is not in the least harmful, and that it is, in fact, absolutely vital to your health: vital for your hormonal system, vital for your immune system, vital for your brain, and vital for every cell in your body.
On that basis, incriminating LDL as causing heart disease or any other ailment is wrong in our view. Furthermore, we believe that we should maintain optimal lipoprotein levels around 220-240 mg/dl, and supply the body with ample amounts of health-promoting fats, increasing our intake of unprocessed saturated fats like coconut oil, as well as fat-soluble vitamins and cholesterol from organic eggs from free range, grass-and-insect eating hens, butter and fatty cheeses (preferably made from unpasteurized milk to maximise digestibility), and grass-fed meats if you are not vegetarian or vegan.
Read more about cholesterol here: But what about cholesterol?
Eat plenty of salt
For most of our lives we’ve been told to avoid salt – a few years ago it was the main villain, for its role in high blood pressure, and was to be firmly avoided. This is another topic where our thinking is different.
It turns out that just like cholesterol, salt is absolutely vital for proper hydration and the correct functioning of the most magical of organs, our kidneys. And, in fact, we’re pretty sure that you are probably not consuming enough good salt, especially if you’re avoiding processed fast food, which of course you should. So, let us explain.
Why salt is critical for our health, and why too much is better than not enough
Bear with us here—the science is important.
Salt, the one we put on food, is composed almost exclusively of sodium chloride (NaCl) that very easily dissolves in water into positively charged sodium (Na+) and negatively charged chloride (Cl-) ions. And there is something very special and unique about these ions: in our blood, Na+ and Cl- are present in the highest concentrations and maintained in the narrowest of ranges.
This is very revealing, because it means that sodium and chloride are the most important extracellular electrolytes.
Our blood is made of red blood cells (45%) and white blood cells and platelets (0.7%) floating in blood plasma (54.3%). Blood plasma shuttles nutrients to cells around the body and transports wastes out. It consists of 92% water, 8% specialised mostly transporter proteins, and trace amounts of solutes (things dissolved or floating in it). And although circulating in trace amounts, the solutes—especially sodium—are vital. The concentration of solutes in blood plasma is around 300 mmol/l (don’t worry about the units). In the highest concentration of all is sodium at 140 mmol/l. In the second highest concentration of all is chloride at 100 mmol/l. The sum of these is 240 mmol/l.
So, from these numbers alone, we see that blood plasma is more or less just salty water. Did you get that? Blood plasma is the key transport vehicle for our cells’ health, and it is more or less water AND salt.
Busting the hypertension myth
Hypertension is not caused by excessive salt consumption. It is caused primarily by chronic dehydration, magnesium deficiency, and calcification. It goes like this: every cell in every tissue and in every organ of our body relies on an electrical potential difference between the fluid inside the cell membrane and the fluid outside of it in order to function—produce energy and transport things in and out. This is particularly important in active “electrical” tissues such as muscles and nerves, including neurons. These tissues simply cannot work—cannot contract and relax in the case of muscle fibres, and cannot fire off electrical pulses in the case of nerve fibres and neurons—without a well-maintained and stable potential across the cellular membrane.
This resting potential across the membrane results from the delicate balance of the equilibrium potential and relative permeability through the cellular membrane of the three most important ions: Na+, K+ and Cl-. Of these, however, it is sodium that has the greatest effect on the kidneys. The kidneys’ primary function is to maintain blood pressure and concentration of electrolytes—each within its typically narrow range of optimal concentration—while excreting metabolic wastes.
The kidney as a balancer
The kidneys do this by efficiently reabsorbing most of the water and electrolytes from the large volume of blood that passes through them in every second throughout the day and night, getting rid of as much as possible of the metabolic wastes, and carefully adjusting the elimination of ‘excessive’ amounts of water and electrolytes. Deprive them of salt, and the system falls over. Excessive salt with enough water, however, can just be flushed out.
Therefore, salt is critical for proper kidney function, and thus also critical for regulating blood pressure correctly. So, the whole salt-causes-high-blood-pressure myth is a pretty serious misunderstanding of how things actually work.
Drinking water without salt actually dehydrates you
Remember that the kidneys try very hard to maintain the concentration of solutes in blood plasma—(known as plasma osmolarity). Also remember that sodium is by far the most important in regulating kidney function, and also in the highest concentration. It is nonetheless total osmolarity that the kidneys try to keep constant, and besides sodium, the other important molecule used to monitor and maintain osmolarity by the kidneys is urea—the primary metabolic waste they are trying to eliminate.
If we eat nothing and just drink plain water, beyond the body’s minimum water needs, every glass will dilute the blood further and, thus, cause the kidneys to try to retain more of the sodium while eliminating more of the water. We are drinking quite a lot, but as the day progresses, we are growing more thirsty. We drink more but go to the bathroom more frequently, our urine grows more diluted, and by the end of the day we find ourselves visibly dehydrated, with chapped lips and dry skin.
The dehydration paradox
It may seem paradoxical in that while drinking water, we are getting increasingly more dehydrated. But it is not paradoxical. It is simply the consequence of the kidneys doing their work in trying to maintain constant blood plasma concentrations of sodium (and solutes). For those of us who have fasted on plain water for at least one day, you mostly likely know exactly what we’re talking about. For those who have not, you should try it and experience this first hand for yourselves. Avoiding dehydration in this case is simple: eat salt to match water intake.
If, on the other hand, we do not drink, then the blood gets more and more concentrated, the concentration of sodium and other ions, urea, and everything else for that matter, rises with time, and the kidneys keep trying, harder and harder with time, to maintain the osmolarity constant by retaining as much as they possibly can of the water that is present in the blood.
You might think: why not just eliminate some of the solutes to lower their excessively high concentration? But eliminating solutes can only be done through the urine, which means getting rid of water that, in this state of increasing dehydration, is far too precious, and the kidneys therefore try to retain as much of it as possible, hence concentrating the urine as much and for as long as possible to make full use of the scarce amount of water that is available for performing their functions.
Pay attention to kidney function
But here is a crucial point to understand and remember: In order to reabsorb water, the kidneys rely on a high concentration of solutes—hyperosmolarity—in the interstitial medium through which passes the tubule carrying the filtrate that will eventually be excreted as urine. This is how water can be reabsorbed from the filtrate: the higher the difference in concentration, the more efficient the reabsorption.
If there is plenty of excess salt—sodium and chloride ions—then these solutes are what the kidneys prefer to use to drive up and maintain the hyperosmolarity of the interstitial medium, and urea can be excreted freely. If, however, there is a scarcity of sodium and chloride ions, then the kidneys will do everything to reabsorb as much of the precious ions that are in circulation to maintain adequate concentrations of these in the bloodstream, and at the slightest sign of water shortage and dehydration—to ensure the hyperosmolarity of the interstitial medium for maximum water reabsorption—the kidneys will begin to recycle urea, excreting progressively less of it as dehydration increases.
The thirst march - how it works in your body
Most of you will have experienced a long day walking around, during which you did not drink for several hours. You might have also noticed that you probably didn’t go to the bathroom either, which you may have found unusual compared to the frequency with which you usually need to when you’re at home or at work. You will have noticed that your mouth was drier and drier as the hours passed, but also that you felt more and more tired, heavy-footed and without energy.
Eventually it struck you just how thirsty you were, or you were finally able to find water to drink, and drank to your heart’s content. As you drank, you might have felt a surge of energy within as little as a minute or two or even immediately following the first few sips. Soon after, you finally did go to the bathroom, and noticed how incredibly dark and strong smelling your urine was. Now you understand what was happening in your kidneys, why you didn’t go pee for these long hours, why your urine was so dark and smelled so strong. However, the reason why you felt your energy dwindle as the hours passed, and then return when you drank is still unclear.
How water and blood interact
Water in the blood regulates its volume. And volume in a closed system determines internal pressure. Our circulatory system is a closed system in the sense that there are no holes where blood either goes in or comes out. Yet at the same time it is not a closed system because water enters and leaves the system: entering the bloodstream through the wall of the intestines, and leaving through the kidneys and out into the urine.
All physiological functions depend intimately on blood pressure, whether it goes high as we face a fear or is as low as it can be during our most soothing and restful sleep deep into the night. And what is the primary regulator of blood pressure? The kidneys.
So, now you know why your energy faded as the hours passed or, more precisely, as the body got progressively more dehydrated. In a nutshell:
As water content decreases, blood volume decreases. As the volume decreases, blood pressure drops. And as blood pressure drops, energy levels go down.
Precisely how much salt should I be taking?
At Kalibra, we recommend 3-4 litres of water per day, with a total of 1-2 teaspoons of salt. This will ensure proper hydration of tissues by preventing excessive dilution of blood sodium levels, and maximum urea excretion.
Excess sodium, chloride and any other electrolyte will be readily excreted in the urine. However, if we were to drink less than the bare minimum of 2 litres per day, we should not take any salt (or food for that matter!)
If we drink more than 2 litres, we should match each additional litre of water with 1 teaspoon of salt, taking into account the salt contained in the food we eat. It is always better physiologically to drink more than to drink less. And remember that we hydrate most effectively on an empty stomach by drinking 30 minutes before meals.
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