Proteins help to regulate energy production, optimal digestion, brain function, immune efficiency, and so much more! You may eat sufficient amounts of high quality protein, absorbed amino acids well, and still be protein deficient. This blog reveals twelve lifestyle practices that sabotage the health effects of quality protein.
Two-thirds of the visible you is composed of proteins. Enzymes, antibodies, many neurotransmitters, and hormones are composed of amino acids formed into proteins. Some proteins acts as carriers.
The question, “Are you eating enough protein?” is an important question to ask. It may not be sufficient to see if there are adequate amounts of protein in your diet. You see, even if you answer the question affirmatively, your cells still may have a deficient amount of proteins necessary for health!
For optimal cellular efficiency and the best health, we must ask a second question, “Do my health habits encourage the most efficient protein synthesis?” A person may eat the best protein foods in sufficient amounts, but unless those amino acids get to the cells, he may experience depressed protein synthesis. The ultimate nutrition is cellular!
The Bottom Line
Protein synthesis, the ability of the body to produce proteins from amino acids, is foundational for everything a cell does. Ribosomes are the protein-making factories in the cell that make proteins from available amino acids. In other words, amino acids are the building blocks of protein. You could compare the 22 known amino acids to the 26 letters of the English alphabet. You can make hundreds of thousands of different words from just 26 letters by combining them in various ways. Similarly, you can make hundreds of thousands of different proteins from the 22 amino acids. Protein synthesis is the process by which the cells take amino acids and combine them into the proteins that the body needs.
The Stress Factor
Prolonged stress works havoc with protein synthesis! The hormone cortisol, released under prolonged stress, comes from the adrenal glands and tightens up the cell membranes so that there is less fatigue and inflammation. A moderate amount of cortisol benefits the body by tightening the cell membranes. Excessive cortisol, however, inhibits protein synthesis. Reduced protein synthesis leads to deficient growth and repair as well as decreased production of enzymes, antibodies, and neurotransmitters!
The Sleep Factor
Deep sleep increases growth hormone, which facilitates the entry of amino acids into the cells and promotes protein synthesis (including the production of enzymes). Your body’s internal clock or circadian rhythm helps to regulate the production of growth hormone. The largest increases of this hormone occur before midnight with some smaller pulses in the early morning.1
Studies have shown that poor sleep can reduce the amount of growth hormone that your body produces. Partial sleep deprivation increases cortisol. This extra cortisol, as previously mentioned, inhibits protein synthesis and consequently reduces enzyme production.2 The greatest amount of growth hormone production occurs before midnight. So, go to bed early if you want to improve protein synthesis in your brain, muscles, and tissues!
A well-structured schedule for regular meal times and sleep periods improves protein synthesis. Delayed eating for just one hour may increase cortisol production. A circadian rhythm also helps to govern the production and release of cortisol. Irregular living disturbs cortisol’s natural rhythm so that there is less protein synthesis!3 Biologic clocks help to shape protein synthesis in the muscles4 and brain. Disturbed circadian rhythms can lead to a short supply of amino acids when they are most needed!5
Limiting Amino Acids
Not eating enough protein foods or taking insufficient calories to get enough protein naturally depresses protein synthesis. Pregnancy, lactation, heavy physical exertion, wound healing, trauma, and prolonged bed rest increase the requirement for protein. Elderly individuals often need to eat more protein to preserve muscles.
The 21 amino acids are building blocks of protein. Think of the essential amino acids as vowels. (Your body cannot make essential amino acids; therefore, it is important that you include them in your diet.) We will compare the non-essential amino acids to consonants. Suppose you want to make 100 STOP signs. You have 100 each of S’s, T’s and P’s, but only 45 O’s. How many signs can you make? Forty-five, right? Similarly, if we do not obtain all the essential amino acids that we need in a day, our bodies cannot make certain required proteins in adequate amounts. Vegetarians must include legumes, whole grains, and nuts in their diet in order to get all the essential amino acids.
Enjoy a Plant-Based Diet
When compared to women who ate an omnivore diet, vegetarian women had higher levels of growth hormone.6 Arginine boosts growth hormone. Where to get it? Legumes and nuts. Legumes should be soaked and then cooked thoroughly to improve protein digestion.
Green leafy vegetables, legumes, and whole grains provide many vitamins and minerals that act as co-enzymes. Enzymes are usually inactive unless co-enzymes activate them! Greens provide folic acid that assists in protein synthesis.
Get Enough B-12!
Inadequate intake of vitamin B-12 contributes to defective and insufficient protein synthesis. This vitamin is essential for healthy DNA and protein synthesis. Who is at risk for vitamin B-12 deficiency? Vegetarians and vegans are especially vulnerable to B-12 deficiency because there are generally no significant measurable amounts of B-12 in plant foods.7
More Risk Factors for B-12 Deficiency
Individuals who have difficulty in chewing food or have pernicious anemia, gastritis, H. pylori infection in the stomach, intestinal issues such as Crohn’s and leaky gut, and the elderly are at risk for B-12 deficiency. Certain autoimmune conditions, HIV, and manifestations of tapeworm increase one’s risk for its deficiency. Persons who use alcohol, antacids, medications for ulcers, or metformin (an anti-diabetic drug) are also at risk.
How much B-12?
The U.S. RDA for B-12 is 2.7 ug (micrograms) a day. However, a total intake of dietary vitamin B-12 between 4 and 7 micrograms is linked to normal plasma vitamin B-12 and MMA. It also appears to be adequate to maintain the necessary vitamin B-12 status in most adults.8 Certain fortified cereals, non-dairy milk, and nutritional yeast flakes are fortified with vitamin B-12. Read the labels on food packages. Vegans and vegetarians are at risk for B-12 deficiency and should have their vitamin B-12 level and MMA (methylmalonic acid) levels checked annually.
Vitamin D and Sunlight
The active form of vitamin D enhances protein synthesis in bone, muscles, and brain. Dark skinned individuals and the elderly are especially vulnerable to D deficiency. Magnesium deficiency, obesity, and kidney disease can also increase one’s risk for deficient protein synthesis.
Physical exercise, especially high intensity exercise, boosts growth hormone production and consequently, enzyme production and especially key enzymes in the brain.9 Exercise improves the cells’ ability to respond to insulin, another hormone important for protein synthesis. Insulin facilitates the entry of amino acids into the cells. On the other hand, physical inactivity impairs enzyme activity in the muscles.
Caffeine increases cortisol. Alcohol interferes with another protein-building hormone, testosterone. Additionally, alcohol decreases human growth hormone.10 Alcohol is especially detrimental to protein synthesis in the muscles.11. Obesity diminishes protein synthesis in the muscle.
Blood Sugar Problems
The hormone insulin not only facilitates the entry of glucose into the cells, it encourages the transport of amino acids into the cells. Insulin generally increases protein synthesis and inhibits protein degradation. In contrast, insulin resistance compromises protein synthesis. For insulin to work effectively, it must bind to insulin receptors on cells. Saturated fats from meat damage insulin receptors.
Studies show that consumption of meat increased the risk of diabetes and its comorbidities. A vegetarian diet consisting chiefly of whole grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, and nuts significantly reduces one’s risk for type 2 diabetes and improves the ability of cells to respond to insulin. Lifelong adherence to a vegetarian diet was associated with a 35% lower risk of developing diabetes.12 Regular exercise, stress management, avoidance of saturated fats from meat, adequate sleep, and regularity of schedule are very important to help modulate blood sugar levels.
Be warned: a vegetarian diet that is high in unhealthy foods such as refined grains, saturated fats, and added sugars is positively associated with T2DM (type 2 diabetes mellitus) compared to a vegetarian diet with lower amounts of these nutrients. Emphasize whole plant foods for optimal brain, heart, and kidney health.
Protect Your Thyroid!
Thyroid hormone is also pivotal for protein synthesis and metabolism. Endocrine disruptors (EDs) interfere with the work of the endocrine glands and their respective hormones. EDs mimic or partially mimic the body hormones and interfere with the way in which a hormone works. Sometimes they interfere with how hormone receptors work.
Early childhood exposure to endocrine disruptors was associated with depressed thyroid function in girls as young as three years of age. Endocrine disruptors may be found in many everyday products, including plastics, metal food cans, dish soap, fragrances, detergents, flame retardants, food, toys, cosmetics, nail polish, many shampoos, vinyl, and pesticides. Phthalates are endocrine disruptors that are linked to thyroid dysfunction.13 Phthalates are in PVC, cleaning supplies, perfumes, UV protection creams, personal hygiene products, and air fresheners.
Human studies show that therapeutic massage can reduce elevated cortisol and increase the natural anti-depressants, serotonin, and dopamine. Massage also improves both DNA and protein synthesis in the muscles.14,15
Even if an individual is eating enough good quality protein, that does not necessarily mean that enough amino acids are entering the cells or that effective protein synthesis occurs. We must consider all the aspects of life that affect protein synthesis in order to achieve optimal health and healing.
- Takahashi, Y. Growth hormone secretion during sleep. J. Clin. Invest., 1968, 47: 2079–2090.
- Paredes S. Cortisol: the villain in metabolic syndrome? Rev Assoc Med Bras. 2014 Jan-Feb; 60(1):84-92.
- Leproult R. Role of sleep and sleep loss in hormonal release and metabolism. Endocr Dev. 2010;17:11-21.
- Kelu J. Circadian regulation of muscle growth independent of locomotor activity. Jeffrey J. Kelu, Sept 23, 2019. www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/778787v1.full.pdf.
- Fliesler N. Timing is Everything. May 15, 2005. hms.harvard.edu/news/timing-everything.
- Fentiman IS. Diurnal variations in prolactin and growth hormone levels in normal premenopausal vegetarian and omnivorous women. Nutr Cancer. 1986;8(4):239-45.
- Pawlak R. The prevalence of cobalamin deficiency among vegetarians assessed by serum vitamin B12: a review of literature. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2014-8. May;68(5):541- www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24667752
- Obeid R., et al. Vitamin B12 Intake From Animal Foods, Biomarkers, and Health Aspects. Front. Nutr., 28 June 2019 | https://doi.org/10.3389/fnut.2019.00093
- Pritzlaff CJ. Impact of acute exercise intensity on pulsatile growth hormone release in men. J Appl Physiol (1985). 1999 Aug; 87(2):498-504.
- Corsini D. Alcohol and Protein Synthesis. study.com/academy/lesson/alcohol-and-protein-synthesis.html
- Barr E. Alcohol Ingestion Impairs Maximal Post-Exercise Rates of Myofibrillar Protein Synthesis following a Single Bout of Concurrent Training. PLoS One. 2014; 9(2): e88384. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3922864/
- Olfert MD, Wattick RA. Vegetarian Diets and the Risk of Diabetes. Curr Diab Rep. 2018;18(11):101. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30229314
- John D. Meeker. Relationship between Urinary Phthalate and Bisphenol A Concentrations and Serum Thyroid Measures in U.S. Adults and Adolescents from NHANES 2007-08. Environmental Health Perspectives, 2011. ehp.niehs.nih.gov/doi/10.1289/ehp.1103582
- Miller BF. Enhanced skeletal muscle regrowth and remodelling in massaged and contralateral non‐massaged hindlimb. J Physiol. 2018 Jan 1; 596(1): 83–103. doi: 10.1113/JP275089
- Field T. Cortisol decreases and serotonin and dopamine increase following massage therapy. Int J Neurosci. 2005 Oct; 115(10):1397-413.