Catabolic Maladaptation: Insulin Toxicity By Another Name

Majid Ali, M.D.

In the late 1980, before I recognized the full significance of deranged insulin signaling on health, I coined the term catabolic maladaptation to refer to an abnormal state of metabolism that causes obesity. It took The Journal of American Medical Association over 25 years to recognize catabolic maladaptation as the true nature of obesity. Below, I present text on the subject from my book “The Butterfly and Life Span Nutrition” for the general interest from offer ,

In this state, the fat cells are bloated with toxic fats. Fat-processing enzymes in fat cells malfunction, fat-burning enzymes in muscle cells are poisoned and muscle fibers are emaciated from disuse. The metabolic efficiency of all tissues is impaired. The individual is tired. The internal ecology of the bowel is disturbed. Food and mold allergy frequently exists. Catabolic maladaptation is caused by toxins in food, injured molecules and cells, sluggish enzymes, swollen fat cells, lame muscles, altered bowel ecology, and tired tissues.

Obese people generally understand that their catabolism (breakdown) of fat is impaired. What they usually do not recognize is that the catabolism of other nutrients such as amino acids, sugars, vitamins and minerals is also defective in obesity.

The catabolic principle evolved slowly for me. For over fifteen years now, I have focused my research and clinical interests on issues of nutrition, environment and immunity. I have cared for a large number of patients with diverse chronic immune and degenerative disorders for whom our Star Wars medicine had failed, utterly and totally. In caring for these people, I limited myself to molecular protocols of nutritional medicine, environmental medicine, medicine of self-regulation and medicine of fitness. Most of my patients lost weight as they obtained symptom relief and gained higher levels of energy, even though weight loss was not our intended goal. As I observed these people suffer for long periods of time and eventually succeed, the true nature of these problems of molecular toxicity of foods, enzymatic poisoning caused by pollutants, disuse atrophy of mitochondria, catabolic insufficiency and obesity (the catabolic maladaptation) gradually took shape in my mind.

With dieting, overweight people, like my butterfly, attempt to fly through the unyielding glass of catabolic maladaptation. Like my butterfly, they get hurt each time they fly into the glass. And like my butterfly, they try again, over and over, again and again. They starve. They scream in anguish. They scheme of clever ways of fooling their toxic fat cells. They lose weight initially by losing water and muscle. They become flabby. Their fat-burning muscle fibers thin out. Their fat-burning enzymes become even more sluggish. Their cells become more fat-toxic. They begin to gain weight even as they eat less and less. The scarred veteran warriors of this dieting war bear testimony to their attempts to fly through their skylight glasses. Obese people need to fly up and out of their catabolic glass frame by flying around their glass. How can they understand the illusion if their “nutrition experts” do not?

Obese people, first and foremost, need to understand the catabolic illusion. They need professionals who can guide them away from dieting and away from herculean exercise programs. The catabolic illusion has several facets, and all are deceptive.

The Catabolic Illusion Masks the Molecular Mimicry of Catabolic Maladaptation.

Nineteenth-century English naturalist Henry Walter Bates studied butterflies in the Amazon river basin during the mid-1800s. He observed how birds found certain species of butterflies to be “tasty” while they avoided other species that were “toxic” and made the birds sick. He further observed how some tasty butterflies protected themselves from birds by mimicking the appearance of toxic butterflies. This hypothesis of one species exploiting the defense system of another species is called Batesian mimicry.

Molecules mimic each other, and so do cells and tissues. Molecules mimic each other for diverse reasons. Sometimes it is beneficial for the organism, at other times it is injurious. Molecular and cellular mimicry is recognized by naturalists and biologists in nature, and by astute clinicians in the clinical practice of medicine.

What my butterfly taught me, in a way, is very similar to what Bates butterflies taught him. Mimicry is ubiquitous in biology. Bates butterflies found a way to use mimicry for preservation. My butterfly fell victim to the mimicry of her nerve cells which mistook the skylight glass for a clear passage to the open air. Obese people need to learn, understand and observe how molecular and cellular mimicry can both help and hurt. Dieting for thinness is a cruel form of molecular mimicry. It hurts the person in many ways.

First, the catabolic illusion leads the obese person to diet, eat less, and down-regulate his fat-burning enzymes when in reality he really needs to eat more and up-regulate these enzymes.

Food fuels the furnace of metabolism; exercise stokes its fire. This simple fact of human biology is widely misunderstood. The merchants of our rich dieting industry know the money is in packed frozen foods. It is not in teaching people simple facts of biology. Our TV, our magazines, our newspapers, all carry the same message: Diet and be slim. Who has the courage to go up against all this?

While the men of money in the dieting industry see their profits clearly, the professional dieting experts on their payroll have their own skylights. So do the dieting experts in our hospitals and public institutions. They scheme of clever diets. I sometimes wonder if there are any health professionals who profit more from their own incompetence than the medical “experts” in the weight-control business. Veteran dieters know this all too well. They pay for their weight loss over and over again.

There is an appalling paucity of knowledge of human biology and metabolism among our weight-control experts. Perhaps the worst offenders are those who work in our hospitals. In the chapter Life Span Food Choices, I give detailed lists of food choices and include my reasons for dividing foods into life span and aging-oxidant categories.

Second, the catabolic illusion pulls the obese person toward sugar-burning exercise whereas his bloated fat cells really need fat-burning exercise.

The essential nature of obesity is down-regulation of fat-burning enzymes. The real issue is how to up-regulate these enzymes and not merely burn calories.

The notion of burning calories to lose unwanted pounds of fat is pervasive in the United States. Hardly a week goes by that I do not hear someone outline his ambitious plans for exercise to burn out his excessive weight. With rare exceptions, all he gets is sore muscles, pulled tendons and bruised spirits.

Exercise that causes sweating and heavy breathing and gives us tired muscles is sugar-burning exercise. I call such exercise “cortical exercise.” Cortical exercise is of very limited value for up-regulation of fat-burning enzymes. Up-regulation of fat-burning enzymes requires slow, sustained exercise. I call such exercise “limbic exercise.” For reversing catabolic maladaptation, an overweight person needs to know the critical difference between these two types of exercise. I discuss this subject at length in the companion volume The Ghoraa and Limbic Exercise.

The health professional advising the obese person so often fails to see the critical difference between sugar-burning cortical and fat-burning limbic exercises. It is only when the catabolic illusion is dissipated with knowledge and insight that the obese person has any real chance of correcting his catabolic maladaptation for good.

Third, the catabolic illusion blinds us to the problems caused by food and mold allergy.

Food and mold allergy feed the molecular roller coasters triggered by dieting and ill-advised herculean exercises for burning off fat. Hives caused by allergy are seen by all. The internal “hives” of the bowel, the liver, the heart and other organs are not obvious to the innocent victim of the merchants of our dieting industry.

Fourth, the catabolic illusion feeds molecular roller coasters.

Sudden rises in blood sugar evoke sudden insulin responses. Bursts of insulin drive the blood sugar down to hypoglycemic levels and trigger the release of adrenaline and related chemicals. This causes apprehension, light-headedness, mood swings, heart palpitations, and other signals that call out the body’s need for more quick energy. The person reaches for more sugary snacks and repeats the whole cycle of the molecular roller coaster.

Fifth, the catabolic illusion misplaces the blame of sugar, salt and fat craving on “the problems of the mind.”

Salt causes, perpetuates and intensifies salt craving. Sugar feeds the sugar craving. Fats foster fat craving. All three feed upon each other. Craving is not a problem of the mind. Craving is a form of catabolic molecular mimicry.

Sixth, the catabolic illusion keeps the obese person in the dark about the fundamentals of metabolism.

Food increases basal metabolic rate (BMR), which is the essential metabolic indicator of the body’s ability to generate and expend energy. Thin people have higher BMRs; they burn calories at a much faster rate than their obese friends. How can we increase the BMR? By eating more. How is the BMR lowered? By dieting.

Seventh, the catabolic illusion confounds us about the issues of the bowel ecology.

The ancients, it seems, intuitively knew the central role of the bowel in preserving health. I have had an opportunity to examine several thousand bowel biopsies. I have also cared for a very large number of patients with indolent chronic bowel disorders. This experience has led me to conclude that preservation of normal gut ecology is essential for promoting good health and optimal weight. I discuss this subject at length in my monograph The Altered States of Bowel Ecology and Health Preservation.

In altered states of bowel ecology, the bowel is starved of energy (the bowel arteries are in spasm), uneven in its rhythm (cramps, diarrhea, constipation), depleted of its digestive acid and enzymes, unable to keep undigested foods out (the so-called Leaky Bowel Syndrome), overgrown with yeast and infested with parasites. Obese people often have an altered bowel ecology. They cannot solve the problem of the catabolic maladaptation without first restoring their bowel ecology to normal.

Eighth, the catabolic illusion belittles the importance of limbic listening.

Western culture, in many ways, is a culture of confession. We seem to believe that to talk about hurt is to understand it, to find a name for a person’s anguish is to define it, to intellectualize about suffering is to dissipate it, to think about disease is to heal it. My clinical work has led me to serious reservations about such simplistic notions. Again, the veteran dieters will bear testimony to the limited value of such intellectual gymnastics. In the chapter On Limbic Eating, I discuss the essential need to learn to listen limbiclly to our biology, to the demands of our tissues and to the real hunger signals.

An obese person needs to see all the illusions of the catabolic maladaptation, clearly, completely and unequivocally. He needs to see all the faces of this monster. This requires learning, eating life span foods, doing limbic exercise, observing the effects of these steps, and repeating this cycle over and over again until the catabolic maladaptation is permanently reversed.

An obese person needs to gain muscle mass and increase the amount of fat-burning tissue. That usually means a slight initial weight gain (or at least absence of weight loss). This happens because muscle tissue is heavier than fat tissue. Only then can he hope to increase his rate of burning (and losing) fat. This is the beginning of the process of the reversal of catabolic maladaptation. This is the beginning of a permanent change.

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