Eating For Your Hormones Part IV: Somatotropin

This is part four in a series on “Eating For Your Hormones.” It is scientifically shown that metabolism is hormonally controlled, so making dietary choices with your hormones in mind can dramatically increase the results you see and dramatically increase your likelihood of success in getting healthy and fit. Check out Part I: Insulin, Part II: Cortisol, and Part III: Leptin to get up to speed.

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70 Years old and ripped. It’s not by accident.

Ripped at 70? Really?

What’s the difference between this guy and your fat grandfather who can hardly get himself up off the toilet? It can be argued that there are a lot of differences, but if you ask me, they are all intricately related and one of the main differentiating factors is their hormonal profile.

Of course, genetics will play a part in this, but the main determinants in hormonal profile are due to behavior (diet, exercise, sleep, sex, sunlight exposure, etc.). It has been discovered that virtually every process in your body is controlled by your hormones, so the size and density of your muscles, the amount of bodyfat you have, and your mental status, among other things, are all controlled by hormones.

The good news: We know how most of these hormones work, and you can control them.


Somatotropin, also known as Human Growth Hormone (HGH), has been shown to be one of the most, if not THE most powerful fat burning hormone around. Not only this but its’ anti-aging properties are what allow that 70 year old dude to look decades younger. Plus, it is genetically related to Placental Lactogen, chorionic somatomammotropin, and prolactin which are all extremely important in fetal growth promotion and lactation (all good, life-giving, things!)

Human Growth Hormone is what’s known as a “peptide hormone,” meaning that it is basically a protein that is used as a messenger to allow communication between the brain of other tissues of the body. It is produced in the pituitary gland, but controlled by the hypothalamus. Some of the benefits of Somatotropin include:

  • Lipolysis – working together with other beneficial hormones, Somatotropin supports the enzymes in the metabolic pathways that use fat as fuel. (1) Remember, you want to be a fat burner, right?
  • Anabolism – Sarcopenia (the loss of muscle mass) has been indicated in the pathophysiology (disease progression) of insulin resistance, diabetes, osteoporosis, obesity, CHD, and CVD, as well being a large determinant of survival in instances of cancers and other degenerative diseases. (2) The bottom line: You want more muscle mass (even if you’re a dainty lady and don’t want to look like a man – don’t worry because you don’t have enough testosterone to look like a man. Why The Ladies Should LIft Heavy, Too.)
  • Immune Function – By supporting and encouraging the growth, in both size and density, of bones, where immune cells are “born,” Human Growth Hormone indirectly bolsters the immune system. (3, 4)
  • Stabilizing Cholesterol and Triglyceride levels – Since Somatotropin, along with a number of other hormones, are in direct control of fat metabolism, keeping your HGH level up serves to keep your cholesterol and triglyceride levels where the need to be.
  • Reverses Atherosclerosis – “clogged arteries,” so hot right now. It seems that just about everyone in the universe dies of a heart attack, except for these people, them, these guys, or even those guys. Keeping your HGH levels where they need to be seems to help out with that. (5) I would think that mechanism would be –> proper fat metabolism –> Less inflammation –> nowhere for cholesterol to get lodged in the walls of arteries.


Now, having learning that Somatotropin is a good thing, and that we want more of it, we have a conundrum. Our Human Growth Hormone levels fall as we age (for sedentary adults with a poor diet), and unless is is purposely bolstered. In most people, a 60 year old will have half the Somatotropin as a 25 year old, and an 80 year old will only have 10% as much as the 60 year old!

You’re not going to notice a drop in your HGH levels, nor have any of the “symptoms” of other hormonal decreases, like hot flashes or trouble sleeping. The slow, steady decline of HGH, causes a ripple effect in your hormones and has been shown as one of the root causes of the physical deterioration that we call aging. (6)

Some of the effects of aging that can be attributed to decreasing levels of Human Growth Hormone are:

  1. more body fat
  2. less muscle mass
  3. changes in skin tone (“splotches” and discolorations)
  4. decrease in bone density
  5. decreasing organ size – smaller liver, kidneys, pancreas, and brain!(7) – yeah, I know, this is completely crazy. If you think about it, this means that along with lower HGH, the tissues that secrete your other hormones start to shrink too! Talk about a double whammy.
  6. Okay. So, that’s all the bad news. Now, for the good news:

    Low HGH is Preventable AND Reversible!

    **BOOM BOOM** :::tada!::: (fireworks and confetti)

    Assuming you’re like most people and don’t have a real hormonal imbalance disease that MUST be treated medically, then there are easy ways to fix this problem we call aging (to a point… While this is kinda like the fountain of youth, it’s not quite the fountain of youth.)

    There are both natural and unnatural ways to go about upping your somatotropin levels. I bet you can guess which ones I like better. You can get HGH supplementation, and you’ll see many of the positive effects early on, but the long term effects of exogenous (made outside the body) hormone therapy are not well understood. It kinda looks like they might give you cancer, make you crazy, leave you broke, and destroy your body’s ability to make your own hormones. <--- Tweet This!

    I don’t suggest hormone therapy. I DO suggest naturally enhancing your body’s ability to synthesize and secrete hormones for itself. Here are a few of the things that stimulate Somatotropin release:

    1. Other Hormones – As we know, all these pesky hormones are related, so there are a lot that stimulate HGH release. The main ones are the sex hormones, Testosterone and Estrogen. Also, having low levels of insulin appears to increase HGH. The most likely scenario is that low/normal blood sugar means low insulin and high HGH.
    2. Deep Sleep – The majority of Human Growth Hormone that is released is released while you’re sleeping. So more/better sleep = more HGH, mmmkay? I have a hypothesis that is why I get super, duper, ‘toddler’s face in the spaghetti’ kind of sleepy after a super high intensity workout.
    3. Niacin (Vitamin B3) – This is not very “paleo,” as you would, literally, have to eat 15-45 lbs. of beef liver to get the amount of Niacin that would lead to an increase in HGH. Can you imagine eating a 5 gallon bucket of beef liver? I mean, come on. But pills work just fine!
    4. Fasting – The mechanism is probably related to the effect of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) on HGH secretion. This is why Intermittent Fasting is so freaking great for muscle growth, fat loss, and a bunch of other favorable adaptations.
    5. Hard Exercise – If you know me, you know I like the hard workouts (but remember how damn sleepy they make me!) As always, I suggest short, high intensity, compound movements with weights.

    Much time could be spent on each of these points, but, as this is the “Eating For Your Hormones” series, I’ll focus on the diet. The few lenses we’ll look through are general diet, pre and post-workout meals, and diet + sleep.

    Eating, Hormonally Speaking

    1. General Diet Guidelines

    I’ve said before that you have to stop viewing your meals as an isolated jam session and see them in the larger context of the hormonal changes that follow. Most people will be able to use their diet like a switch to turn Human Growth Hormone on and off, so let’s turn it on!

    • Up Your Testosterone or Estrogen – I think you know who you are…The sex hormone levels and Human Growth Hormone levels are directly correlated, so if we can up one we can up the other. So, pick one:
    • Keep Your Blood Sugar Low – Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) has been shown to markedly increase HGH. In fact,
      In normal subjects, hypoglycemia produces an abrupt and sustained rise in levels of human growth hormone in plasma. This effect is independent of insulin, glucagon, or epinephrine. Prolonged fasting is accompanied by a rise in the hormone level in plasma. Measurement of this hormone after induced hypoglycemia is a specific test for pituitary somatotropic function.(8)

      If we want to keep blood sugar low, then we need to eat like we want to keep blood sugar low. This means no grains, no sugar, no “low-fat” dairy, and no processed carbs except on Cheat Day!

    • Fast from time to time – You’ve probably heard about intermittent fasting, and may have thought it was a faddish type diet, but there really is some science behind the purported benefits. Among other things, fasting induces hypoglycemia, and, as mentioned above, this is a very good thing! So while I generally suggest eating breakfast, skipping a meal, and giving yourself a 16-20 hour fast can do wonders!

    2. Eating Around Your Workouts

    I’d say there’s not necessarily one right way to eat pre-workout, but there sure are some wrong ways. And they’re probably not what you think. Like I’ve said before, we need to look at a pre-workout meal (like all meals), not as an isolated event in time, but as a starting point of a hormonal cascade that can serve to:

    • store or burn fat
    • boost or suppress your immune system
    • raise or lower a wide variety of hormones

    If you recall, high carbohydrate intake increases insulin secretion, increasing fat storage and shifting metabolism away from burning fat for fuel, in favor of burning sugar. This is a bad thing when the goal for most people when working out is either to lose fat or gain muscle.

    Growth Hormone is inversely related to Insulin. So when insulin is high, growth hormone is low. There is also some evidence to suggest that eating a high fat meal just prior to working out can have a negative effect on Growth Hormone production. (9)

    Most likely, this is because one of the jobs of Somatotropin is to release free fatty acids into the bloodstream to be used elsewhere. Why would you need these fatty acids released if you’ve just consumed a bunch of fat?

    Side Note: My hypothesis is that if you are a fat burner instead of a sugar burner, then a high fat meal will not have the same negative effect on post workout growth hormone levels.

    Depending on where your metabolic gauge is set, different foods can have different effects on fat burning/fat storage and many other processed

    With these things in mind, there are 2 ways that I would suggest you eat before a workout. Either:

    1. A high protein meal – This gives your body the available amino acids to build new muscle fibers and inhibits the catabolic effect of weight lifting because your body doesn’t need to take amino acids from your muscles.
    2. Workout Fasted – There is plenty of evidence coming out that workout out on an empty stomach may be the way to see the greatest effect from your exercise.

    If this intermittent fasting thing sounds good to you, take a look at Eat Stop Eat, by Brad Pillon.

    Eat Stop Eat is very newbie friendly, yet well referenced and scientifically accurate. This is the only book on the market with a substantial collection of research on intermittent fasting. It is a good, enjoyable read and extremely well written.

    This book covers topics pertaining to intermittent fasting and metabolism, health, body composition, hormonal effects and much more – and comes highly recommended from me!

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    1. Martin LG, et al. “Effect of androgen on growth hormone secretion and growth in boys with short stature.” Acta Endocrinol (Copenh). 1979 Jun;91(2):201-12.

    2. Robert R Wolfe. “The underappreciated role of muscle in health and disease” Am J Clin Nutr September 2006 vol. 84 no. 3 475-482

    3. Prakasam G, et al. “Effects of growth hormone and testosterone on cortical bone formation and bone density in aged orchiectomized rats.” Bone. 1999 May;24(5):491-7.

    4. Crist DM, Kraner JC. “Supplemental growth hormone increases the tumor cytotoxic activity of natural killer cells in healthy adults with normal growth hormone secretion.” Metabolism. 1990 Dec;39(12):1320-4

    5. Dawson-Hughes B, et al. “Regulation of growth hormone and somatomedin-C secretion in postmenopausal women: effect of physiological estrogen replacement.” J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1986 Aug;63(2):424-32.

    6. Rudman, D. “Growth hormone, body composition, and aging.” J Am Geriatr Soc. 1985 Nov;33(11):800-7.

    7. Rudman D, et al. “Effects of human growth hormone on body composition in elderly men.” Horm Res. 1991;36 Suppl 1:73-81.

    8. Ross, Jesse. “Hypoglycemia: A Potent Stimulus to Secretion of Growth Hormone” Science 31 May 1963:
    Vol. 140 no. 3570 pp. 987-988

    9. Cappon, J.P. “Acute effects of high fat and high glucose meals on the growth hormone response to exercise.” The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism June 1, 1993 vol. 76 no. 6 1418-1422

Is It Good Science? Here’s How You Can Tell

I am always linking to scientific articles and medical journals from the blog, the Facebook Page, or from Twitter, and I get this question a lot:

How can I tell what is good science and what is bad science?

Reading scientific literature is not easy, and a lot of times, it’s not fun (unless you’re a supernerd, like me, and a sentence like “In rodent models of high-fat diet-induced obesity, leptin resistance is seen initially at vagal afferents, blunting the actions of satiety mediators, then centrally, with gastrointestinal bacterial-triggered SOCS3 signaling implicated.” really gets you going).

For the rest of you, who want to be informed, but don’t know how to sift through the piles of seemingly contradictory evidence for virtually every topic, here are a few guidelines to help you out.

Side Note

Most “non-scientists” are tempted, and understandably so, to skip looking at all the data themselves and focus just on the abstract or conclusion to get the main take aways. If you do this, you are an Abstract Scientist. Don’t be an abstract scientist.

Be a person who takes a thoughtful, critical, and analytical look at information that is presented to you. If you want to swallow whatever you’re given, watch Dr. Oz and just do everything he says. If you want to make decisions for yourself, get the whole story, not just the cliff notes.

Confederate Flags Increase Incest

Based on the way many studies becomes headlines these days, it would be perfectly reasonable to suggest that “Confederate Flags are a major risk factor for incest.” <-- Tweet This!

Though, any thinking person can tell that this relationship is not only NOT causative, but there is not even a plausible mechanism by which it could be.

Causation and correlation are two very different things. Confederate flags and incest may be correlated, but neither causes the other. Just to be clear, I am a southern boy through and through. I love guns, have a bigass beard, like big trucks that guzzle gas, eat all kinds of animals, and love the woods. So I’m not ripping on the south at all, just FYI.

One of my favorite examples of the correlation vs. causation issue comes from the pentagon. Beards make you more effective in combat – thus all military personnel should have a beard! Here are few good links if you’re interested in pogonology. <-- that's what we call the study of beards!

When it comes to the science behind health and fitness, there is a whole lot of correlation being touted as causation. The inherent complexity of the interactions between our biological systems with each other and with the environment (food, sleep, exercise, etc.) lends itself to falsely simple conclusions.

“Beards make you more effective in combat.” <-- Tweet This!

Don’t let correlation dupe you into thinking there is more to a relationship than is really there. Unless there is a biologically plausible mechanism by which variable one causes a change in variable two, don’t let the sciencespeak lead you astray.

How Was The Study Designed?

There are a lot of ways to test a hypothesis. Some good, some bad. And there’s a very big difference between the conclusions drawn from the good ones and from the bad ones. You have got to look at how an investigator came to the conclusions they put in their paper, and not just take their word for it.

Did they feed eggs (cholesterol) to rabbits even though rabbits are herbivores?

Has a useful chemical been banned due to its’ effect on birds? Then blamed for cancer?

Could it really just be Junk Science?

There are a few things you need in a study to make sure that you are not simply seeing a correlation or a natural coincidence. Unless a study is designed specifically to take out any coincidental happenings, its not as clear cut as you would be led to believe. Here are some of the ways this is done.

  1. Controlled Study – this simply means that there is a control group. If you are testing a medicine on a group of people to see their recovery time, you need to have a group who isn’t getting the medication (the control group) to see how much faster the experimental group is recovering, compared to people who are getting no treatment.
  2. Placebo controlled – This is where you give your control group a placebo to see if any of the benefits come from a belief that they are getting medicine versus the actual benefit of the medicine.
  3. Double Blind – This is where neither the subjects nor the doctor or researcher know who is in which of the groups. This way, you can control for any effect that might occur due to the doctors belief that one person may recover faster than another.
  4. Randomized – you can’t pick and choose which people to put into each of the groups in a study. This could introduce some kind of bias that could change the results. If people (or animals or data) are put into their respective groups randomly, you’ll come up with much better data on the back end.
  5. Crossover Study – in this case, all experimental groups receive all treatments or engage in all experimental situations. This, of course, won’t work when studying antibiotics but would work very well when testing the effect of relative amounts of caffein on cognitive function.
  6. Observational Study – This is when a scientist looks at the behavior of a large number of people without interfering too much, then tries to form conclusions from the collected data. These studies are notorious for supporting bad ideas as you can support just about anything from a large enough pile of data.

A well designed study can shed light on otherwise complicated topics, while a poorly designed study can serve to perpetuate diet myths and keep us from finding the real cause or solution to a problem.

Could You Come to Other Conclusions?

There are a lot of observational or epidemiological studies that have mountains of data that are used to support whatever it is the author set out to conclude.

(“Epidemiology is the study of the distribution and patterns of health-events, health-characteristics and their causes or influences in well-defined populations.” These are not controlled, randomized, or designed by the author in any way.)

One of the best examples of this is The China Study. The first thing you see on that site is “The science is clear. The results are unmistakable.” This is quite a statement for a guy who has had his conclusions summarily torn apart by multiple well trained scientists and statisticians.

His conclusion is that you need to be a Vegetarian (or a Vegan) in order to be healthy and avoid disease. This conclusion can be supported by the data, but it’s not the only conclusion, and not even the most reasonable conclusion.

Be careful when observational or epidemiological studies are used as the basis for health and fitness declarations.

Check Your Trusted Sources

Some people choose to trust whatever any “expert” says. If Dr. Oz said it, it must be right…right? I think this is very dangerous. Experts have been wrong for the majority of history. Experts gave us:

  • Ground mummy – Up until 1910, the drug company, Merck, had “ground mummy” in their prescription catalog for doctors to give patients for everything from headaches to rashes. These were the experts of the day.
  • 40 MPH max speed – When cars first came on the scene, there was an understanding that if you went faster than about 40 mph, your body would either disintegrate or you would warp into another dimension. Seems Legit.
  • The Lobotomy – As recently as the 1970′s people were performing lobotomies on children who “wouldn’t behave.” Literally, doctors, experts in their field, were sticking knives in people’s eye sockets to chop up their brains. They were trying to cure the disease, “being a 12 year old boy.” Some of these people are STILL practicing medicine!
  • If you simply take at face value everything said by an “expert,” you may be doing some super stupid things. 50 years form now, we will look back at the “low fat diet” and ask what we were thinking.

    You need to find your own trusted sources to look to when you hear a health claim that just doesn’t quite jive with you. Here are a few of mine.

    1. Denise Minger – She isn’t an MD, doesn’t have a Ph.D, and doesn’t have the formal education or training that most experts believe you need to have. Ya know what she does have? A passion for nutrition, a hell of a head on her shoulder, and no ego.
    2. Gary Taubes – Also not a Ph.D. He’s a journalist who has looked at the available knowledge around and came to conclusions that don’t kowtow to the established medical paradigm.
    3. Chris Masterjohn – Finally, a scientist, right? Although, he doesn’t have a Ph.D. yet (as of July 2012), here is a guy who is willing to look at all the available data, make conclusion that are supported by said data, and doesn’t let conventional wisdom cloud his judgement.

    Just because I trust these people, doesn’t mean I don’t also think independently, critically, and analytically about any of the claims they make. When it comes down to it, your health is up to you. Don’t give up that responsibility.

    Who Funded The Research?

    Scientists get mad about this question being asked, as if it is inconceivable to think that a doctor would lower himself to the level of a “layman” who would be deceitful for money!

    Newsflash: doctors and scientists are people, with jobs they hate, wives that cheat on them, houses that get foreclosed on, businesses that fail, and all the idiosyncrasies of any other profession. You wouldn’t trust your mechanic simply because he has “mechanic” after his name. Why are you trusting your doctor just because of a couple letters?

    If you see a study claiming the health benefits of milk (It does a body good, right?) that was funded by the Dairy Farmers of America, could it be that they had a very specific goal in running the experiments?

    Conflict of interest alert!

    Doctors are becoming more and more a part of the “Big Pharma Machine,” pumping out clinical trials that prove the validity of the newest wonder drug in fighting all kinds of made up illnesses.

    So I’ve spent the last 1700 or so words bashing medical and scientific literature. But don’t just take my word for it. The former Editor-in-Cheif of the New England Journal of Medicine (one of the most respected medical journals in the world) has said it’s “no longer possible to believe much of clinical research published.”

    Chew on that.

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Ever wanted this so bad you would kill someone?

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Roses are Red, Bacon is Also Red, Poems are Hard.  Bacon.

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Eating For Your Hormones Part III: Leptin


This is part three in a series on “Eating For Your Hormones.” It is scientifically shown that metabolism is hormonally controlled, so making dietary choices with your hormones in mind can dramatically increase the results you see and dramatically increase your likelihood of success in getting health and fit. Check out Part I: Insulin, and [...]

Continue reading...

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