Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Reading List and Gratuitous Commentary

A reader recently asked for recommended reading, and I thought it would be good to just post it to the blog rather than burying in comments.

Some of the stuff listed is fairly technical. But one thing that is important to realize is that a lot of the technicality in biochemistry is big words. Don't get scared off by terms like "fructose-1,6-bisphosphatase", instead try to grasp the big picture. Similarly, biological systems are "complex", in the sense of having a lot of interacting parts. But in the end, it's pretty much "the leg bone is connected to the hip bone". You don't need to build a radically new mental framework to think about this stuff, as you might with something like quantum field theory. And the details of many processes aren't really so important in making health-related decisions, e.g. knowing the precise chemical reactions by which lipoprotein lipase cleaves fatty acids from triglycerides isn't as important as knowing that in the neighborhood of fat cells, insulin makes it occur more.

Enough babbling. Here's the list (with more specific babbling), roughly ordered from easiest to hardest:
  • The Protein Power Lifeplan by Michael R. Eades and Mary Dan Eades: Packed with very readable accounts of the relevant science. The Eades are good about delineating what appears clear from available scientific evidence, and what they've inferred "makes sense".
  • Life Without Bread by Christian B. Allan and Wolfgang Lutz: Another readable account, complementary in many ways to what is presented in other books. The discussion on hormonal balance is pretty interesting by itself.
  • Nutrition and Physical Degeneration by Weston A. Price, DDS, and Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation: After you read this, you'll never look at someone's face the same way. Nutritional information is largely observational, but at least some of Price's conclusions are being borne about by more detailed biochemical research. Price guessed a lot of stuff we seem to be rediscovering today. Also has lots of anthropological information, particularly illustrating connections between food and culture.
  • Good to Eat: Riddles of Food and Culture by Marvin Harris: Very entertaining and thought-provoking, and should start you thinking about the interrelationships of food and culture.
  • Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers, Third Edition by Robert M. Sapolsky: A detailed but funny and readable account of how the body's hormonal systems work, with a particular accent on stress.
  • Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes: Very detailed and dense accounting both of how several "sacred cows" of modern nutrition came to be, as well as the (largely ignored) scientific evidence against them. A great read both for the sociology and the science, and packed with info. Worth reading more than once, and required reading before diving into any textbooks.
  • Cholesterol and Health Website by Chris Masterjohn: Very thorough and detailed write-ups of various nutritional topics, mostly centered around lipid metabolism. About the same level as Taubes. Definitely read Masterjohn's discussion of The China Study for a good example of bad science.
  • Metabolic Regulation: A Human Perspective by Keith Frayn: A good stepping stone to the more detailed textbooks. Reading Frayn after Taubes is recommended, since they cover a lot of the same ground, Frayn in more technical detail. Frayn tries to connect the biochemical details to current nutritional dogma. Ignore this and draw your own conclusions.
  • Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism by Sareen S. Gropper and Jack L. Smith: The hard stuff. Similar comment applies in following the science to your own conclusions.
  • Nutrition and Metabolism Society Website: All about including knowledge of metabolism into health-related decisions. See also their open-access journal, Nutrition and Metabolism.
  • Reviews on Appetite: An entire issue of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B devoted to the details how hormones and the central nervous system control energy intake. Great stuff, and hopefully the subject of my next blog post.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this bibliography.

Just a suggestion, but posting book reviews would be helpful to your readers. I realize that this entails extra work, however, as Super Chicken said to Fred, "You knew the job was dangerous when you took it."

Anonymous said...

Hi, Dave -
Please take a look at the Nutrition & Metabolism Society's Petition:


I hope you & your readers will want to help us make a change.
Lauri Cagnassola

Dave said...

Good suggestion. I will definitely consider book reviews for future postings.

GreatnessBlog said...


Dave said...

Hi Lauri. It looks like Blogger truncated the URL to your petition, so I posted a blog entry on it. Hopefully you have plans to forward the petition to Congress as well. Good luck!

Mel said...

Great list, thanks. I've already read a few, Taubes especially. I went to the Royal Society link and picked out "Pancreatic signals..". I'm looking for a solution to what feels like a low blood sugar episode usually 2 hours after some meals, all my meals are very low carb. If I'm reading it right, 5.(a) says the normal amount of insulin released at mealtime is not dependent on how much carb is eaten but on how much white adipose tissue is present. Now that's an interesting idea! I've got some of that around. I've been experimenting with the "2 gram cure" described by Jenny Ruhl, to bring my blood sugar up 10 ml/dl without (so she says) triggering more insulin release. I've tried it twice and I think it does what it claims. Further down in 5.(a) there is a sentence that seems to support the idea.
Thank you for your blogging and linking. I'm really learning a lot.

Dave said...

Hi Melinda. "Pancreatic signals" is my favorite.

Insulin secretion is a function of several things, including body-fat and blood glucose. The amount of carbs eaten probably matters, but the effect on blood sugar is probably the more important variable. There also appear to be some hormones secreted by the gut that have an "incretin effect", which increase the amount of insulin secreted. See e.g. glucagon-like peptide 1 in the "Gastrointestinal hormones" paper and Chapter 5 in Frayn. The hypothalamus also appears to directly sense fatty acids, and suppress insulin release and hepatic glucose output (see this paper). And of course glucagon, secreted most strongly due to protein intake, suppresses both insulin and cellular uptake of glucose, though it should increase hepatic glucose output to compensate.

I have a hunch (and only a hunch) that those of us transitioning from a high-carb to a low-carb diet might experience some hypoglycemic effects from a low-carb meal. In theory the orchestration of various hormonal and nervous system signals should prevent this, but after years of abuse via refined carbohydrates, it may take some time (if ever) for the system to rebalance itself. Just a guess.

water said...

I'm new to your blog and I appreciate the effort you put into your posts. In addition to your books list, are there blogs you particularly like? I am wondering if you read Animal Pharm and Hyperlipid. I think they would be of interest to you.

Dave said...

Hi Water. Thank you for the feedback, I'm glad you're finding the blog useful.

A list of blogs is linked up on the right side of the page. I just recently ran across Hyperlipid, but have not seen Animal Pharm and will definitely check it out. Thanks for the heads-up.