New Research Finds Protein Stimulates Energy, Glucose Inhibits
A new study out of Cambridge in the UK suggests that protein may play a larger role than we thought in burning calories and keeping us alert, whereas sugar has the opposite effect. The study, led by Dr. Denis Burdakov, from the Department of Pharmacology and Institute of Metabolic Science at Cambridge in the UK, and colleagues, appears in the November 17 issue of Neuron.
In previous studies, Dr. Burdakov had found that orexin cells in the brain’s hypothalamus release a stimulant called orexin/hypocretin, which stimulates wakefulness, burns calories and regulates energy balance. With the new study, Burdakov and his Cambridge colleagues sought to find out if specific nutrients alter those impulses, either by stimulating or inhibiting orexin cell activity. In other words, do certain foods increase or decrease wakefulness and energy?
The Effect of Protein and Glucose on “Awake” Cells
To find out, Burdakov and the team compared the effect of different nutrients, specifically amino acid mixtures similar to egg whites, and also glucose, on orexin cells.
The scientists highlighted the orexin cells — which are scarce and difficult to find — with genetically targeted fluorescence in mouse brains. They then introduced the different nutrients and monitored the orexin cell impulses.
They discovered that amino acids — nutrients found in proteins such as egg whites — stimulated orexin cells much more than any other nutrients. In addition, the amino acids actually prevented glucose from blocking orexin cell activity.
This confirmed the results of previous studies that showed that glucose blocked orexin cell activity, which is why researchers believe people get sleepy after meals heavy in sugars and/or carbohydrates.
Implications of the Study on Energy, Sleep and Weight Loss
Scientists already knew that orexin cells regulate energy levels and feelings of wakefulness. They also understood that a deficiency in orexin cells can result in sleep disorders such as narcolepsy, in addition to weight gain. But, as a result of the new Cambridge study, scientists now know that certain nutrients, namely protein and glucose, influence the behavior of orexin cells.
This has treatment implications for people who suffer from sleep disorders, weight gain and lack of energy. Diet, energy, wakefulness, sleep patterns, body weight and overall health and mood are all intertwined. Through monitoring a person’s protein and glucose intake, doctors can help influence orexin cells to be more or less active, and thus influence a person’s level of energy. From a sleep disorder and weight loss perspective, scientists are encouraged to continue studying how protein-rich foods can help promote energy and the burning of calories.
>> back to top
Comments are closed