Alcohol: mTOR, Protein Synthesis and Aging

Alcohol is such a fixture in our society that I was at first very hesitant to begin sharing the information I’ve been holding onto for many years. In an attempt to not offend, I feel I’ve actually been doing somewhat of a disservice to many instead. If there is information on any subject that deals with nutrition, health, muscle-building or aging, then I feel it’s important to let others know what that information is. So far I have tested the waters gently with my articles about alcohol and its relation to exercise and the disturbing phenomenon of drunkorexia.

I’d like to get a bit more specific now and this is where things can get a bit touchy. You see, the first two articles dealt with drinking that was on the extreme side of behaviors and because of that, the average drinker could simply say, ‘well, that’s not any type of behavior I engage in. That’s for people with drinking problems’. They would be right of course, but today I’m going to begin discussing what happens to us physiologically when alcohol is consumed.

Of course the negative effects will be amplified when large amounts are ingested, and lessened when small amounts are taken in. However, unless you can argue that a little bit of harm is a good thing, then you are going to be hard pressed to defend alcohol as having any type of benefit that outweighs the consequence. Regarding alcohol’s mystical healthful properties; there isn’t anything in alcohol that can’t be derived through a far more healthful option.

First, it’s time for a little science. Today I’m going to be specifically dealing with alcohol and its interaction with mTOR. This of course means that as I’m dealing with something so specific, it is reasonable of you to assume there is plenty more that alcohol effects negatively, and yes, I’ll be writing about those effects in good time. For now, or for the purposes of this article, mTOR, or mammalian target of rapamycin, and its role in the body will be all that will be covered.

Science recently has discovered that this protein, mTOR, is the key to building muscle and rejuvenation. When the mTOR pathway is interfered with, then accelerated aging and early mortality is the result. There are many things we can do to stabilize the mTOR pathway, and there are of course things we can do to cause dysregulation of the pathway as well.

When mTOR is activated, muscle cells increase protein synthesis. This is important to anyone who weight trains. Without protein synthesis there is no muscle growth. The reason that protein synthesis occurs in muscle cells is because when energy levels are high and muscle cells are stressed, mTOR is activated in order to help the cells heal and rebuild in order to grow stronger. The mechanism behind this is due to mTOR collecting the information regarding the intracellular nutrient status and oxidative stress levels. This is the cellular computer that we need functioning at its highest capability in order for our cells, the billions and billions of them that we have, to be able to remain in their optimal state.

On the plus side of the equation, mTOR is activated by such things as insulin, growth factors IGF-1 and IGF-2, oxidative stress, mechanical overloading and amino acids. It is part of the insulin pathway, and in order for this pathway to function optimally there needs to be healthy levels of cellular insulin sensitivity. Having your insulin levels elevated causes a rapid increase in mTOR, but as a result of having constantly high insulin levels you will lose insulin sensitivity. Without great insulin sensitivity your ability to effectively utilize mTOR will be compromised.

The mTOR pathway is known to be dysregulated in most diseases, such as cancers and diabetes. Both of these types of diseases are characterized by elevated insulin levels and oxidative stress. When the body is in a constant state of elevated insulin and oxidative stress, the dysregulation of the mTOR pathway leads to abnormally coordinated protein synthesis. Summed up, when mTOR is not able to do its job, the ability of our body to heal is greatly reduced. This causes disease, and even in the short-term it will greatly impair the ability of our muscles to repair and grow. Everyone with me so far?

The dysregulation of mTOR also allows for disease like cancer to begin to grow larger and to replicate faster while the rest of the body begins to go into a state of wasting. In both diabetics and cancer patients, body wasting begins to take over gradually, but can become all-consuming if the cancer cells continue to grow and multiply.

The best ways to regulate mTOR activity is through activities such as fasting, high intensity exercise, and through the consumption of branched chain amino acids. These activities can improve insulin sensitivity, and that can be further enhanced by eating an anti-inflammatory diet that is plentiful in phyto-nutrient rich foods such as fruits and vegetables, healthy fats and grass-fed animal products.

During fasting, the body’s need for insulin signaling is lessened. When the body’s insulin levels are reduced it allows time for the cell membranes to heal and increase receptor sensitivity. This is also a great opportunity for the body to detoxify wastes and recycle old proteins, as well as other weakened cellular compounds. In short, it’s an ideal time for the body to heal itself.

High intensity exercise also can be of benefit after fasting as it creates an anabolic environment in the body and greatly improves insulin signaling within the muscle cells. Growth hormone levels are also increased after high intensity training following a fast. Higher levels of growth hormone act as a very effective anti-aging aid. (I’ll be covering more on this subject later, as I’m really beginning to question pre training nutrition as having any benefit whatsoever to the long-term goal of health and muscle-building, outside of the ability to provide easily accessible energy)

So what does this all have to do with alcohol? Well, if basically everything good that happens in our body is regulated by mTOR, then it logically stands to reason that anything that causes mTOR to be dysregulated is bad, right? The causes of dysregulation of the mTOR pathway are diseases like cancer and diabetes, and other factors like smoking and…drinking alcohol.

Numerous studies I came across confirm this. I plan on using many of these studies in other articles, so I’ll just use one from the Department of Cellular and Molecular Physiology, at the The Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine. This studies intent was to look specifically at alcohol and its effect on protein synthesis.

The study learned, not surprisingly, that alcohol greatly interferes with protein synthesis. This alone is of concern, because when protein synthesis can’t occur then the body can’t heal itself. If the body can’t heal then the body begins to break down, plain and simple. The reason that protein synthesis was interfered with was discovered to be that the mTOR pathway was dysregulated due to the consumption of alcohol.

So the best way to prevent disease, and thereby to prevent aging, is to ensure that mTOR is able to function optimally. The quickest way to age and have your body break down and also be put in a position for disease to thrive, is to engage in activities that prevent mTOR from being able to function. Which sounds like the better course of action to you?

Happy Lifting!

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