Quantum Nutrition: A Short Introduction

In 2013, in my first semester of graduate school, I had an idea:

“What if we could trace the effects of a single nutrient from physics/chemistry/geology up through biology, past neuroscience and behavior, through all other areas of the university, from economics and art history to geopolitics and beyond?”

Not until 2017 did I realize this is what the true scientific study of “nutrition” attempts to do. It simply lacks an adequate theory to make testable predictions and unify other related scientific fields.

 


Table of Contents


Current Definition and Problems

 

Archaic definitions

Here are a few conventional definitions of the word “nutrition” from the web:

Websters’:

the act or process of nourishing or being nourished; specifically : the sum of the processes by which an animal or plant takes in and utilizes food substances. / foods that are necessary for human nutrition

Cambridge:

the process by which the body takes in and uses food, esp. food that it needs to stay healthy, or the scientific study of this process

 

There are several major problems with these and other standard definitions of the word nutrition:

  • They use the word “food” or “nourish,” which itself, being from the Latin nutrire, centers around the idea of “food.” This may be useful for those with more philosophical conceptions of the word “food.” Unfortunately, in modern America and conventional “nutrition science,” the word food is usually conceptually disconnected from the concepts of air and water, even more necessary to nourish life. Modern “nutrition science” essentially ignores air, water, and their nourishment.
  • They often refer anthropomorphically to the human body, as opposed to the biological concept of the cell (or another accepted model) or the concept of any multicellular organism.
  • They fail to account for essential subatomic particles and processes.

 


From “Vitamins and Minerals” to “Minerals and Molecules”

Worse, the term “vitamin” has no good scientific definition, and the archaic “vitamin and mineral” model is outdated and nearly useless. Here are three reasons:

  1. “Vitamin D” (cholecalciferol) has been well known for decades, scientifically, to be a hormone. It is not an essential dietary nutrient; rather, it is an essential hormone synthesized by human skin when cellular processes use light to convert the molecule 7-Dehydrocholesterol to “previtamin D3” and later cholecalciferol itself. However, the subatomic particle known as a photon (at 290-315 nm) is a necessary nutrient, absorbed in humans by the skin and used as noted.
  2. Most “vitamins” are actually groups of molecules, such as the A group, the B group, the E group, and the K group. To my knowledge, only “vitamin C” refers a single individual molecule: ascorbic acid.
  3. With each passing year, it appears that there are other “essential molecules,” such as the so-called pseudovitamins and phytonutrients, potentially known molecules like caffeine, nicotine, or DMT, and many others. Given the complexity and ability of the various micro-biomes to evolve and synthesize molecules based on other nutritional inputs, some humans may have bacterial synthesis of essential dietary molecules whereas others do not, so the word “essential” is quite problematic. However, there are certainly undocumented essential molecules (just as there are undocumented essential elements).

We must therefore move towards a better categorization of nutrients.

While subatomic particles must be technically included (below), the phrases “atoms and molecules” or “elements and molecules” are scientifically accurate phrases to replace “vitamin and mineral.” However, I suggest the phrase “minerals and molecules” for the public, using the periodic table for the former, and reminding the public that a molecule is simple an individual arrangement of bonded atoms. The term “mineral” from “minerals and molecules” would be technically inaccurate, since elements on the periodic table like Carbon and Nitrogen are not minerals per se, but “minerals and molecules” serves as a better phrase for public adoption to promote education and awareness. (Unless the public forgets that for humans, the photon is also an essential subatomic nutrient.)

While these are good starting points to inform public opinion, we still need acceptable scientific definitions in order to make testable hypotheses, to carry nutrition into the modern century, and to prepare it for the next.


A New Theory

 

What is the definition of nutrition?

Nutrition is the study of nutrients and their effects.

What is the definition of a nutrient?

A nutrient is a particle without which an acid-based (amino acid, nucleic acid, etc.) function or reaction cannot occur. For the public: a nutrient is a particle (subatomic, atomic, or molecular) used in a biochemical reaction.

 

How can we categorize nutrients?

Nutrients should be categorized based on standard models from the physical sciences:

  • subatomic particles (photons, electrons, protons, etc.),
  • atoms (lithium, oxygen, sodium, sulfur, etc.),
  • molecules (ascorbic acid, α-Linolenic acid, etc.),
  • and even (optionally) whole cellular organelles and/or organisms.
    • Note: It does not seem likely that whole organelles or cells are used as “nutrients” without being broken down into component macro-molecules and smaller particles first. However, from another perspective, it not only seems likely, it seems a historical biological fact: the “first” mitochondrion was likely an independent cellular entity, consumed or assimilated, in a sense, as a mutually-beneficial symbiotic “nutrient.” Perspective indeed!

 

Naming a Theory

Quantum or quanta may have a few varying definitions in the physical sciences. While the word comes from the Latin quantus, meaning “how great,” in the early 1900s it came to signify the smallest measurable unit. This is especially true of the electromagnetic force, as quantum came to signify the smallest relevant particles: a single electron, a “fermion” with mass; or the photon, a type of “boson,” the massless force-carrier of the electromagnetic force. Quantum often now refers to both indivisible sub-atomic particles and the unpredictable nature of studying these particles.

Quantum is thus a perfect, relevant word for a unifying physical theory of nutrition, although it need not be used only to refer to the electron, photon, and other subatomic particles. Here, the word quantum can be used in a general sense: the smallest useful subatomic, atomic, or molecular unit of nutrition. This is critical, because these three divisions must form the foundation of the future study of nutrition; for example: an electron or photon, versus a single lithium or sodium ion, versus molecular oxygen or caffeine. While larger molecular elements — long chain fatty acids and peptides — are obviously nutrients, they work well under the third molecular division, studied individually or collectively.

As such, a unifying theory of nutrition should be called quantum nutrition or quantum nutrition theory.

 

Questions

This presents numerous questions (thousands, actually). For example:

  • How can we define and differentiate an “essential” or “beneficial” nutrient?
  • What is the difference between a nutrient and a drug?
  • How can we organize nutritional molecules into useful categories?
  • Might there be an organizational approach similar to the standard model or periodic table for these molecules?
  • How can we account for modern, unique, synthesized molecules, which often have negative effects on whole organisms?
  • How can we define “life” and account for entropic decay?
  • What individual diseases, cultural adaptations, and societal challenges are predicted?

 


 

The Future: Unifying the Scientific Disciplines

From physical vs. social sciences towards a unified concept of the sciences

Because nutrients influence all known biochemical processes, nutrition connects physics, chemistry, and other physical sciences to biology, psychology, and all associated scientific disciplines, such as economics, culture, religion, and philosophy. An effective model of nutrition bridges the “gap” between the so-called natural vs. social sciences, allowing, at long last, us to retire the concept of “social sciences.” At some point this century, an effective model of nutrition will allow us to make predictions based on the effects of nutritional photon intake on economic decision making in northern latitudes; or, if all else could be controlled for, nutrition could make predictions on how varying soil levels of magnesium in Northwest vs. Southeast African populations affects leadership styles of elected politicians. This may take decades, of course, but the basic ideas already exist.

We need only connect the dots.

Where to begin?

 

Cure: A Journey into the Science of Mind Over Body Jo Marchant (2016)

Cure: A Journey into the Science of Mind Over Body

Jo Marchant (2016)

“AS INDIVIDUALS, rather than putting our faith in mystical rituals and practices, the science described in this book shows that in many situations, we have the capacity to influence our own health by harnessing the power of the (conscious and unconscious) mind.”

Wow! This is the exact type of nonfiction I love to read and learn from. God, I hope the change of western medicine speeds along – healthily, of course. And I hope more scientifically-literate Baby-boomers spend their money in ways that support the paradigm shift. Sadly, I foresee more stubbornly-minded and change-resistant doctors continuing to move overseas to less developed countries (like Colombia), solidifying and spreading their prejudices and myths. Despite my concern over our growing healthcare costs as a percentage of GDP or the lowering birth rate, the lack of scientific education in the U.S. continues to worry me most…


 

I’ll start with providing some key quotes about the placebo effects, and must not forget the power of the “nocebo” effect, which likely accounts for most side-effects from typical prescription drugs.

 “This result illustrates two important points about the limitations of the placebo effect. The first is that any effects caused by belief in a treatment are limited to the natural tools that the body has available. Breathing fake oxygen can cause the brain to respond as if there is more oxygen in the air, but it cannot increase the underlying level of oxygen within the blood.” [Emphasis added]

“The second point, which is becoming clear from a range of placebo studies, is that effects mediated by expectation tend to be limited to symptoms—things that we are consciously aware of, such as pain, itching, rashes or diarrhea, as well as cognitive function, sleep and the effects of drugs such as caffeine and alcohol.” [Emphasis added]

“Placebos, then, are very good at influencing how we feel. But there’s little evidence that they affect measures we’re not consciously aware of, such as cholesterol or blood sugar levels, and they don’t seem to address the underlying processes or causes of disease. Bonnie Anderson’s fake surgery banished her pain and disability, but it probably didn’t mend her spine.”

 

“Harnessing conditioned responses to replace drugs with placebos is called Placebo Controlled Dose Reduction (PCDR), and in addition to reducing side effects, it could save billions of dollars in health care costs (in 2007, ADHD drugs in the U.S. alone were estimated to cost $5.3 billion).”

 

 

 


 

The “central governor” topic was fascinating to me. This is the idea (not yet proved) that a region of the brain governs, based on external and internal status, how much effort we can physically expend in a normal situation like a gym or climbing a mountain, and how much of our body/energy is “reserved” for a true emergency, like a friend being pinned under a weight or an advancing avalanche. We think and feel like as we work harder in these situations like we’re using more and more of our energy, more and more of our muscles to do the work,

 

But Noakes found the reverse. As the cyclists neared exhaustion, muscle fibers were being switched off. At the point at which his volunteers said they felt too fatigued to continue, they were never activating more than about 50% of their available muscle fibers. Exhaustion forced them to stop exercising, yet they had a large reserve of muscle just waiting to be used. [Emphasis added]

 

Altitude, hot weather, and being sick make “the effect even more pronounced.” Noakes argues that this hypothesis might also be the reason why interval training is so effective: it teaches the brain that going to 100% — or at least what the brain allows as 100% — is OK, and it’s fine to increase that limit a little more in the future. This is also good hypothesis for extreme, clinical fatigue, which she discusses: a malfunction in this central governor region.

 

 

 


 

The section on hypnotherapy surprised me, because I’d never heard of real research on it, yet the evidence presented for reliving IBS symptoms seems very strong. And sadly…likely little to nothing will come of this in the near future. The principle researcher in this field sounds like he’s given up:

 

““We have produced a lot of good research, incontrovertible research. Yet we’re always fighting the people who fund treatment. They’re always saying there’s not enough evidence. How much more evidence do they want?”” (Whorwell)

 

And that hints at the general reason many of the therapies discussed in this book, from placebo pills to hypnotherapy, will advance far slower than is warranted:

 

“Stanford hypnosis researcher David Spiegel suggests that part of the reason for the lack of enthusiasm is economic. Pain relief is a billiondollar market, and drug companies have no incentive to fund trials that would reduce patients’ dependence on their products, he points out. And neither have medical insurers, because if medical costs come down, so do their profits. The trouble with hypnosis and other psychological therapies, he says, is that “there’s no intervening industry that has the interest in pushing it.””

 

“Lehrer appears to have hit the impasse suffered by many mind–body therapies—with nothing to sell, there’s limited funding for research.”

 

 


In another section, she discusses how stress “ages” (shortens) our telomeres, shown in mothers of autistic children and others. What’s more, our environment as children strongly affects how we respond to external factors as adults; moreover, that early environment shapes the development of our brain’s reward circuits, such that we’re more “likely to prioritize immediate pleasure over future consequences,” especially in areas like drugs, sex, or money.

 

 


Fear or exhilaration? That’s a critical distinction in how you feel, because it can affect the physiological state when climbing a mountain, giving a presentation, or taking a test.

Is it possible a huge indicator of my response to stresses is influenced by my lifelong relationship to games? In games, challenges are the entire point – getting over the ‘hump’ and overcoming the obstacle to succeed – has that truly influenced my perspective on life?

 

 

 


There was a good, if short, section on meditation, and I’m glad I learned about the power of hypnosis, suggestion, and attention diversion above and beyond meditation. Yet another simple one sentence that elegantly sums up the power of meditative practices:

 

“Mindfulness, it seems, may put us another step ahead—we can have thoughts, but we don’t have to be ruled by them.”

 

And in some cases, she notes meditation may not be the amazing cure-all that some push, because “The participants were already keen meditators, he points out, so the study gave them three months to do something they loved.” Good point!

 

 

 


The COSTA RICA section! Diet doesn’t matter! Genes don’t, either. But living alone and having contact with a child are strongly correlated to their lifespan! On that note, I love the interdependence comment:

“The same is true for interdependence, “the idea that we can’t just survive by ourselves, with no help from others.” Even the simplest item we need to survive, like a sandwich, connects us with many other people, he points out—from farmers to supermarket workers. Extending that analysis to all of the things we need to get through a day—such as heating, electricity, roads, cars, fuel—demonstrates that we’re dependent on a vast number of people.” [Emphasis added]

 

And the wording gets more serious…

 

“They concluded that social isolation is as dangerous for health as obesity, inactivity and smoking. The evidence was as strong as in the landmark U.S. government report that in 1964 officially linked smoking with lung cancer.” [Emphasis added]

 

But she leaves us with a brilliant comment by an interviewee:

 

“To me, the universe is connection, it’s communication,” she says. “If you start to lose that, you start to die.” –Lupita Quereda

 

“At the heart of almost all the pathways I’ve learned about is one guiding principle: if we feel safe, cared for and in control—in a critical moment during injury or disease, or generally throughout our lives—we do better. We feel less pain, less fatigue, less sickness. Our immune system works with us instead of against us. Our bodies ease off on emergency defenses and can focus on repair and growth.” [Emphasis added]

 

 

 


Baroflex – I want to try biofeedback, and will try a 5s/5s breath meditation!

 

“He argues though that because the speed of breathing needed to achieve resonance is slightly different for each person, maximizing the effect with meditation alone can take years of practice, whereas with biofeedback, we can learn it in a few minutes. “Most people are able to pick it up right away,” he tells me. “That’s very different from living in a Zen monastery for ten years!”” [Emphasis added]

 

 

 


The CDC’s worst named drug epidemic in history? Opiate addiction:

 

“By 2012, 15,000 Americans were dying each year from prescription pill overdoses, more than from heroin and cocaine combined.”

 

 

 


In one of her final chapters, Marchant discusses religion, taking us to the Lourdes, France pilgrimage for Catholics. She notes the power of belief in religion to heal, but also reminds us of its dark side.

 

 


The description of epigenetics for the layperson is perfect:

 

“Instead our genomes encode a wide variety of potential selves, and our social environment—including our perception of that environment—helps to determine which of those selves we become.”

 

 

 


There were some good notes on what’s called nurturant-involved” parenting, where kids have boundaries and consequences, but clearly understand that those exist because of their parent’s love.

 

 

 


The worst of “alternative” medicine? Stupid, dangerous advice:

 

“A homeopath in one high-street pharmacy told Newsnight’s researcher: “They make it so your energy doesn’t have a malaria-shaped hole in it so the malarial mosquitos won’t come along and fill that in.” I find it hard not to feel angry reading such nonsensical—and potentially fatal—advice.”

 

 

 

Marchant ends with cautious, reluctant hope, noting how much we spend on healthcare and how ineffective and inefficient it is. She then gives us a reminder to be skeptical about doctors or scientists who try to separate “mind” from “body”:

 

“Nearly 400 years after Descartes’ separation of the mind and body, we still tend to think of ourselves as logical, rational beings, with highly developed minds that allow us to transcend our biological, animal nature. The evidence shows something very different: that our bodies and minds have evolved in exquisite harmony, so perfectly integrated that it is impossible to consider one without the other. Terms like “mind–body” and “holistic” are often derided as flaky and unscientific, but in fact it’s the idea of a mind distinct from the body, an ephemeral entity that floats somewhere in the skull like a spirit or soul, that makes no scientific sense.”  [Emphasis added]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beautiful or miscellaneous quotes:

 

Finally, between 1 and 2 p.m., the men saw a metal tripod left behind by Chinese surveyors in 1975. They had reached the summit. Habeler stammered and cried, his tears running from under his goggles into his beard and freezing on his cheeks. Messner says he just sat, legs dangling, with nothing to do at last but breathe: “I am nothing more than a single, narrow, gasping lung floating over the mists and the summits.” [Emphasis added]

 

She works part-time as an art therapist, doing pottery with prison inmates and psychiatric patients with conditions such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Working with clay provides a safe space for them to talk, she says. “If the conversation gets difficult, you can go right back to the clay.” [Emphasis added]

 

 

 

The Laws of Medicine: Field Notes from an Uncertain Science (TED Books), Siddhartha Mukherjee, 2015

The Laws of Medicine:
Field Notes from an Uncertain Science (TED Books), Siddhartha Mukherjee, 2015

Is medicine a science?”

““Doctors,” Voltaire wrote, “are men who prescribe medicines of which they know little, to cure diseases of which they know less, in human beings of whom they know nothing.””

I read this book because of a convincing TED talk by Mukherjee. He’s a cancer researcher, and he instantly won my respect – especially after Being Mortal and the related TED talk. Here is the starting point of what to review before any class or research into statistics, Bayesian theory, or more general scientific research.

The author says something that fits perfectly with the recent quantum biology book I read: “There are fewer laws in chemistry. Biology is the most lawless of the three basic sciences: there are few rules to begin with, and even fewer rules that are universal.” Indeed, biology is due for a revolution (or two) this century…

 

 

1. “A strong intuition is much more powerful than a weak test.”

The first is Mukherjee’s most math-heavy section, but it isn’t overwhelming in the least. It simply shows us that by a few simple tweaks in how we “screen” for who to select for certain medical tests before taking them, we can significantly improve the usefulness of these tests.

 

2. “Normals” teach us rules; “outliers” teach us laws.

Here is his most scientific section, arguing that we need to understand the outliers in order to truly create – and falsify or prove – good theories.

He also has a good section on the single patient anecdote – and its power when harnessed correctly!

“[W]e still lack a deeper, more unified understanding of physiology and pathology.”

 

3. “For every perfect medical experiment, there is a perfect human bias.”

Bias, bias, bias. Here Mukherjee begins with the story of the radical mastectomy, and by doing so, he discusses something that’s been below the surface of  my thinking about medicine and studies for years. But it’s something I could never really express properly: that the simple act of having a study on health changes the very nature of the outcome. Indeed, most of them in the US and Europe are based on whites and – worse – males. But perhaps equally profoundly,

“[W]hen patients are enrolled in a study, they are inevitably affected by that enrollment. A man’s decision to enroll in a study to measure the effect of exercise on diabetic management, say, is an active decision.

More succinctly:

“The device used to measure the subject transforms the nature of the subject.”

 

This is one of the few books that it would probably be better to simply review by reading/skimming the entire book than simply this file – especially for the instruction in Bayesian thinking and general probability.

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal, Mary Roach (2013)

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal, Mary Roach (2013)

Mary Roach’s Gulp was everything I’d hoped for, and a wonderful book for me to read. To call it interesting would be a massive disservice – the content is rich in story, wild yet grounded facts, and prose colorful enough to stimulate any sense while reading. It should be required reading for students of medicine, anatomy, nursing, and similar fields; and it’s one I imagine any human with even the faintest interest in her health would enjoy.

Yet Roach connects all of this to science, with a refreshing perspective of both history and the present state of thinking on each section. Note the colon, which she reasonably claims, we may know much less about simply because of its natural smell and disgust.

I particularly like her organization. Each chapter is exactly focused on its topic; transitions are quick but fluid.

In both her introduction and final chapter, she enlightens the lay reader of a little of the history of Elvis Presley’s final years and ultimate death: it was likely due to megacolon, if only proximally. We feel particularly empathetic for the artist, whose colon was many inches in diameter at times, lived for hours in his bathroom, and, at the end, had part of a barium-drink clogging his colon for months. I’ve felt IBS pain, and cringed to read these sections.

The chapter on saliva was perhaps my favorite – what a wealth of information I had no clue about! Her discussion of the double standard of saliva and other bodily fluids – how these are perfectly acceptable within our “body,” but repulsive and unacceptable once the fluid leaves, except for those we love – is spot-on. Indeed, she notes another culture finds the fact that we collect and store our nasal excretions while ill to be particularly brutish!

The chapter on the stomach discusses the purpose of the organ, competitive eating, and what happens when it is filled far beyond a natural capacity.  In another, she reminds me, we should really eat more organ meat – especially liver, stomach, and bone marrow.

I’ve read “Bonk,” and this book convinced me to consider reading the book on cadavers. I look forward to her next book!

She ends with the microbiome, and notes how effective modern treatments – fecal transplants – have been. Unfortunately, insurance companies are incredibly slow to recognize these procedures (even with a 93% success rate, in one review!), and the sick are actually performing them on their own, at home. One reason I love biology – the study of life! – is for the humility it imparts on me in my human shell. Fittingly, she closes the book with one of my favorite, most humbling quotes:

We’re basically a highly evolved earthworm surrounding the intestinal tract,” Khoruts commented as we drove away from his clinic the last day I was there. Eventually, the food processor had to have a brain attached to help it look for food, and limbs to reach that food. That increased its size, so it needed a circulatory system to distribute the fuel that powered the limbs. And so on. Even now, the digestive tract has its own immune system and its own primitive brain, the so-called enteric nervous system. I recalled what Ton van Vliet had said at one point in our conversation: “People are surprised to learn: They are a big pipe with a little bit around it.”

Poignant notes on Science:

  • The moral of the story is this: It takes an ill-advised mix of ignorance, arrogance, and profit motive to dismiss the wisdom of the human body in favor of some random notion you’ve hatched or heard and branded as true. By wisdom I mean the collective improvements of millions of years of evolution.

  • It takes a sizable sum of arrogance and ignorance to second-guess human anatomy and the evolutionary fine-tuning that produced it. The colon that Lane would so cavalierly lop from his patients’ interiors is more than a simple waste-storage facility. The bacteria feared and despised by the likes of Lane and Tyrrell and Kellogg—the germs that live and thrive and ply their trade within our waste—are not only harmless, they are critical to good health.