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- The Neuroscience of Genius And Increasing Intelligence
- How Caffeine Affects Neurotransmitters and Profoundly Changes Your Brain
- A Detailed Guide to Your Brain – So You Can Start Hacking It
- Almost Every Bodyweight Exercise Ever (150+ Moves)
Can Lutein Help You Burn Fat and Supercharge Your Energy Levels?
Lutein is a carotenoid found in the macula (in the eye) which is normally taken in order to help prevent macula degeneration (1), one of the most common causes of sight loss in old age.
But a recent study suggests it may have a much more interesting benefit too helping to burn fat and more interestingly, increase energy levels. In a study published in PLoS One (2), it was found that giving rats would increase the distance they ran ‘voluntarily’ in the wheel during their spare time. This was also correlated with heightened fat burning, which researchers found was through activation of the enzyme AMPK – also known as the ‘marathon enzyme’.
This is the first study that looked at using Lutein in this way and obviously it’s of great interest to biohackers, athletes and anyone looking to lose weight. Not only might it be able to increase the energy efficiency of your cells and thus burn more fat but it could also give you more energy and inclination to exercise, which would be the really good bit.
In the study, rats were given either lutein, full fat milk or a combination of lutein and full fat milk over the course of several months. There was also a control group that received nothing.
The rats were then observed in their cages to see if they would voluntarily use the treadmill and the distance covered was measured. After about 5-6 weeks, the milk and lutein group started running much more than the other rats – to the tune of about 30km. The group consuming only lutein still ran 10km more than the control or milk groups, but it seems that the full fat milk made the effects far more pronounced, presumably by increasing absorption.
To see what was going on, researchers then examined the muscle cells of the mice and found increased amounts of CPT1 or ‘carnitine palmitoyltransferase’. This is an enzyme that helps the mitochondria – the ‘energy factories’ of our cells – to burn more fat and provide more energy.
The increase in CPT1 in turn was observed to be triggered by an increase in AMPK. AMPK is produced when the muscles are low on energy in order to ‘turbocharge’ the mitochondria. Of course the group of mice that had been taking the lutein with milk also lost more weight.
The below graph and chart show the distances run and final weights of the mice involved in the study:
The mice were given 1mg of lutein per kg of bodyweight, which works out at about 15mg per day for an average sized human. Note that you don’t extrapolate using an exact ratio – humans need smaller relative doses for comparative effects (4).
What is AMPK?
Increasing AMPK is something that is generally of interest and many studies are demonstrating the key role it plays in energy and weightloss. AMPK, or ‘AMP-activated protein kinase’, is a ‘heterotrimeric compound’ meaning it’s a molecule made from three separate parts. As mentioned, it acts as a signal to that cellular energy is dropped – i.e. when ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate) is low in the cells and/or when glycogen is low in the muscles. This then tells the cells to amp up energy production and to become more efficient as well as increasing fat oxidation. It does this partly through the increase of CPT1 and it also seems to increase insulin sensitivity.
There is more AMPK in slow-twitch muscle fibre types which makes sense as those are the endurance types that need lots of energy (3). It’s my theory that this is why you get those real ectomorphs who just can’t gain weight – because they have so much slow twitch muscle (which is less bulky than fast twitch) and so many mitochondria burning so much fat as a result. If you’re the type who does put on weight easily, then perhaps you can use lutein in order to increase the efficiency and work ethic of the mitochondria you do have.
Exercise, nutrient surplus and fasting can all also increase AMPK (5). But lutein supplementation might be a very good way to give yourself an additional boost.
My Experiences With Lutein Supplementation
This is a relatively recent study (April 2014) and is the only evidence we currently have for the effectiveness of lutein. And reading around, I didn’t manage to come across anyone who had actually tried using it.
So obviously I decided that was my job…
I’ve been taking 20mg lutein now for about 5-6 weeks – with full fat milk – and I’ve been noting the differences. How has it gone?
Well, I’m not sure what’s placebo or not. Right away that tells you that the effects are super noticeable in the same way that taking loads of protein shake is for instance.
Buuut I would say that I feel a little more energetic than normal. I’ve been starting work earlier in the morning, focusing better and not feeling tired in the evenings. And I do seem to have particularly good stamina on my runs. And I’ve toned my stomach. There are a myriad of factors that could have contributed to this – as I’ve also been a little stressed lately and had a stomach bug.
Basically I don’t want to get carried away and shout about something that I’m not 100% sure on. But you can definitely colour me intrigued…
Do I recommend it? Well it’s not the cheapest supplement in the world, so if you’re on a tight budget then you’re money is better spent elsewhere (on creatine, say). But if you’re up for trying something a little different and definitely if you consider yourself something of a biohacker… why not?
How to Take Lutein
If you’re going to try it yourself, then make sure that you:
- Consume at least 15mg per day
- Take it with whole fat milk
- In the study, the researchers used fortified milk. So you might even want to open the capsule and mix the stuff up to be on the safe side…
- Wait about 5-6 weeks for the results
Dietary sources of lutein include egg yolk and various fruits and vegetables such as maize, kiwi fruits, grapes and spinach (6).
If you do try it, I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments below!
Update: So I still can’t say 100% that this will have a noticeable difference for you, but after several months of using lutein I’m now fairly convinced that it really has improved my energy levels, my sleep and my fat burning. Over the last two days I wrote 60,000 words which I would never have been able to do before. Is it the lutein? There’s a good chance… So this is one I recommend at least trying!