Metabolic Problems of Processed Foods 5 Membrane Integrity

July 18, 2021

Metabolic Problem of Processed Food Number 5 Membrane Integrity


When I read Lustig's new book, Metabolical, and he listed his eight problems of processed foods, I was stunned by his listing "Membrane Integrity" as #5 on his list. He is the first major author that I have seen to list this. Hurray! It should be on the list, maybe even higher up. Now, he doesn't go into the detail of it all but he gives a decent start. Most importantly, it's on the list. This is the fundamental, main reason, processed food is killing you and me. Let's give the details.

It starts with "membrane science". This is the field of medicine that Goodenowe is introducing in his discovery that plasmalogen deficiency is the prodrome for most of our modern illnesses. How do these two approaches converge?


Every cell in your body is encased in a membrane of lipid fats that keep the outside world out and the inside world in. That's what giant soap bubbles are, a huge container composed of a lipid bilayer - two layers of fatty acids. In your cells, you have many embedded proteins recessed in that bilayer that are the passageways or gatekeepers for different nutrients going in or out. The sodium-potassium pump is the most prominent one. It uses up some 10% of your energy just keeping sodium outside the cell higher than potassium and potassium inside the cell higher than sodium. That simple gradient drives most other "pumps" that keep different nutrients coming and going. You don't just have membranes around the cell, you have them inside the cells as well. There is a special membrane separating the nucleus with its DNA from the rest of the cell. You have the endoplasmic reticulum, where proteins are manufactured, folded, sorted, packaged, and shipped out. You have the mitochondria, making your body's weight in ATP daily. You have the peroxisomes, chopping up fat, making plasmalogens, neutralizing peroxide. On and on.


Membranes need a certain level of fluidity. Here comes the rub. All of your membrane lipids are attached to various long-chain fatty acids which give them different qualities. Adding double bonds form a 30-degree bend in an otherwise straight molecule. Olive oil has one double bond. Fish oil, DHA, has 5 double bonds. Each additional double bond makes for more fluidity. DHA is incredibly fluid. It plays a fundamental role in plasmalogens. Those jutting out internal lipids like DHA play a huge role in providing a scaffolding for your embedded proteins to hang on to. Gaining or losing a double bond is no trivial matter. Throwing in transfats becomes a problem, if not a catastrophe. But those double bonds have another more serious vulnerability. Double bonds are very vulnerable to oxidation. That 30-degree bend can be "flipped" into a trans configuration making the molecule straight, more rigid, less flexible.

Here's the nugget of it all. The oxidizing propensity of processed foods trashes our membranes, making them less flexible.  The trans fats common in processed foods compounds the trouble. We overwhelm our ability to neutralize the excess peroxide that is created by too many calories all at once. Plasmalogens get used up trying to neutralize the excess oxidizing capacity. Our membranes get more rigid.

Many problems stem from that shift to rigidity. In our mitochondria, we start exporting more substrate for cancer cells to make their energy supply. In our arteries, we start accumulating plaque. In our brains, we stop being able to ship neurotransmitters and start stealing choline from our depleted plasmalogens.

Clarity into these details is gradually emerging in the bench science world. Lustig is the first to bring to the lay-person marketplace of ideas the danger caused by our processed foods. It's all about the function of our lipid membranes. Processed foods alter the proper mix and throw in wild cards. It's a mess.

The problem is that processed food has emerged because it is what we like. Our food manufacturers make what they make because we buy more of it. Sweet tastes good. Fast food is easy, on the way home. We don't have to cook. It comes in a convenient package. Our burdened membranes are crying for relief.


www.What will Work for me. I'm on vacation in Door County. Every second establishment is selling ice cream. It's cherry season and the trees are loaded with cherries. There are no kids from eastern Europe to provide service jobs in the restaurants and as best we can tell, very few farm workers to harvest the cherries. Our favorite "cherry" place has 900 forms of cherries with sugar and flour added. We were biking on Washington Island and stopped at the Jackson Harbour restaurant. The cherry pie was delicious. Oh well.


References: Lustig's new book Metabolical, Biochem Biophys Acta, Biomed Research, Chem, Medical News Today,


Pop Quiz


1. Every one of your 30 trillion cells in your body is delineated in its boundary with what?         Answer: A lipid membrane. Just like a soap bubble.

2. What makes a healthy membrane?                     Answer. It has to be fluid, meaning it allows proteins embedded in it to move around easily and quickly. (It also has to be strong. That's where cholesterol comes in. Cholesterol makes it more rigid and more sturdy. That's good too, in the right circumstances.). And it has to be made with the right lipids. Fish oil, DHA, is a key ingredient.

3. What makes more fluidity in membranes?                       Answer: the quantity of plasmalogens with their DHA (fish oil) molecule attached to them.

4. What is the core problem with processed food and membranes.                   Answer: Aha! The nugget. Processed food makes for too much oxidation. Too much peroxide. Damaged fatty acids making for diminished plasmalogens and more rigid membranes. But hang on to that thought. This is an emerging science and more information is likely to come out to refine the dangers of "the wrong fats" in our membranes.

5. What is the number one method to cut down on oxidation?                            Answer. Less sugar and less rapidly digested white carbohydrates. Think whole foods you have to actually chew to digest.


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