protein foldsby Michael Colgan, Ph.D.

From a blade of grass to the mightiest oak, from fleas, to us, to elephants, all living things are built from precise instructions written in the universal language of DNA. All living things are made from similar building blocks — proteins made to codes expressed by DNA. All diseases can be traced back to malfunctioning genes or malfunctioning proteins, and all health and longevity comes from optimal functioning of genes and the proteins they encode.

Proteins form the structural framework of all tissues in the body. The protein collagen for example, forms part of the structure all tendons, ligaments, and cartilage. Proteins are our carriers. The protein hemoglobin for example, carries our oxygen. Proteins are our messengers. All our hormones for example, are proteins. Proteins are our growers. All our growth-stimulating hormones are proteins. Proteins are our defenders. Antibodies of the immune system for example, are all proteins. Proteins are our movers and shakers. All movement is controlled by enzymes, and all enzymes are proteins. In short, proteins are the most important and most complex components of the human body, and, after water, proteins are the most important and most complex foods we eat.

The Scientific Leap from Genomics to Proteomics

Genomics, the molecular study of genes, really got going about 2000, as the work on translating the human genome neared completion. For a princely sum you can now get a profile of your own individual genome. Doesn’t mean much. Just when we thought we had hit the mother lode for understanding the basic processes of human life, scientists realized that proteomics, the study of the proteins encoded by genes, is much more important for health and longevity than genomics (1).

Proteomics is also a lot more difficult than genomics. The human genome is more or less constant at around 35,000 genes. But these genes can code for at least ten times as many proteins. Some single genes alone can code for over 1,000 different proteins. The Human Proteome Project has now done an accurate count of the proteins in the human body. There are many more than we previously believed, over 350,000 different ones.

It gets worse. Ribonucleic acid (mRNA) takes the coded instructions from DNA to make a particular protein. But many proteins change dramatically from the code expressed by genes. These post-translational modifications, as they are called, profoundly affect the protein activities that control virtually all bodily functions. Proteins also differ depending on the type of cell in which they are expressed, and on the changing physiological states of the body from time to time. Many proteins also form complexes with other proteins and only function in their presence.

Dr. Hanno Steen, Director of the Proteomics Center at Children’s Hospital, Boston sums it up, “To really understand biological processes, we need to understand how proteins function in and around cells since they are the functioning units.”

In any protein, amino acids are linked by peptide bonds one after another, forming long chains. The longest is titin which is 34,500 amino acids long. Your body and mine has to make titin precisely every day in order for our muscles to contract properly. Consider how important it is for athletes (and the rest of us) to provide exactly the right raw materials from food proteins, so that the body can make titin precisely to code.

Proteins are not simple foods that we can play around with at will. Combining proteins with a, “Go Green, Save the Whales” approach just does not work. Busily stone-grinding shake mixes of hemp, and pea, and bean, and chlorella, all washed with “pure spring water” and, “untouched by human hand” sounds wonderful. But it takes a genius to get the amino acids right, and the peptide bonds right, and the immune factors right, and a dozen other factors right, to match human needs. The scientists in the Human Proteome Project can tell you just how difficult it is (2).

As I’ve written before, eat garbage proteins and you will grow a garbage body. There are as many garbage proteins masquerading as healthy in the health food stores as there are in the burger joints. The seductive Cum-bay-ah blurbs on the packets do not necessarily mean hippy-dippy, but they are a bit of a clue.

Proteins are the body’s beams and rafters, movers and engineers, messengers and defenders, growers and infection fighters. They control every thought you have, every move you make. Don’t take a casual approach to the proteins you eat if you want optimum health and performance.

References

1. Blackstock WP, Weir MP (1999). “Proteomics: quantitative and physical mapping of cellular proteins”. Trends Biotechnol 17 (3): 121–7.
2. Nature Methods, Editorial. The call of the human proteome. Nature Methods, 2010;7,661 doi: 10.1038/nmeth0910-661.

About Dr. Colgan

Dr. Michael Colgan is a world-renowned research scientist, leading expert in the inhibition of aging, and a member of the Isagenix Science Advisory Board. Dr. Colgan has provided nutrition, training and anti-aging programs to more than 11,000 athletes, including many Olympians. He is director of his eponymous Colgan Institute, a consulting, educational and research facility concerned with the effects of nutrition and exercise on athletic performance, along with prevention of chronic degenerative disease, and prevention of degeneration of the brain.