Blood Sugar

#200: Ben Bikman, PhD: Brown Fat Tissue Activation, Insulin & the Ketogenic Diet

by Deanna Mutzel, DC


Want Early Access to Our Interviews and Additional Content? Become a High Intensity Health Insider and Access Bonus Content


Listen to the recording


Sound Cloud


What Others Are Saying About This Episode

About Ben Bikman, PhD

The focus of Ben's lab (the Laboratory of Obesity and Metabolism) is twofold. First, we aim to identify the molecular mechanisms that explain the increased risk of disease that accompanies weight gain, with particular emphasis on the etiology of insulin resistance and disrupted mitochondrial function. Second, we hope to reveal novel cellular processes that are responsible for fat development.

Connect with Ben

FaceBook Benjamin Bikman

Instagram & Twitter @benbikmanphd

Products Mentioned In this Episode

Keto Lean Bundle

Not Getting Results on the Ketogenic Diet? Need Meal Plans and Recipe Ideas? Access our Real-Food Recipe eBooks, Private FB Group and Live Chat



Show Notes

02:02 Dr. Bikman’s Journey: He was an exercise enthusiast, with two degrees in exercise physiology. He was fixated upon calories and the “eat less – exercise more” model. It would not work consistently. During PhD studies, he learned that insulin is the metabolic key. As insulin goes, so goes body fat. Now that he has his own lab, the relevance of insulin upon normal metabolic health is his area of study.

03:11 Insulin is needed to Grow Fat Cells: Progenitor (stem) cells in a dish need a spike in insulin of a certain size and over a certain amount of time in order for them to become fat cells. This is adipogenesis, the creation of adipocytes.

03:35 Distortion of the Fat Cell:  Within the adipocytes in adult humans, insulin initiates lipogenesis, the creation or expansion of the lipid droplet or bulge of fat within the fat cell. When you look at a fat cell under a microscope, the mitochondria, nucleus and other cell components are shoved up against the sides by the fat droplet. Insulin makes new fat cells (adipogenesis) and creating the fat within the fat cells (lipogenesis).

05:59 Weight Gain: As we grow larger fat cells and we reach 150% of what is ideal for our bodies, we start making new fat cells. As someone loses weight, they will not reduce the number of fat cells. They shrink the size of their existing cells.

07:14 Triglycerides are Not Relevant to Insulin Resistance: Sphingolipids, or glucosylceramides, are one class of the many types of fat in our bodies. They are in abundance in type 2 diabetics. Our bodies initiate ceramides as a response to inflammation.  Athletes and type 2 diabetics both have intramyocellularlipids, or triglycerides. Early researchers were trying to implicate triglycerides, the typical storage form of fat in the body, as a cause of insulin resistance. Both elite endurance athletes and type 2 diabetics have equal amounts of fat in their muscle.

09:34 Muscle is Our Biggest Glucose Sink: Muscle is the most insulin sensitive tissue by mass. We eat smart to be lean and we exercise to be healthy. Go with resistance over aerobic. If you are only training 2 or 3 hours a week, resistance training is better at improving insulin sensitivity.

10:35 Insulin is a Factor in Inflammation: Inflammation is an inducer of ceramide biosynthesis. The ceramide overaccumulate in the cell, creating an insulin resistant state. Hyperinsulinemia will activate the buildup of ceramide.

12:08 Exercise is Important, but Diet is Critical: In 24 hours we can fundamentally alter our hormone profile, shifting from a storage phase to a use phase. Control your insulin by monitoring your macronutrients.

13:45 Toxic Lipids Cause Mitochondrial Alterations: Mitochondria are most often reticular/stringy, not kidney shaped.  Mitochondria go from a fusion state to a fission state. The cell will split. For the cell to begin growing again, the mitochondria fuse again. When ceramide accumulates in the muscles, fission was forced, which forces mitochondria apart. This results in increased oxidative stress and reduced production of ATP (needed for any cell to work).

15:39 Brown Adipose Tissue and an Uncoupling Protein: Mitochondria are coupled or uncoupled, based on how well they are moving protons and creating ATP/energy for muscle contraction. The more efficiently this works, the more coupled the mitochondria is. When a mitochondria is more uncoupled, it is pulling in more fat and glucose to create heat. The muscle will not be able to contract as well. Brown fat can pull in fat or glucose and just create heat. It is inefficient, but effective. It increases your metabolic rate. We have more brown fat when we are little. We can activate our brown fat and we can make white fat act more like brown fat.

18:39 Insulin and Brown Fat: In adults, white fat predominates. We have small deposits of brown fat in our thoracic cavity. Brown fat uses glucose to create heat. Brown fat appears brown because of the abundance of mitochondria within it. When brown fat cells are exposed to insulin, their metabolic rate will go down by about half.

19:38 Ketones and White Fat: When our white fat is exposed to ketones, white fat begins to act like brown fat, beiging. Our white cells make more mitochondria and they are more uncoupled. Our fat goes from storing to wasting.

20:34 The Evolutionary Benefit of Ketones Inducing Wasting: It makes no sense that our bodies would induce this wasting when we are deficient/fasting. Often in human history, we had reduced food intake in the colder time of the year. Perhaps the conversion of white fat into heat burning instigated by ketones was meant for heat production. Our bodies act protectively. Evolutionarily, ketogenic diets would be seasonal. Our ancestors would eat carbs and other bounty in times of abundance. Many other animal omnivores hibernate. A bear becomes insulin resistant in the final few months of being alert, when he/she is eating for storage. Fat is stored much more readily. The moment the bear starts to wake up, brown fat becomes active to raise body temperature. Coincidentally, for us, starchy vegetables are most abundant in the fall.

24:55 Cold Thermogenesis to Activate Brown Fat: Constant cold exposure, to the point where you are shivering, works to activate brown fat. Ice baths and genuine cold exposure does this as well.

27:31 You Can Alter Your Metabolic Rate: Brown adipose tissue contributes to one’s overall metabolic rate. Insulin regulates metabolic function. We can alter our metabolic rate to 200 to 300 calories per day by being in ketosis. The bigger our body, the higher our metabolic rate. Our obsession with metabolic rate is part of our obsession with calories. If you are controlling your insulin, you are controlling your metabolic rate. To know if you are controlling insulin, check your ketones. If ketones are up, insulin is low.

30:24 Benefits of Low Insulin: If insulin is low, your liver is turning fat into ketones. Gonads will work better. Blood vessels and heart will work better. Brain and nerves will work better. Ketones are beneficial, especially in those of us with dementia or cognitive disruption. Ketosis provides a metabolic advantage, so you don’t need to track everything closely.

32:46 We Need Insulin: It is necessary for normal mitochondrial function.  A mixed macronutrient meal, even of pure meat, the protein and fat will cause an insulin bump. It helps the body know what to do with the energy that it consumes. Too much insulin, is a bad thing. Insulin can regulate glutathione. Ketones can as well. When ketones increase glutathione, it helps glutathione peroxidase work better.  Insulin helps build muscle.  When you are eating low carb or ketogenic diet, you don’t get the big insulin swings. You have other anabolic signals like growth hormone or other individual amino acids that protect the muscle and induce growth. Eating a healthy low carb diet will give you enough insulin variability. We want to keep insulin normal.

25:16 Time Restricted Feeding and Fasting to Trigger Beiging: Dr. Bikman is studying this in his lab. Both time restricted feeding and fasting can be beneficial. Intermittent fasting is therapeutic, but should be monitored. Time restricted feeding of a 6 hour window can be done by anyone. A few times a week, Dr. Bikman does not eat breakfast.

28:05 We are All Insulin Resistant First Thing in the Morning: Cortisol is spiking to mobilize glucose from the liver, feed the brain and get it ready to start waking up. Cortisol antagonizes insulin.

39:01 The Effect of Protein and Carbs on Insulin: Protein has a more substantial insulin effect. Be smart about the carbs you eat. The mix of macros that keep you in ketosis is individual to you. If you are insulin resistant, you will get a huge long lasting fat storage spike from eating something like a bagel, as opposed to the quick bump for someone who is insulin sensitive.

41:45 Exogenous Ketones Turn to Fat when Insulin is high: Insulin and ketones are opposites in the body. One is in control or the other is. There might be a therapeutic role for exogenous ketones, perhaps with TBI or cognitive disruption. We don’t eat ketones from nature, we make them. When we drink a ketone, it will enter the cell and mitochondria to be turned into a molecule called acetyl-coA. When insulin is high, it will activate an enzyme called acetyl-coA carboxylase. It takes the 2 carbon acetyl-coA and joins it to another acetyl-coA, and then another and another. This is lipogenesis. The chain of carbons is a fat. Dr. Bikman speculates that when someone eats starch/sugar and then drinks exogenous ketones, testing will show that they are still in ketosis, but the ketones will be turned into fat in the mitochondria.  Insulin will dictate what is done with the carbons.

46:34 Dr. Bikman’s Morning Routine: He gets up at about 5 a.m., makes herbal tea, and gets some personal productive work done. When his wife and kids are up, he makes breakfast. He ensures that his kids have fat and protein. He goes to work when the kids leave for school.

48:08 Dr. Bikman’s Favorite Exercise: If he had to only pick one, it would be the deadlift. It activates many different muscles and it is a practical movement.

49:09 Dr. Bikman’s Desert Island Herb, Nutrient or Botanical: He would bring cow liver. You will get everything you need. At home he fries it with butter and garlic. The liver is packed with mitochondria. We do not adopt the mitochondria of the meat we eat, but we can get the building block components of the mitochondria. Every cell but red blood cells have mitochondria.

51:06 Dr. Bikman’s Elevator Pitch: Stop emphasizing a high carbohydrate/low fat diet. It is a failed experiment. Bring carbs down and bring fat up. At least drop the carb consumption from 60% to 35% and raise fat to around 50%. It is the most genuine Mediterranean diet.

51:36 Don’t Worry about Gluconeogenesis: This is the process where your liver creates glucose when it senses that it is needed. It needs to do this when you eat low carb/high fat. It can be done from the carbons from proteins, an expensive process for your body. It can also be made from the glycerol backbone of a triglyceride. You don’t need to raise your protein and macros. Be mindful of your protein if you are lifting.

  1. Navigating the plethora of contradicting information regarding what we eat is quite complex and confusing .
    I eat quite a healthy plant based diet, for the past 6 months …greens , grains legumes and fruits. Occasionally I have fish and I use olive oil .Almost nothing processed ,
    No sugars , no sodas , no artificial seeeteners , no alcohol , no baked stuff , no dairy, no meats.
    I realize my diet is not low carb but I feel better I ever did and I am definitely shedding pounds of unwanted midsection fat. I am also restricting daily eating to 2-3 pm until 10 pm to 11 pm
    I had an ascending aortic aneurysm repaired in 2007 and while eating differently I eat now I was borderline diabetic.
    Would you advise to make any changes to my existing way of eating ?

Leave a Reply