by Virginia Worthington, PhD
In the early 1950s, California biochemist Dr. George Watson1 was studying metabolic abnormalities in psychiatric patients when he discovered that individual patients differed in how they metabolized fats and carbohydrates into energy. Using this information, Dr. Watson was able to categorize people according to their energy metabolism and to prescribe corrective diets and supplements. Later, Dr. William Kelley incorporated this system of metabolic typing into his treatments for cancer and other degenerative diseases. In this article, we will look at Dr. Watsonâ€™s system along with some practical applications.
Converting Food to Energy
To understand this idea, we first need to know a little about how food is converted into energy. In the body, the food that a person eats is broken down and processed to produce energy. Carbohydrates and fats must both be burned or oxidized in appropriate amounts before energy can be produced in the Krebs cycle. Excess protein may also be used for energy, with certain amino acids from protein being processed like fat and certain others like carbohydrates.
Dr. Watson found that a person could have problems if carbohydrates were oxidized at too fast or too slow a rate in relation to fats. Those who burned carbohydrates too fast were labeled as fast-oxidizers and those who burned them too slowly as slow-oxidizers. Using more familiar terms, fast-oxidizers were those with functional hypoglycemia and slow-oxidizers were individuals who functioned as diabetics.
Dr. Watson found that certain foods and nutrients were good for each group and that the diet and nutrients that helped one group made the other group worse. Fast-oxidizers felt better on a diet that was high in fatty meats and low in simple carbohydrates. This diet provides fats and purines (a part of RNA and DNA) that are helpful in the processing of fats. Furthermore, fast-oxidizers functioned better using certain vitamins and minerals that are essential for the oxidation of fats. The overall result of using the diet and nutrients for fast-oxidizers is that the processing of fats is speeded up. Foods and nutrients for fast-oxidizers are shown in Table 1.
In contrast, slow-oxidizers felt better on a diet consisting of carbohydrates, fruits, vegetables, fish and dairy products. Nutrients that are involved in the processing of carbohydrates are helpful to slow-oxidizers. Food and nutrients that Dr. Watson found to be better for slow-oxidizers are shown in Table 2.
|Table 1. Foods and Nutrients for Fast-Oxidizers |
1. Proteins: protein foods with a high purine content such as liver, kidney and other organ meats, meat gravies and soups, herring, sardines, mussels and caviar, protein foods with a moderate purine content such as other cuts of meat, chicken, turkey, other fish and seafood, mushrooms, yeast and legumes such as lentils, beans and peanuts
2. Vegetables: purine containing vegetables such as avocado, artichoke hearts, beans, peas, lentils, cauliflower, spinach, asparagus additional vegetables such as carrots and celery
3. Starches: purine containing starches such as whole-grain breads and cereals
4. Sweets: pastries high in fat and low in flour, such as cheese cake, tortes, Danish pastries, etc.
5. Fats: lard and butter
6. Miscellaneous: avoid catchup, spicy sauces, soft drinks, coffee, tea, beer, wine, or other alcoholic beverages
7. Nutrients: Vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin B12, niacinamide, pantothenic acid, choline, inositol, citrus bioflavonoids, calcium, iodine, phosphorus, sodium and zinc
|Table 2. Food and Nutrients for Slow-oxidizers |
1. Proteins: milk, buttermilk, cottage cheese, eggs, fish (except herring, sardines, anchovies, tuna, salmon)
2. Salads: lettuce, green peppers, onions, radishes, cabbage, pickles, cucumbers, etc.
3. Starches: potatoes, rice, spaghetti, macaroni, bread, crackers, cereals, etc.
4. Sweets: fruit, jams, jellies, pastries, ice cream, candy, gelatin desserts, etc.
5. Fats: replace lard and butter with vegetable oils such as olive oil
6. Miscellaneous: no hard alcoholic beverages
7. Nutrients: Vitamin D, vitamin K, vitamin C, biotin, folic acid, vitamin B1, vitamin B2, niacin, vitamin B6, PABA, iron, potassium, magnesium, copper, chloride and manganese
A third group of people, those with normal metabolism, were balanced-oxidizers. They required a variety of foods with balanced quantities of protein, fat and carbohydrate in order to feel well. These people benefited from a wide range of nutrients.
It should also be noted that the oxidation rate does not necessarily stay the same although people may have a constitutional tendency to be a slow- or fast- or balanced oxidizers. Many normal people will oxidize both fat and carbohydrate more slowly than usual as they are catching a cold or flu and return to normal oxidation rates when they are no longer sick. Moreover, Dr. William Kelley found that cancer patients were initially fast-oxidizers but sometimes changed to slow-oxidizers after following his treatment for several months.(2)
Nutrition & The Mind
Using his diet therapies, Dr. Watson was able to help the subgroup of psychiatric patients that had abnormal energy metabolism. In some cases, dramatic changes occurred as symptoms such as anxiety, depression and paranoid delusion were replaced by normal optimistic personality traits. Furthermore, Dr. Watson was able to induce psychiatric symptoms in normal people by giving them a restricted diet. When the diet was restricted in fat and protein, all of the normal individuals experienced adverse personality changes. The impact of dietary restriction varied with the individual producing symptoms ranging from social withdrawal, anxiety, and depression all the way to violence and psychosis. These results underscore the importance of nutrition for emotional well-being.
How do you know if you are a slow-, fast- or balanced-oxidizer? Dr. Watson devised both laboratory tests and a food preference test to determine what type of metabolism a person had. Laboratory results for slow- and fast-oxidizers are shown in Table 3.
|Table 3. Laboratory Results for Fast- and Slow-Oxidizers|
|Glucose Tolerance Test||Initial transitory fall in blood sugar to below fasting level||Abnormal rise in blood sugar|
Unfortunately, these tests are not perfectly accurate in detecting abnormal oxidation rates. The glucose tolerance test, for example, misses some fast-oxidizers. Dr. Watson used other more accurate tests, but these tests are not generally available today.
Food preference Tests
Fast-, slow- and balanced-oxidizers have different food preferences and reactions to foods. The preferences for fast- and slow-oxidizers are shown in Table 4. If your food preferences and reactions are predominantly from the fast-oxidizer column then you have a tendency to be a fast-oxidizer. Conversely, if your food reactions fall mainly in the slow-oxidizer column, then you have a tendency to be a slow-oxidizer. Balanced-oxidizers will have some reactions and tendencies from both columns.
|Table 4. Food Preferences and Reactions for Fast- and Slow-Oxidizers|
Grapefruit juice tastes too sour
Mustard tastes & smells too sharp
Likes avocados, olives, mayonnaise
Likes salty foods
Sweet foods often taste too sweet
Likes bacon with meats
Coffee causes jitteryness
When nauseous, salty food helps
Feels weak if doesnâ€™t eat every 2-3 hours
Likes well-done roast beef
Likes grapefruit juice
Finds avocados too fatty
Craves sweet & sour foods
Sweets increase appetite
Likes onions with meats
Doesnâ€™t want breakfast
When nauseous, sweet or sour foods help
Gets thirsty & drinks a lot of water
This method of describing metabolic types has some practical implications for picking the correct type of diet for a particular person. Fast-oxidizers do best on low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet with adequate quantities of fat and high-purine foods. In contrast, slow-oxidizers feel the best with a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet with low-purine protein sources such as eggs, milk, cheese and fish. Balanced-oxidizers can eat a diet somewhere in between.
Another application of this work is the use of purine-containing foods to control hypoglycemia. Purines, as you may remember from science classes, are two of the four bases used to make up the genetic code in DNA and RNA. As noted earlier, purines assist in the processing of fats, necessary help for hypoglycemics. Typically, diets for hypoglycemia stress high protein consumption and frequent meals. The selection of proteins and other foods with a higher purine content can improve the efficacy of a hypoglycemic diet. This is an especially important consideration for vegetarians since they tend to eat lower quantities of protein than meat-eaters do.
One word of caution about using this system to develop supplement programs. Since vitamins and minerals have many functions in the body in addition to oxidizing carbohydrates and fats, it is not possible to use this system alone to develop a supplement program except in extreme cases. However, it is possible to keep the slow- and fast-oxidizer categories in mind when considering appropriate doses. For example, a person who tends to be a fast-oxidizer may feel worse if given large doses of vitamin C, folic acid, niacin, vitamin B6 or any of the other nutrients that speed up carbohydrate oxidation.
While Dr. Watson was the first to admit that his system was not a panacea, it is useful for identifying carbohydrate processing problems. And it gives useful dietary and supplement guidelines for managing these problems.
The late Virginia Worthington worked as a nutritional counsellor in Washington, DC.
Editorâ€™s note: We do not recommend the use of sweets made with refined sweeteners or large amounts of vegetable oils for any metabolic type.