Quick Note on Biochemistry and Your Muscles: Myostatin

Going through physiology class in college was a great experience, what a fascinating piece of work the human body is that even our emotions can be boiled down to chemical changes in our body.  Theoretically, changing the body's biochemistry can change even the personality.   Rats, truly one of the most non-monogamous creatures, can be changed to monogamous creatures simply by altering the levels of Oxytocin in their brains.  And Biochemical research shows that our body can change with regard to its Biochemical make up. 

Enter Myostatin.  As a female, I want to be toned, but not overly muscular.   This is nothing against body building women who are boldly changing the face of female fitness – I actually love this.  It has more to do with my personal body structure not really well suited for too many muscles.  A constant myth women hear is that the female body can’t get too bulky or women are not set up to build huge muscles; which is a generalization that is partially true, but not 100% true. 

Myostatin is a naturally occurring hormone in most everyone.   Myostatin prevents the formation of muscle tissue, and while women tend to have higher levels of Myostatin than men, there are always women that are on the spectrum of this scale.  Some have high levels of Myostatin which means that no matter how much they pump iron, their body’s own chemistry does not allow muscles to build, while other women naturally have low levels of Myostatin and can bulk up relatively quickly. 

There have been several famous male body builders that have genetic disorders which do not allow them to stop building muscles – their Myostatin producing gene is either missing or damaged.  As babies, people with this deficiency show amazing muscle definition without even trying.  There is a famous toddler in Germany who could hold 7 pound weights with his arms extended at barely 5 years old.  http://www.nbcnews.com/id/5278028/ns/health-genetics/t/genetic-mutationturns-tot-superboy/#.V2Alb_kguM8

But Myostatin deficiency has a lot of health issues associated with it.  The concentration of the body building muscles decreases the amount of fat in the human body.  And as much as we hate fat cells, there seems to be a health effect of having some healthy fat tissue, in small amounts it is protective of the heart.   So people with Myostatin deficiency tend to have heart problems as they grow older.

 Myostatin is a hormone that is seen across the animal kingdom as well.  Cows, dogs, and many wild animals can have the mutation that does not allow Myostatin to form in the blood

Myostatin is a hormone that is seen across the animal kingdom as well.  Cows, dogs, and many wild animals can have the mutation that does not allow Myostatin to form in the blood

People wanting to bulk up and increase muscle mass can do so naturally with the addition of more Vitamin D to their diet and there are some preliminary results that show that an increase of dark chocolate in the diet can decrease the levels of Myostatin in the blood.  The act of even lifting weights can decrease the levels of Myostatin in the blood.  Since all of this can be done naturally, I never recommend that someone wanting to bulk up take Myostatin inhibitor supplements.   Throughout human history the most egregious health problems have arisen when we mess with the body’s natural hormones. 

So if you are a woman that tends to have low levels of Myostatin naturally, what do you do to tone up without bulking up?  Simply use lower level weights.   Your muscles grow in response to your demand on them, the higher the demand, the more growth your muscles can achieve – if we remember that our bodies want us to be successful at whatever task we give them, giving the muscles heavier weights signals the body that we need to increase the muscle mass to do this task, conversely, decreasing the weights lets the body know that the muscles need to be maintained.  

The fitness industry is rife with generalizations which work maybe 90% of the time.  The “women don’t bulk,” is one of my personal pet peeves (I have a few others).   While these generalizations tend to serve the large majority of people, it can be frustrating for people who don’t fit into the general mold.  So go to a Yoga Sculpt class, go to a Resistance training class – these are wonderful ways to add tone and health to your body…just know your goals and adjust the weights accordingly.  The body is an amazing machine, at the base of almost every process is a chemical reaction or the rise or fall of a certain chemical in the blood - a highly complex machine that can change with mood, diet, sleep pattern and more - so the next time some well meaning person throws out one of those fitness generalizations that you don't fit into...remember "my body is far too complex to fit into your mold."