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How to Conduct a Self Experiment: Resistant Starch

Posted Apr 08 2014 4:02am

DSC03894It’s been well over a year since we last did a self experimentation post , and I think it’s time for one on that current sensation: resistant starch. Whether you’re an ardent low-carber, a carnivore, or a safe starch fanatic with dried up rice stuck to your lapel, the allure of improved sleep , better glucose tolerance, lower blood sugar , and solid digestion is universal. I mean, sure, there are probably some fetishists who prefer difficult toilet experiences and creative types who thrive on the weird headspace created by sleep deprivation , but the effects often attributed to resistant starch consumption are objectively beneficial.

Besides, with more and more science emerging every day, it’s becoming obvious that the gut biome is the next health frontier. If we can do something that might improve our gut health, it will probably have resoundingly positive effects throughout the rest of our body – our psychological health , our immune systems , you name it. What about the uncertainty factor? I mean, what do we really know about our guts ? Is it truly safe to “mess” with them?

Naysayers worry about the mystery of it all. They suggest that we wait until we truly know what’s going on in our guts, until we know all the key players, all the strains, and all the interactions between host and microbe and health outcomes.

I think that’s a mistake. If mixing a little white powder or an unripe banana into a smoothie consistently correlates with better sleep, better digestion, better blood markers , and a better subjective impression of being and existing, it’s likely going to be safe and good and overall beneficial to the rest of the health markers the gut biome interacts with and which science is still investigating. That seems like a simple, safe heuristic. Doing nothing and ignoring the gut biome is far more risky. They can “wait for science” to finish. I’ll try some out myself. Since science is an ongoing process, you’ll be waiting a long time.

Today, I’m going to give you a few guidelines for conducting a personal experiment with resistant starch. I’m not going to spell it out for you in detail, because exactly how you conduct an experiment depends on the specific effects you’ve chosen to test. By the end of the post, you’ll know how to make that choice and test it. You’ll know which variables to consider and modify and which measurements to track.

How should the uninitiated go about trying it for themselves?

Choose a research goal for your experiment, drawing on the claimed and demonstrated effects of resistant starch for guidance. Check out the Definitive Guide to Resistant Starch for ideas. Make sure the effect is plausible and shows up in the short term. Don’t try to test, for example, if resistant starch consumption will make you taller or reduce all-cause mortality. Instead, choose something like:

  • Sleep – quality (how rested do you feel in the morning?), quantity (how many hours?), latency (how easy do you fall asleep?), dreams (vividness, ability to remember them)
  • Digestion – frequency, quality, consistency of bowel movements ( Bristol rating system )
  • Body weight/composition – body fat lost, lean mass gained
  • Blood sugar – postprandial, fasting
  • Satiety – hunger between meals, spontaneous calorie intake
  • Gut flora populations – Have (generally assumed to be) beneficial bacteria increased and (generally assumed to be) bad bacteria decreased?
  • Food sensitivities – Are food intolerances , sensitivities, or allergies diminishing or changing due to improved gut health?

Your goal could be more cutting edge, too. Think of all the effects and conditions that preliminary evidence suggests are “somehow linked” to the gut, like cognitive function , anxiety , obsessive compulsive disorder , autism , or depression . You could see if resistant starch affects those, way before science confirms any causality.

As you can see, the breadth of anecdotal , empirical, and preliminary evidence means you have dozens of potential goals.

Come up with a hypothesis:

  • Resistant starch supplementation will make sleep more rejuvenating.
  • RS supplementation will improve my constipation.
  • RS supplementation will increase the proportion of bifidobacteria in my gut.
  • RS supplementation will reduce my calorie intake by increasing satiety.
  • RS supplementation will reduce my gluten sensitivity.

And so on.

Assemble any tools you’ll need:

Identify any variables that may affect the results of the experiment.

How might they modify the effect of RS? Keep these in mind, pay close attention, and tweak them as needed:

  • RS source – Different RS sources may target different types of bacteria, thus eliciting different effects. Also, whole food sources of RS, like green bananas, contain other vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals that may improve the experience when compared to refined sources, like raw potato starch.
  • Probiotics – Many people, myself included, have found that RS supplementation works better with concurrent probiotic supplementation . If you’re experiencing negative effects, adding a probiotic may ameliorate or reverse them. Soil-based probiotics (dirt, basically, which was a popular seasoning in ages past) are likely the most effective.
  • Dosage – This is food for your gut flora, and more food will have a greater effect. There’s also the ramp-up to consider; most proponents of RS recommend a low dosage to start with (1 teaspoon of raw potato starch). Is there an upper limit for RS consumption, even once your gut has acclimatized to the new food source?
  • Frequency of dosage – Does breaking up your RS intake into two doses change the effects?
  • Timing – Do you eat your RS with meals? The presence of food in your belly may change things. Do you take RS right before bed, in the afternoon, or in the morning?
  • Existing gut health – Folks with existing gut problems may experience unpleasant effects, like bloating, extreme gas, or even heart burn, especially at higher doses.

Figure out what you’re measuring:

  • Some measurements will be obvious and quantitative – Blood glucose readings, body weight, inches on waist/notches on belt, hours slept, calories eaten – and measuring them will be easy and intuitive.
  • Some measurements will be more subjective and qualitative – Restfulness of sleep, perceived energy levels, mood, vividness of dreams, stress levels, hunger – and you may want to devise a 1-10 rating system to effectively quantify them. For example, “today my feeling of restfulness upon waking is a 7 out of 10.”
  • Some measurements will require outside services – If you want to measure the changes in your gut flora populations, you’ll need to have your stool sequenced. American Gut is one place to have your poop analyzed .

And finally, but perhaps most importantly…

Give the experiment enough time to work.

Initially, negative effects do not necessarily imply intolerance or failure. Make sure the dosage is low (don’t start with four tablespoons of potato starch right away) and take it very slowly. Introduce probiotics . Be patient; a month should be sufficient for an honest try.

What do you think, folks? Feel like giving RS a shot? In my opinion, it’s absolutely worth trying. The implications of gut health are too great, too far-reaching to ignore.

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