An Objective look at Biosignature Modulation: Part 2

In part one, I discussed the theory behind BioSignature Modulation. Today we will look at the practical side of things, and how we can go about losing stubborn body fat.

 Practical issues regarding Biosig

Even if the theory behind Biosig did hold up, there are still some major limitations regarding its methodology.  Trainers/coaches etc. undergo a five-day, lecture-based course in order to become certified. Oddly, certification is guaranteed, as there are no examinations to filter out competent individuals from hopeless ones. While it would appear relatively straightforward, to become consistent and accurate with skinfold calipers takes quite a bit of practise. Practitioners often need to perform hundreds of skinfold measurements across dozens of subjects in order for their results to approach acceptable levels of validity and reliability. However, there is no evidence that Biosig practitioners abide by stringent methodology to ensure accurate and reliable measurements.

For example, in this YouTube video, Mike Bystol – the owner/director of Strength and Conditioning at Poliquin Performance Center Chicago - is conducting a Biosig consultation on a female client. The regurgitation of Poliquin’s nonsense notwithstanding, he commits several errors in measuring her skinfold sites. Firstly, he only takes one measurement for each site. Standard practice is to take at least two measurements in order to produce two values within a very close range (i.e. 2 mm). Secondly, he failed to mark his subject up with a washable pen in order to determine the exact locations where he will take each skinfold measurement. A distance of as little as 1 cm deviation around a skin fold site is enough to produce significantly different values from trial to trial. Without standardised skinfold locations (such as those outlined by ISAK) and the consistent measurements of such sites via marking up the subject with a tape measure and washable pen, the measurement is utterly useless. For example, simply taking a skinfold measurement where the triceps are located is a complete waste of time. The only positive I can see from the video is that he appears to be using the research standard Harpenden skin fold callipers.

Why does BioSignature Modulation work?

When questioned about its efficacy, supporters of Biosig will turn to real world observations and say, “it works”. When they refer to it working, they invariably mean that skinfold measurements are generally decreasing, thus indicating that their client is losing body fat. These reductions in skinfold thickness will allow the Biosig practitioner to tell their client that they have reduced their skinfold measurements due to positive hormonal changes associated with their dietary, exercise and lifestyle prescriptions.

In fact, any half decent exercise and nutrition program will cause fat loss in a typical subject. Although improvements in body composition (i.e. increased muscle mass and decrease in fat mass), generally improve hormonal profiles (e.g. increased testosterone and decreased oestrogen), the only reason why a client would lose body fat (as assessed via reductions in skinfold thickness) is due to an energy deficit (i.e. calories consumed were less than calories expended) brought about by the diet and exercise program, not because of some useless supplement, fancy routine or abstinence of carbohydrates.

Because of this apparent ‘masking’ of cause and effect, the trainer can tell their client what they want with regards to why ‘it worked’. As the client would be paying over the odds for this special Biosig service, they can be assured that the trainer will undoubtedly say it was due to this, not thermodynamics.

With all being said, my comments still don't fully explain the heart of the problem, and the main reason why people buy into Biosig: ‘stubborn body fat’.

How do you get rid of ‘stubborn’ body fat?

As I’ve hopefully convinced you of the vast limitations of BioSignature Modulation, I want to quickly explain how body fat is actually lost. To lose fat in general, net fat oxidation (fat burning) has to exceed fat storage; this is accomplished by creating an energy deficit either via exercise, diet or both. In order to oxidise fat, it first must be mobilised from the fat tissue and transported to the muscle or the liver so that it can be used for energy.

As mentioned in the previous article, stubborn fat is typically located in hips and thighs for women and lower abdominals for men. The reason why stubborn fat is stubborn has a lot to do with adrenoreceptors and blood flow. All hormones work through specific receptors. The catecholamines (epinephrine and norepinephrine AKA adrenaline and noradrenaline) work through adrenoreceptors (which are found all over the body, including fat cells). There are two main classes of adrenoreceptors: alpha and beta receptors. While there are two key alpha receptors (alpha 1 and 2) and four main beta receptors (beta 1-4), the only ones we will concern ourselves here with are alpha-2 and beta-2 adrenoreceptors.

When catecholamines bind to these beta adrenoreceptors, they promote fat mobilisation, and when they bind to the alpha adrenoreceptors, they decrease fat mobilisation. Stubborn fat cells contain a higher ratio of alpha-2 to beta-2 receptors, making it difficult to mobilise fat from these areas, preventing the transportation of fat to various tissues to be used for energy. It is worth noting that insulin pretty much always wins over catecholamines with regards to lipolysis, in that modest elevations of insulin will inhibit fat mobilisation, even in the presence of high levels of catecholamines.

An additional reason stubborn fat is stubborn is due to a lack of blood flow. With limited blood flow, free fatty acids (FFAs) can’t be transported away from the fat tissue to other tissues for burning. Similar to FFA mobilisation, fat tissue blood flow is also largely controlled by adrenoreceptor levels, with increased alpha adrenoreceptor activity inhibiting blood flow and increased beta adrenoreceptor activity increasing it.

This explains why this stubborn fat is only lost as we reach low body fat levels, and why fat with large amounts of blood flow (e.g. visceral fat) and that containing higher amounts of beta to alpha adrenoreceptores (e.g. that of the arms, upper back, detls etc.) generally comes off first.

In order to actually get rid of this stubborn body fat, we have to manipulate the adrenoreceptors by up-regulating the activity of beta receptors and down-regulate the activity of alpha receptors, as well as increasing blood flow to stubborn fat cells. We can increase catecholamine levels as well as blood flow to these tissues via aerobic exercise and the modulation of insulin levels via carbohydrate restriction. At the same time, we can supplement with oral yohimbe (an alpha-2 adredoreceptor antagonist) in order to inhibit the activity of the alpha receptors and increase FFA mobilisation. Lyle McDonald discusses such methods of eliminating fat in extreme detail in one of his books: The Stubborn Fat Solution.

Conclusions

Despite anecdotal reports of Biosig’s success, due to the complete lack of scientific evidence to support Poliquin’s methods, as well as the overreliance on physiologically inaccurate ideas, it is extremely difficult to see any value in this protocol. While I don’t doubt that a Biosig trainer can get you results (albeit at a very high price), the results wouldn’t be due to Biosig, rather, just a decent enough exercise and nutritional regime. The whole concept of Biosig combines unsubstantiated hokum and the glorification of the method of tracking changes in skinfold thickness, with one apparent goal: to fatten Poliquin’s wallet by ripping off trainers as well as their clients. A slapdash certification process as well the heavy reliance on his supplement line evidences this.

My advice to a trainee would be to save their money and continue with a structured nutrition and exercise regime and attempt to cross the bridge of stubborn fat if and when they come to it. If you suspect that you might have a problem hormonally, get your doctor to arrange for you to get a blood test. Unlike Biosig, this will actually show you your hormonal profile, as opposed to attempting to guess it, as well as being free of course!