n=1 on Escaping Torpor: Turning off PPAR gamma and turning on Fat Burning

Recently I posted an article recommending combining sterculia oil with berberine and/or fish oil as a way to escape torpor. I chose this combination because they mimic the effects of leptin, the hormone produced by our fat cells whose job is to keep us lean but to which most of us are resistant.

As discussed in The SCD1 Theory of Obesity, Part 1, leptin has several jobs.

  • leptin stimulates satiety in the hypothalamus.
  • leptin increases the rate of fat oxidation in skeletal muscle by increased the rate-limiting enzyme CPT1​1​
  • leptin stimulates the MAPK/SIRT1/PGC1a pathway​2,3​
    • PGC1a is a master regulator of mitochondrial biogenesis and function​4​
    • PGC1a plays a key role in adaptive thermogenesis, the burning off of extra calories as heat​5,6​
  • leptin down-regulates both SCD1 and its upstream activator PPAR gamma​7,8​

Since I am leptin resistant, I am using the sterculia oil – which inhibits SCD1 – to replace leptin’s role of down-regulating SCD1 and PPAR gamma. I think that once my body fat reaches a certain level of saturation due to this down-regulation, this itself will trigger adaptive thermogenesis and a high metabolic rate. I don’t know how long that will take, though, so in the meantime I’m using berberine to stimulate AMPK and adaptive thermogenesis. Make sense?

My hope is that ultimately I’ll be able to saturate myself, get to a target weight and maintain it without supplementation once I have reset my body fat. It’s an ambitious goal and time will tell.

Turning Off PPAR gamma – A Double Edged Sword

Since I’ve already talked about the danger inherent in shutting down PPAR gamma after you’ve built your torpid metabolism on it and therefore why it makes sense to combine it with berberine, a potent stimulator of AMPK/SIRT1/PGC-1a​11​, I may as well quote myself:

But it’s not without danger.  PPAR alpha seems to be the master regulator of fat burning, but PPAR gamma can increase fat burning as well!  I think that PPAR gamma is a crutch.  It’s keeping us upright for now and sometimes when you kick the crutch out, it can cause problems.  For this reason, in my current trial I am using a PPAR agonist (turns it on) in addition to the sterculia oil.

Brad Marshall, Sterculia Oil: How to Escape Torpor!

The idea is that the sterculia oil will shut down the positive feedback loop of PPAR gamma/SCD1/ELOVL3-6 that has been dominating my torpid metabolism and that the berberine will step in to stimulate adaptive thermogensis. I am using a two-pronged approach to restore the functions of leptin since my body is actively ignoring it. The hope is that over a period of months I will be able to saturate my fat stores, lose weight and ultimately regain leptin sensitivity.

Monitoring The Metabolic Changes

Remarkably, I think I actually captured my metabolic changeover in action.

As explained here, I’ve been using a metabolic testing device to track my metabolic response to different trials. I also reported that in my first “safety and let’s see what happens” trial of sterculia oil I thought I had shut down my PPAR gamma activity based on a dramatic drop in the very long chain saturated fats nervonic and lignoceric acid. After that I stopped taking sterculia oil for 8 weeks to see if I would revert right back to where I used to be, which I did (disappointingly).

This gave me an opportunity to monitor my metabolic changes more closely as I again began taking the sterculia oil.

The device measures Respiratory Exchange Ratio (RER), which is the amount of CO2 you exhale versus the amount of O2 you consume. If the number is 1.0, you are (in theory) burning all carbohydrate. If the number is 0.7, you are (in theory) burning all fat or ketones or alcohol. In practice, I’ve found the number to be less straight-forward than that, but that’s for a later post. Here I’m going to focus on the changes I saw in my RER while walking at a steady pace as I began taking sterculia oil at 1200mg per day (March 4th, 2021) and then added in berberine at the two week mark (March 17th).

Study design

Two weeks prior to beginning this trial, I had been taking 600mg sterculia oil. At the beginning of this trial (March 4th, 2021) I upped my dose to 1200mg. My eating was “normo” – two meals per day of starch, protein and saturated fat sources like butter but WITHOUT supplementing stearic acid. At the two week point (March 17th), I began taking berberine.

I measured my RER every day around 11am while walking on a level surface at 2.7 miles per hour (pacing).


Over the first two weeks of 1200 mg of sterculia oil, my RER rose steadily, from a low point of 0.8 on March 7th (65% of burned calories from fat) to a peak of 0.94 on March 16th (24% of burned calories as fat). After beginning the berberine my RER steadily fell, reaching 0.78 on March 22nd (76% of burned calories from fat).

My pacing RER rose steadily for two weeks as I kicked out the crutch of my fat metabolism – PPAR gamma – using 1200 mg Sterculia Oil. Upon beginning berberine, my fat metabolism was steadily restored – presumably by stimulating AMPK.

My Current Strategy

Many have asked about timing of supplements and my current dietary strategy. I am at a point where I have been using the SO long enough to see some changes. My Desaturase Index dropped from 1.9 at the end of February to 1.5 in the beginning of April – my current target is 1.1.

I am following a time restricted eating window where all of my solid food is consumed between 3 and 8 PM. I’m taking berberine, in the mornings, sterculia oil with dinner and I have just begun supplementing with stearic acid again (last night). I’m hoping to hit new metabolic highs but unfortunately I’m having problems with my testing device so I may have to rely on my body temperature and monitoring my breathing to know. This morning my body temp ticked up to 98.1 from 98.0 yesterday.

I’m taking berberine in the morning because of it’s mechanism of action and it’s short half-life. Berberine is a partial blocker of mitochondrial complex 1, which temporarily impedes energy production in the cell, leading to a buildup on cAMP, which in turn stimulates AMPK/PGC1a/adaptive thermogenesis. It has a short half-life, similar to caffeine​12​. I’m taking it in the morning because I want the AMPK to up-regulate fat oxidation, so that when I eat my big meal the stearic acid gets shuttled straight in the furnace. At that moment I want mitochondrial energy production to be fully open to generate ROS (which is to say I want the berberine out of my system) to further increase adaptive thermogenesis.

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27 thoughts on “n=1 on Escaping Torpor: Turning off PPAR gamma and turning on Fat Burning”

  1. Great observations, Brad. Presumably one could tweak this by using metformin 1g in the mornings as a berberine replacement?

  2. Thanks for all the info. Are you taking anything like Milk Thistle to improve the berberine absorption?

    1. My understanding is that the mechanism is the same, so I don’t know that it would be beneficial. But who knows?


  3. In your first sentence under the “Results” heading you wrote, “Over the first two weeks of 1200 mg of berberine”. I think you meant sterculia oil instead of berberine. Feel free to delete this comment.
    I’ve been finding your blog fascinating by the way. Thanks for being willing to be your own guinea pig.

  4. Chris Masterjohn, PhD posits that reducing PUFA to a minimal amount might co, . He says that the most important part of diet design should be getting all of your vitamins & minerals up to optimal levels and that if it comes down to a tradeoff between getting vitamins & minerals and increasing PUFA, one should increase PUFA (while still keeping it as minimal as possible). He says especially to have adequate levels of arachidonic acid (deficiency indicated by: eczema, anxiety, elevated stress response, poor immunity, gut function) & DHA (deficiencies: poor cognitive function, declining vision, peripheral neuropathy). Was wondering what you thought about this and how it relates to your worldview. Best.


  5. Yikes, I didn’t finish the comment above before I posted it. I meant to say that Chris Masterjohn, PhD posits that reducing PUFAs too low might end up having the opposite effect that one is looking for.

    1. I’m guessing that eggs would be good for that. Every brand of eggs that I have seen indicate that, in a large egg, one yolk has 4-5 gms of fat, but only 1.5 gm of that is sat. fat, the rest PUFA/Mono. What I do to bring up the sat. fat is add cheese, sour cream, butter to it.

    2. One thing I’ve noticed based on the OmegaQuant test is that there are large differences in people’s D6D – a desaturase that is the limiting enzyme in converting linoleic acid (LA) to arachidonic acid (AA). I have twice as much linoleic as arachidonic, suggesting low levels. Many others I’ve seen have roughly equal amounts. But the range in different cultures is HUGE! Americans in 1962 had almost twice as much AA, the French in 2004 had equal amounts and rural Chinese in 1992 had more than three times as much LA. My numbers, for better or worse, look the most like the Chinese.

      1. I followed The Zone Diet (and had best results with it) for 15 years before going low carb. He shouted from the rooftops of the dangers of arachidonic acid and warned of eating too many egg yolks. In fact he cooking only the whites in olive oil, and making deviled egg with hummus instead of yolk/mayo.

        I know bodybuilders who buy arachidonic acid supplements (yes, it is a real thing) to enhance their training.

    1. Fenofibrate is certainly a potent and specific PPAR-a activator! It’s probably even better than berberine but you need a prescription! Someone also sent this. It both illuminates the relationship between fenofibrate and metformin but provides a potential natural alternative to fenofibrate. Very interesting:

      1. You mentioned supplementing stearic acid: is this the powdered form from your shop and if so at what dosage?

    1. CLA is good, I think. The fact that it’s relatively high in grassfed ruminants and dairy makes me think it’s a good, natural product. It definitely lowers SCD1 and I think there’s some evidence it raises PPAR alpha?


  6. Brad- What kind of Berberine do you recomend? Brand? I read somewhere that they differ a lot in absorbtionrate.. I might remember it wrong though.

    1. You’re probably right – absorption IS poor – but I’m no expert on brands! Lots of brands claim to have more absorbable versions…

  7. It’s exciting to see that you have moved your Desaturase index so significantly. Do you have thoughts here as to what you’re doing that is paying off?

    How has your weight been? Are you seeing any correlation with body weight changes related to the decrease in your Desaturase index?

    1. Well, keep in mind that my DI changed in my red blood cell membranes. As soon as I stopped taking sterculia oil, it went right back to what it had been. This suggests two things:
      1) Red Blood Cell membranes is a more dynamic system that stored adipose tissue
      2) It will take a long time to saturate our adipose

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