Posts Tagged ‘Diet & Nutrition’

Researchers have found that the insulin signaling pathways in worms have a direct bearing on their lifespan. This research is particularly interesting because humans and worms share very similar insulin signaling pathways.

Over a decade ago, the first part of this research led to some positive news as researchers found that certain mutations involved in the insulin pathways can greatly extend lifespan in worms.

“In the early 90s, we discovered mutations that could double the normal life span of worms,” Kenyon said. Those mutations effected insulin signals. Specifically, a mutation in a gene known as daf-2 slowed aging and doubled life span. That longer life depended on another “FOXO transcription factor” called DAF-16 and the heat shock factor HSF-1.

Unfortunately, the recent results show that adding sugar to the worm diet has the opposite effect.

By adding just a small amount of glucose to C. elegans usual fare of straight bacteria, they found the worms lose about 20 percent of their usual life span. They trace the effect to insulin signals, which can block other life-extending molecular players.

Here is the technical aspect of the results:

In fact, glucose makes no difference to the life span of worms that lack DAF-16 or HSF-1, they show. Glucose also completely prevents the life-extending benefits that would otherwise come with mutations in the daf-2 gene.Ultimately, worms fed a steady diet containing glucose show a reduction in aquaporin channels that transport glycerol, one of the ingredients in the process by which the body produces its own glucose. “If there is not enough glucose, the body makes it with glycerol,” Kenyon explained. That glycerol has to first get where it needs to go, which it does via the aquaporin channels.

There are a few ways in which the result from studying worms affects us as humans.

A diet with a low glycemic index seems like a safe bet for now. One of the scientists was alarmed enough with the data to make serious changes to her diet:

As an aside, Kenyon says she read up on low-carb diets and changed her eating habits immediately — cutting out essentially all starches and desserts — after making the initial discovery in worms. The discovery was made several years ago, but had not been reported in a peer-reviewed journal until now.

Another area of concern is medicine. Current drugs may be offering treatment which carry as of yet unknown long term side effects. Fortunately, as is the case with anti-depressant medication, science is continually advancing to make our lives better and this research will undoubtedly result in better life saving medicines.

She says the findings may also have implications for drugs now in development for the treatment of diabetes, which are meant to block glucose production by inhibiting glycerol channels. The new findings “raise a flag” that glycerol channels might be doing something else, she says, and that drugs designed to block them might have a downside.

A long term study recently found a connection between consuming two servings of diet soda daily and a significant decline in kidney function. How do different types of artificial sugars factor into these results? Is there any connection between these two studies?

Aging in humans is far more complex than in worms.

“Although we do not fully understand the mechanism by which glucose shortens the life span of C. elegans, the fact that the two mammalian aquaporin glycerol-transporting channels are downregulated by insulin raises the possibility that glucose may have a life-span-shortening effect in humans, and, conversely, that a diet with a low glycemic index may extend human life span,” the researchers write. Kenyon also points to recent studies that have linked particular FOXO variants to longevity in several human populations, making the pathway the first with clear effects on human aging.

Glucose and the insulin signaling pathways are probably just one piece in a complex puzzle explaining the aging process. With every piece of the puzzle that gets illuminated and understood we come one step closer to allowing science an opportunity to stop aging.

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Some sobering news about diet soda has come to light which should give people pause before consuming such beverages.

Julie Lin MD, MPH, FASN and Gary Curhan, MD, ScD, FASN of Brigham and Women’s Hospital studied more than 3,000 women participating in the Nurses’ Health Study to identify the impact of sodium and sweetened drinks on kidney function.

The information from the participating women, whose median age is 67, was from 1984, 1986, and 1990 and included data about kidney function. Over the course of the years from 1989 – 2000, the shocking data revealed that over 11% of the women suffered a decline of over 30% in their kidney function.

“Thirty percent is considered significant,” says researcher Julie Lin, MD, MPH, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and a staff physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. That’s especially true, she says, because most study participants had well-preserved kidney function at the start of the study.

What those women had in common was a thirst for artificially sweetened sodas which exceeded two per day. Other factors were ruled out in reaching that conclusion, including age, caloric intake, obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, cigarette smoking, physical activity, and cardiovascular disease.

Put another way: the women who drank two or more diet sodas a day had a decline in their glomerular filtration rate, a measure of kidney function, of 3 milliliters per minute per year. ”With natural aging, kidney function declines about 1 mL per minute per year after age 40,” Lin says. No link was found with the other beverages. And less than two sodas a day didn’t seem to hurt. “We didn’t see any association up to two artificially sweetened beverages a day,” Lin says.

”A serving was reported as either a glass, a can, or a bottle of a beverage,” Lin tells WebMD. ”It was not more specific than that.”

”The mechanisms aren’t clear,” Lin says of the association she found. In another study she presented at the meeting, she found higher salt intake is also associated with faster kidney function decline.

Understanding the mechanisms are important because it can help evaluate with certainty whether these results are applicable to men as well.

Unsurprisingly, an industry group remains skeptical of these findings:

Asked to review the study findings, Maureen Storey, senior vice president of science policy for the American Beverage Association, says in a prepared statement: “It’s important to remember that this is an abstract presented at an annual meeting.” She notes that the research needs further scrutiny by researchers.

She acknowledges that kidney disease is serious but that diabetes and high blood pressure account for the majority of kidney disease cases, ”not consumption of diet soda.”

When it comes to dieting and exercise there are no short cuts. Diet soda may help satisfy a craving for a sugary beverage without the caloric penalty, but there may be unintended consequences. For example, what if the body recognizes a discrepancy between the information sent by the tongue, “sugar incoming”, and the message processed by the other parts of the metabolism, “no sugar received”? Logically, if the discrepancy is processed, the body will increase the hunger drive as a way of compensating for the missing sugar, which may cause the person to consume more calories than they would have otherwise.

Even for those people who take the excellent first step towards getting healthy by exercising need to be keenly aware of the law of unintended consequences, because exercise can make you fatter.

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The New York Times has a lengthy article which begins with the story of Stephanie Smith, who became paralyzed after contracting a deadly E. coli O157:H7 infection, and continues by detailing the flaws in the way ground beef is processed which allows contaminants to spread.

Meat companies and grocers have been barred from selling ground beef tainted by the virulent strain of E. coli known as O157:H7 since 1994, after an outbreak at Jack in the Box restaurants left four children dead. Yet tens of thousands of people are still sickened annually by this pathogen, federal health officials estimate, with hamburger being the biggest culprit. Ground beef has been blamed for 16 outbreaks in the last three years alone, including the one that left Ms. Smith paralyzed from the waist down. This summer, contamination led to the recall of beef from nearly 3,000 grocers in 41 states.

Since meat preparation is supposed to be under the supervision of federal food safety inspectors, where are the potential sources of contamination?

Federal inspectors based at the plant are supposed to monitor the hide removal, but much can go wrong. Workers slicing away the hide can inadvertently spread feces to the meat, and large clamps that hold the hide during processing sometimes slip and smear the meat with feces, the workers and inspectors say.

Greater Omaha vacuums and washes carcasses with hot water and lactic acid before sending them to the cutting floor. But these safeguards are not foolproof.

“As the trimmings are going down the processing line into combos or boxes, no one is inspecting every single piece,” said one federal inspector who monitored Greater Omaha and requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.

The E. coli risk is also present at the gutting station, where intestines are removed, the inspector said

Every five seconds or so, half of a carcass moves into the meat-cutting side of the slaughterhouse, where trimmers said they could keep up with the flow unless they spot any remaining feces.“We would step in and stop the line, and do whatever you do to take it off,” said Esley Adams, a former supervisor who said he was fired this summer after 16 years following a dispute over sick leave. “But that doesn’t mean everything was caught.”

Another problem is that processors do not want to get the individual slaughterhouses in trouble, or they will lose them as a supplier.

The food safety officer at American Foodservice, which grinds 365 million pounds of hamburger a year, said it stopped testing trimmings a decade ago because of resistance from slaughterhouses. “They would not sell to us,” said Timothy P. Biela, the officer. “If I test and it’s positive, I put them in a regulatory situation. One, I have to tell the government, and two, the government will trace it back to them. So we don’t do that.”

Although some processors may not be carrying out enough inspections, the problem is really that the final ground product is what gets inspected in most cases, not the batch of trimmings coming in from any particular supplier. Meat from different suppliers are mixed together. A contaminated batch of ground beef can therefore be traced to a processor, but not to a specific supplier.

The sad part of this whole tale is the conclusion presented by the New York Times reporter:

Dr. Petersen, the U.S.D.A. official, said the department had adopted additional procedures, including enhanced testing at slaughterhouses implicated in outbreaks and better training for investigators.

“We are not standing still when it comes to E. coli,” Dr. Petersen said.

The department has held a series of meetings since the recent outbreaks, soliciting ideas from all quarters. Dr. Samadpour, the laboratory owner, has said that “we can make hamburger safe,” but that in addition to enhanced testing, it will take an aggressive use of measures like meat rinses and safety audits by qualified experts.

At these sessions, Felicia Nestor, a senior policy analyst with the consumer group Food and Water Watch, has urged the government to redouble its effort to track outbreaks back to slaughterhouses. “They are the source of the problem,” Ms. Nestor said.

We find it curious that a major newspaper can publish a lengthy story which is clearly the result of careful research and somehow come to a conclusion which is exactly the same as it would be if Food and Water Watch wrote the entire article. Please note that no other possible solutions to the problems are written about in the article.

As we have previously revealed, the best kind of advocacy pieces masquerading as journalism or science do not commit crimes of commission, rather, they simply omit pertinent data which the average, non-expert reader would otherwise be unaware of.

In this particular case, there are two simple answers which can deal with the problems posed by the article simply and effectively without the need for more government regulation, inspectors, and taxes.

The first answer comes from Reason:

What solution? Irradiation. That is, treating foods with gamma, electron beam or X-ray radiation to kill bacteria that might be found on food before it is offered to the consumer. It is no more dangerous than pasteurization of milk and would prevent tens of thousands of food poisoning episodes if widely adopted.

According to research by the CDC, irradiation works and is safe:

Treating raw meat and poultry with irradiation at the slaughter plant could eliminate bacteria commonly found raw meat and raw poultry, such as E. coli O157:H7, Salmonella, and Campylobacter. These organisms currently cause millions of infections and thousands of hospitalizations in the United States every year. Raw meat irradiation could also eliminate Toxoplasma organisms, which can be responsible for severe eye and congenital infections. Irradiating prepared ready-to-eat meats like hot dogs and deli meats, could eliminate the risk of Listeria from such foods. Irradiation could also eliminate bacteria like Shigella and Salmonella from fresh produce. The potential benefit is also great for those dry foods that might be stored for long times and transported over great distances, such as spices and grains. Animal feeds are often contaminated with bacteria like Salmonella. Irradiation of animal feeds could prevent the spread of Salmonella and other pathogens to livestock through feeds.

Reason’s conclusion is markedly different than the one reached by the New York Times:

Why should Americans be forced to trust their health chiefly to the good will of politically well-connected corporations and a bunch of bureaucrats when applying a simple elegant inexpensive technnology can go a long way toward solving the problem?

The second solution is: get to know your butcher. Go and visit a local butcher shop that makes their ground beef on the spot. It will cost more than the premade patties you can find in major supermarkets because it is made fresh on the spot with higher quality ingredients. As we have found, making friends with the butcher can also help you snag really high quality cuts of meat which are rarely available outside of high end steakhouses.

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UPDATE: Welcome Instapundit readers. Have look around, enjoy the show.

Since the lifetime prevalence of mental disorders is lower in Mediterranean countries than in Northern European countries, a study was conducted to see if diet plays a role as a protective factor.

We have covered the Mediterranean diet previously, in the article Take It Or Leave It? The Truth About 8 Mediterranean Diet Staples, which we recommend reading to get up to speed about the particulars of this diet.

The report was published in the October issue of Archives of General Psychiatry. Over 10,000 Spanish people participated in this study. Participants had to fill out a survey detailing their dietary intake. Researchers then translated those details into a level of adherence to the Mediterranean diet using a system of nine components. For example, one such component is maintaining a high ratio of monounsaturated fatty acids to saturated fatty acids in the diet.

After a median (midpoint) of 4.4 years of follow-up, 480 new cases of depression were identified, including 156 in men and 324 in women. Individuals who followed the Mediterranean diet most closely had a greater than 30 percent reduction in the risk of depression than whose who had the lowest Mediterranean diet scores. The association did not change when the results were adjusted for other markers of a healthy lifestyle, including marital status and use of seatbelts.

The scale of the study seems to clearly show some correlation between following the Mediterranean diet and better mental health. However, as long time readers are undoubtedly aware, correlation is not causation.

“The specific mechanisms by which a better adherence to the Mediterranean dietary pattern could help to prevent the occurrence of depression are not well known,” the authors write. Components of the diet may improve blood vessel function, fight inflammation, reduce risk for heart disease and repair oxygen-related cell damage, all of which may decrease the chances of developing depression.

“However, the role of the overall dietary pattern may be more important than the effect of single components. It is plausible that the synergistic combination of a sufficient provision of omega-three fatty acids together with other natural unsaturated fatty acids and antioxidants from olive oil and nuts, flavonoids and other phytochemicals from fruit and other plant foods and large amounts of natural folates and other B vitamins in the overall Mediterranean dietary pattern may exert a fair degree of protection against depression,” the authors write.

There may be a combination of factors at play here. Perhaps living in Spain is less depressing than living in Northern Europe regardless of diet. We need scientists to unravel the specific mechanisms which are responsible for these results. Until then, we can only speculate.

Vitamin D is called the “sunshine vitamin” for a reason, and people in Northern Europe may simply not be getting enough.

Dairy is a good source of Vitamin D, but most people do not eat enough dairy to meet their daily requirements without sun exposure. Aside from the fact that eating so much dairy may be unhealthy and counterproductive, 60% of adults cannot digest lactose.

An important component of the Mediterranean diet is fish, and fish are rich in Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). A recent study determined that feeding infants formula enriched with DHA is worth the cost premium because it can enhance IQ.

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A characterization of cancerous cells is their ability to metastasize and show up in areas where they do not belong. When a normal cell becomes detached from its environment, a process called apoptosis (cellular self destruction) is triggered.

The genes which would be activated in a normal cell to trigger apoptosis may be damaged and non-functional in a cancerous cell, thereby allowing it to survive the initial detachment from its environment. However, even if apoptosis is not triggered, the cell should die of starvation because it is cut off from its supply of nutrients.

A group at Harvard published a study examining cellular detachment and found some surprising results. From Derek Lowe:

So far, so good – this all fits in well with what we already know about tumor cells. But this study found that there was another way to keep detached cells from dying: give them antioxidants. (They used either N-acetylcysteine or a water-soluble Vitamin E derivative). It appears that oxidative stress is one thing that’s helping to kill off wandering cells. On top of this effect, reactive oxygen species also seem to be inhibiting another possible energy source, fatty acid oxidation. Take away the reactive oxygen species, and the cells are suddenly under less pressure and have access to a new food source.

Clearly, there are serious implications to this research. Right now all we have are more questions and not enough answers.

This looks like a very strong paper to me; there’s a lot of work in it and a lot of information. Taken together, these results suggest a number of immediate questions. Is there something that shuts down normal glucose uptake when a cell is detached, and is this another general cell-suicide mechanism? How exactly does oxidative stress keep these cells from using their fatty acid oxidation pathway? (And how does that relate to normally positioned cells, in which fatty acid oxidation is actually supposed to kick in when glucose supplies go down?)

The biggest questions, though, are the most immediate: first, does it make any sense at all to give antioxidants to cancer patients? Right now, I’d very much have to wonder. And second, could taking antioxidants actually have a long-term cancer-promoting effect under normal conditions? I’d very much like to know that one, and so would a lot of other people.

After this and that exercise study, I’m honestly starting to think that oxidative stress has been getting an undeserved bad press over the years. Have we had things totally turned around?

The exercise study referred to examines whether antioxidants combined with exercise is a formula for failure. After exercising, the body tries to increase the number of mitochondria and it does so by signaling with reactive oxygen species (ROS).

Of course, ROS are also implicated in many theories of aging and cellular damage, which is why cells have several systems to try to soak these things up. That’s exactly why people take antioxidants, vitamin C and vitamin E especially. So. . .what if you take those while you’re exercising?

Once again, the law of unintended consequences rears its ugly head.

And as it turns out, antioxidant supplements appear to cancel out many of the beneficial effects of exercise. Soaking up those transient bursts of reactive oxygen species keeps them from signaling. Looked at the other way, oxidative stress could be a key to preventing type II diabetes. Glucose uptake and insulin sensitivity aren’t affected by exercise if you’re taking supplementary amounts of vitamins C and E, and this effect is seen all the way down to molecular markers such as the PPAR coactivator proteins PGC1 alpha and beta. In fact, this paper seems to constitute strong evidence that ROS are the key mediators for the effects of exercise, and that this process is mediated through PGC1 and PPAR-gamma.

Taking supplemental antioxidants may unnecessary because the body produces enough of its own.

Interestingly, exercise also increases the body’s endogenous antioxidant systems – superoxide dismutase and so on. These are some of the gene targets of PPAR-gamma, suggesting that these are downstream effects. Taking antioxidant supplements kept these from going up, too.

In conclusion, antioxidant supplements will hinder the some of the benefits gained from exercise and likely helps cancerous cells survive and spread around.

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Boost Your Baby’s IQ

Breastfeeding has been shown to be beneficial to babies because of the immune system boost they get from mom. Breast milk also has an essential fatty acid called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) which may provide infants with a cognitive boost.

Researchers decided to test if supplementing regular formula with DHA would have the same effect that came naturally from breastfeeding.

The researchers studied 229 infants, who received either formula supplemented with DHA or traditional infant formula. The babies were given the different formulas either shortly after birth, after 6 weeks of breastfeeding, or after 4 to 6 months of breastfeeding. When they were 9 months old, they were given a problem-solving test in which they had to complete a sequence of steps to get a rattle.

Babies who were fed formula supplemented with DHA were more likely to get the rattle and showed more intentional behaviors that allowed them to get the rattle.

More studies need to be conducted to confirm these effects.

“Currently, there is no clear consensus on whether infant formula should be supplemented with DHA,” notes lead author James R. Drover, a former postdoctoral fellow at the Retina Foundation of the Southwest who is now assistant professor of psychology at Memorial University in Canada.

“However, our results clearly suggest that feeding infants formula supplemented with high concentrations of DHA provides beneficial effects on cognitive development. Furthermore, because infants who display superior performance on the means-end problem-solving task tend to have superior IQ and vocabulary later in childhood, it’s possible that the beneficial effects of DHA extend well beyond infancy.”

This is not the first time DHA has been in the news. A news report from 2002 showed that the FDA approved its inclusion in formula, although evidence that it had a positive effect was scant at the time. Other factors, including the average age of a breastfeeding mother and socioeconomic status could have influenced results.

No doubt all this is why experts at the American Council on Science and Health, including the former chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Nutrition, concluded in a recent report that, “the addition of DHA and AA to infant formulas is not warranted at this time.”

In light of this new study, is paying a premium for enhanced baby formula worth it?

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Drunk + Gassy = Long Life?

Although you wouldn’t necessarily need to be drunk, enjoying red wine has some benefits because it contains resveratrol. Feel free to stop when you feel tipsy.

The gassy part of the formula comes from the chemical sulforaphane.

Dr Paul Evans, from the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial College London, who led the research team, said: “We found that the innermost layer of cells at branches and bends of arteries lack the active form of Nrf2, which may explain why they are prone to inflammation and disease. Treatment with the natural compound sulforaphane reduced inflammation at the high-risk areas by ‘switching on’ Nrf2.

Nrf2 is a protective protein which reduces inflammation, normally found in arteries.

Arteries don’t clog up in a uniform way. Bends and branches of blood vessels – where blood flow is disrupted and can be sluggish – are much more prone to the build-up of fatty plaques known as atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis can lead to angina, heart attack and stroke.

Actually, the gassy part does not come from sulforaphane directly. It comes from the fact that sulforaphane is naturally present in broccoli. However, the research done here was with the pure form of sulforaphane.

“Sulforaphane is found naturally in broccoli, so our next steps include testing whether simply eating broccoli, or other vegetables in their ‘family’, has the same protective effect. We also need to see if the compound can reduce the progression of disease in affected arteries.”

Brassicas – also called ‘cruciferous’ vegetables – include broccoli (which has the highest levels of sulforaphane), cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, bok choy and rocket.

Professor Peter Weissberg, Medical Director at the BHF, said: “These fascinating findings provide a possible mechanism by which eating vegetables protects against heart disease.

In conclusion, to live a long and healthy life, you should probably bend an elbow, lift a leg, and proudly announce to the world… you know what, we’re very happy for you – but leave the room if you need to do that. Seriously.

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To be more precise, 60% of adults cease producing the enzyme lactase which is responsible for the digestion of lactose, the primary sugar in milk.

No other species has adult members capable of digesting milk, including cats. It is not advisable to feed an adult cat milk, popular images to the contrary notwithstanding. Some may tolerate the milk and merely suffer from gas, while others will get diarrhea and/or throw up. That’s one kind of hot mess you do not want running around your house.

The 40% or so of the human adult population carrying a genetic variant which continues to produce lactase into adulthood is not evenly distributed.

The numbers are often given as close to 0% of Native Americans, 5% of Asians, 25% of African and Caribbean peoples, 50% of Mediterranean peoples and 90% of northern Europeans. Sweden has one of the world’s highest percentages of lactase tolerant people.

The old theory about the origin of this unusual ability was that humans living in the colder, less sunny parts of Northern Europe had difficulty getting sufficient vitamin D and individuals who could tolerate milk into adulthood were at a great advantage.

Actually, vitamin D isn’t really a vitamin. It’s a hormone.

Here’s the new theory, published in PLoS Computational Biology:

Using data on −13,910*T allele frequency and farming arrival dates across Europe, and approximate Bayesian computation to estimate parameters of interest, we infer that the −13,910*T allele first underwent selection among dairying farmers around 7,500 years ago in a region between the central Balkans and central Europe, possibly in association with the dissemination of the Neolithic Linearbandkeramik culture over Central Europe. Furthermore, our results suggest that natural selection favouring a lactase persistence allele was not higher in northern latitudes through an increased requirement for dietary vitamin D. Our results provide a coherent and spatially explicit picture of the coevolution of lactase persistence and dairying in Europe.

In other words, the lactose tolerance began with dairy farmers in Central Europe and gradually spread outwards, rather than spontaneously appearing in Northern Europe.

The remarkable part is that the ancient Europeans were not the only ones to develop that type of mutation.

The European mutation is different from several lactase persistence genes associated with small populations of African peoples who historically have been cattle herders.

Researchers at the University of Maryland identified one such mutation among Nilo-Saharan-speaking peoples in Kenya and Tanzania. That mutation seems to have arisen between 2,700 to 6,800 years ago. Two other mutations have been found among the Beja people of northeastern Sudan and tribes of the same language family in northern Kenya.

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If the members of the American medical establishment were to have a collective find-yourself-standing-naked-in-Times-Square-type nightmare, this might be it. They spend 30 years ridiculing Robert Atkins, author of the phenomenally-best-selling ”Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution” and ”Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution,” accusing the Manhattan doctor of quackery and fraud, only to discover that the unrepentant Atkins was right all along. Or maybe it’s this: they find that their very own dietary recommendations — eat less fat and more carbohydrates — are the cause of the rampaging epidemic of obesity in America. Or, just possibly this: they find out both of the above are true.

The worst part about the way other respected people in the medical community treated Dr. Atkins is in the way they acted contemptuously towards scientific principles.

In fact, when the American Medical Association released its scathing critique of Atkins’s diet in March 1973, it acknowledged that the diet probably worked, but expressed little interest in why.

The prevailing theory, that eating more carbohydrates and fewer fats was better for health, was itself a new and untested hypothesis at one point.

The alternative hypothesis also comes with an implication that is worth considering for a moment, because it’s a whopper, and it may indeed be an obstacle to its acceptance. If the alternative hypothesis is right — still a big ”if” — then it strongly suggests that the ongoing epidemic of obesity in America and elsewhere is not, as we are constantly told, due simply to a collective lack of will power and a failure to exercise. Rather it occurred, as Atkins has been saying (along with Barry Sears, author of ”The Zone’‘), because the public health authorities told us unwittingly, but with the best of intentions, to eat precisely those foods that would make us fat, and we did. We ate more fat-free carbohydrates, which, in turn, made us hungrier and then heavier. Put simply, if the alternative hypothesis is right, then a low-fat diet is not by definition a healthy diet. In practice, such a diet cannot help being high in carbohydrates, and that can lead to obesity, and perhaps even heart disease.

Given the spectacular failure of such low fat, high carb diets to cause people to lose weight and improve their health, the medical community should have been more open to other ideas. More importantly, Dr. Atkins’ hypothesis proved correct and was easily verified after only a few years on the market.

Here is how the nonsense got started:

It was Ancel Keys, paradoxically, who introduced the low-fat-is-good-health dogma in the 50’s with his theory that dietary fat raises cholesterol levels and gives you heart disease. Over the next two decades, however, the scientific evidence supporting this theory remained stubbornly ambiguous. The case was eventually settled not by new science but by politics. It began in January 1977, when a Senate committee led by George McGovern published its ”Dietary Goals for the United States,” advising that Americans significantly curb their fat intake to abate an epidemic of ”killer diseases” supposedly sweeping the country. It peaked in late 1984, when the National Institutes of Health officially recommended that all Americans over the age of 2 eat less fat. By that time, fat had become ”this greasy killer” in the memorable words of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, and the model American breakfast of eggs and bacon was well on its way to becoming a bowl of Special K with low-fat milk, a glass of orange juice and toast, hold the butter — a dubious feast of refined carbohydrates.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest advocates neither science nor anything in the public’s interest until today. We will cover that in a future post.

According to Katherine Flegal, an epidemiologist at the National Center for Health Statistics, the percentage of obese Americans stayed relatively constant through the 1960’s and 1970’s at 13 percent to 14 percent and then shot up by 8 percentage points in the 1980’s. By the end of that decade, nearly one in four Americans was obese. That steep rise, which is consistent through all segments of American society and which continued unabated through the 1990’s, is the singular feature of the epidemic. Any theory that tries to explain obesity in America has to account for that.

Some scientists blame fast food, sedentary lives, and genes designed to store food as fat for the obesity epidemic.

This theory makes perfect sense and plays to our puritanical prejudice that fat, fast food and television are innately damaging to our humanity. But there are two catches. First, to buy this logic is to accept that the copious negative reinforcement that accompanies obesity — both socially and physically — is easily overcome by the constant bombardment of food advertising and the lure of a supersize bargain meal. And second, as Flegal points out, little data exist to support any of this. Certainly none of it explains what changed so significantly to start the epidemic. Fast-food consumption, for example, continued to grow steadily through the 70’s and 80’s, but it did not take a sudden leap, as obesity did.

Examining genetics reveals an important clue to the truth:

It is also undeniable, note students of Endocrinology 101, that mankind never evolved to eat a diet high in starches or sugars. ”Grain products and concentrated sugars were essentially absent from human nutrition until the invention of agriculture,” Ludwig says, ”which was only 10,000 years ago.” This is discussed frequently in the anthropology texts but is mostly absent from the obesity literature, with the prominent exception of the low-carbohydrate-diet books.

As our regular readers are aware, smart people easily support stupid ideas, all the more so if the new idea on the scene challenges their preconceived conception of what’s right.

The glycemic-index concept and the idea that starches can be absorbed into the blood even faster than sugar emerged in the late 70’s, but again had no influence on public health recommendations, because of the attendant controversies. To wit: if you bought the glycemic-index concept, then you had to accept that the starches we were supposed to be eating 6 to 11 times a day were, once swallowed, physiologically indistinguishable from sugars. This made them seem considerably less than wholesome. Rather than accept this possibility, the policy makers simply allowed sugar and corn syrup to elude the vilification that befell dietary fat. After all, they are fat-free.

David Ludwig, M.D., Ph.D., the Harvard endocrinologist, runs a pediatric obesity clinic.

He does not recommend the Atkins diet because he says he believes such a very low carbohydrate approach is unnecessarily restrictive; instead, he tells his patients to effectively replace refined carbohydrates and starches with vegetables, legumes and fruit. This makes a low-glycemic-index diet consistent with dietary common sense, albeit in a higher-fat kind of way. His clinic now has a nine-month waiting list.

Note the common themes prevailing here which are evident in other areas, and which will continue to pop up again and again:

  • Government stepping in with ambiguous evidence in an effort to provide a solution to a problem which may not exist. Government bureaucracy increases to handle this new “problem”, which requires increasing tax revenue.
  • Smart, very educated people unable to see past the end of their noses, even when doing so means accepting common sense.
  • The “experts” offer all sorts of advice which revolve around the idea that John Smith, typical citizen, cannot be held responsible for his actions. For example, “it’s not your lack of self control that’s making you fat, just blame the fast food industry for making food too cheap and delicious”.

Replacing individual responsibility with reliance on government is something which has been going on this country for several decades, and is coming to a head over the recent universal government healthcare bill. The only cure is for citizens to pay attention and to remain ever vigilant against encroaching tyranny.

Many experts do not see cradle to grave reliance on government as a flaw, but as a desirable goal. They truly believe that the average American is a moron unable to handle serious decisions, perhaps slightly smarter than cabbage. It is that brand of “we know what’s best for you” elitism which may bear the greatest responsibility for the obesity epidemic.

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Can Exercise Make You Fatter?

Consider this an exercise on the laws of unintended consequences.

Vigorous physical activity for at least 45 minutes will strengthen a person’s cardiovascular system and burn calories. It will also make that person hungry. When combined with the general tendency to overestimate calories burned during exercise and to underestimate calories in food defeat is all but guaranteed.

For example, burning 300 calories during an hour’s worth of exercising and eating a delicious 600 calorie muffin as a post workout reward is a net gain. On an average day in which a person exercises more, they eat more.

Weight training builds muscle, and a pound of muscle consumes more calories than a pound of fat but not enough to make much of a difference.

According to calculations published in the journal Obesity Research by a Columbia University team in 2001, a pound of muscle burns approximately six calories a day in a resting body, compared with the two calories that a pound of fat burns. Which means that after you work out hard enough to convert, say, 10 lb. of fat to muscle — a major achievement — you would be able to eat only an extra 40 calories per day, about the amount in a teaspoon of butter, before beginning to gain weight.

The human body is an exquisitely regulated machine which has certain homeostatic goals in mind and works ruthlessly to achieve them. To truly win this war an individual needs to fight against themselves and it is very difficult to do so.

Arm yourself with data about how many calories are really being burned for various types of workout  routines and durations. Know the approximate caloric count of your favorite snack foods, like those sugar free muffins at the local bakery.

Plan ahead and be aware of your body’s inclinations. If you are going to be hungry after an energetic workout be sure and have a low calorie and healthy snack immediately available. For a post exercise meal, choose your dining partners carefully.

Good luck.

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When women eat with men or in mixed gender groups they tend to choose food with significantly lower caloric value than would if dining alone or exclusively with other women. The study, conducted by Meredith Young, a PhD candidate at McMaster University, has an explanation:

The diet industry targets female consumers and product advertisements typically depict very slim models rather than average-sized or overweight female models, she says, so food choices appear to be weighed against how other perceive them. In other words, smaller, healthier portions are seen as more feminine, and women might believe that if they eat less they will be considered more attractive to men.”It is possible that small food portions signal attractiveness, and women conform, whether consciously or unconsciously, to small meals in order to be seen as more attractive,” says Young.

Men eat what they want regardless of whom they are dining with.

As for men’s food selections, the study showed that men were neither substantially affected by the number of nor the gender of their dining companions.

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Sometimes reports like this appear to be sensationalized so lets take a look at the numbers first.

About 9 percent of those ages 1 through 21 — about 7.6 million children, adolescents and young adults — have Vitamin D levels so low they could be considered deficient, while an additional 61 percent — 50.8 million — have higher levels, but still low enough to be insufficient, according to the analysis of federal data being released Monday.

There are a couple of factors at work here which are combining to cause this problem.

  1. Children are not drinking sufficient quantities of milk or eating enough foods which contain Vitamin D. It is even more problematic if soda is being consumed instead of milk.
  2. Children are being slathered in sunscreen before being exposed to the sun. When skin is exposed to the sun, the body produces Vitamin D.

Parents need to make sure their children are receiving proper nutrition, including eating foods with Vitamin D. However, sun exposure is the ideal way to get sufficient Vitamin D, which is why it is commonly referred to as “the sunshine vitamin”.

It is true that being exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet radiation may lead to cancer. As with almost everything else in the field of health and nutrition, moderation is key. Someone with fair skin may be fine with 15 minutes in the sun, but that number needs to be revised upwards if the individual has darker skin and also for the time of year.

In the last three months alone, four separate studies found it helped protect against lymphoma and cancers of the prostate, lung and, ironically, the skin. The strongest evidence is for colon cancer.

Enjoy your summer.

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Recent studies show that food allergies in Europe have a regional differences. An early hypothesis was that the different diets from the varying regions explained the variety of allergies. It did not explain certain foods, like apples. In northern Europe people are allergic to the inside of the apple, and in the south they are allergic to the skin.

What could be the cause of this strange invisible dividing line that skims across south-west France, cuts through Italy close to Florence, and continues eastwards through the middle of the Black Sea?

Significantly, this line marks the southern limit of the birch tree, a plant whose pollen is one of the causes of hay fever in northern Europe. Clues for this link lie in the different proteins found in various parts of the fruit: the flesh harbours an allergenic protein called Mal d 1, while the skin is relatively rich in Mal d 3. The structure and composition of the Mal d 1 protein strongly resembles the allergenic protein Bet v 1 found in birch pollen. This means that people who suffer from birch pollen allergy may be primed to overreact to Mal d 1 – explaining the prevalence of the allergy to apple flesh in this region.

Inhaling a protein may cause someone to develop allergies for a similar ingested protein, but not vice versa because when it hits the lungs it passes into the bloodstream whole, and is not broken down by digestion.

There are several factors at work here, including genetics and other environmental conditions which have not yet been analyzed. Hopefully, with more research we will soon see the end of severe allergies.

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Fats To Eat, Fats To Avoid

There’s a piece of common knowledge circulating amongst the general population which holds fats in contempt, and should not be part of a healthy person’s diet. It is false. The key is knowing which fats are acceptable, and which can cause problem because the simple fact is that not all fats are created equal.

After mentioning that vegetable oils were bad I was recently asked “which fats can I eat?” It is not surprising that we are all confused with the low-fat/saturated fat hysteria going on. So I thought I’d share with you the types of fats that we use in our home along with the ones that we try to avoid. First there are a few things you should know about fats…

Fats To Eat

  • Butter from grass-fed cows
  • Lard from pastured pigs
  • Tallow from grass-fed cows
  • Unrefined Coconut oil
  • Cold pressed olive and sesame oils (uncooked or low heat)

Fats To Avoid

  • Soy oil
  • Corn oil
  • Cottonseed Oil
  • Canola Oil (GMO, can contain trans fatty acids and can cause heart lesions)
  • Hydrogenated Oils
  • Most other vegetable oils, especially when not cold pressed (they are rancid and therefore a carcinogen)

There’s more at the article, including a breakdown of the Omega-6 and Omega-3 ratios in certain fats.

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Frank Bruni has an excellent article in The New York Times Magazine discussing his issues with food, weight and appearance which apparently began in early childhood. It is a riveting tale and we advise you to read it all. Here are a few excerpts.

A hamburger dinner sounded the first alarm. My mother had cooked and served me one big burger, which would be enough for most carnivores still in diapers. I polished it off and pleaded for a second. So she cooked and served me another big burger, confident that I’d never get through it. It was the last time she underestimated my appetite.

It became a pattern. No fourth cookie? I threw up. No midafternoon meal between lunch and dinner? Same deal. I had a bizarre facility for it, and Mom had a sponge or paper towels at hand whenever she was about to disappoint me.

You need to be conscious of time. There’s no such thing as bulimia on the fly; a span of at least 10 minutes in the bathroom is optimal, because you may need 5 of them to linger at the sink, splash cold water on your face and let the redness in it die down. You should always carry a toothbrush and toothpaste, integral to eliminating telltale signs of your transgression and to rejoining polite society without any offense to it. Bulimia is a logistical and tactical challenge as much as anything else. It demands planning.

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