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14 Dec 15
“Scientists have figured out how your body fights your attempts to lose weight
For those of you who feel like your gym sessions aren’t getting you anywhere near your target weight – scientists think they might have found a reason why. A new study has identified a protein that locks excess fat in our bodies, preventing it from being burned off easily.
And while it sucks to know that our bodies are fighting against our attempts to lose weight, the discovery could help to explain why overweight people find it so difficult to shed the additional pounds.
Researchers from the University of Cambridge in the UK focused on the protein sLR11 and its presence in mice. They found that mice without the gene that codes for this protein burned off excess weight significantly faster than those that had it. It appears that the more excess fat these animals had, the harder the sLR11 protein worked, in a kind of self-preservation mechanism.
So why would our bodies be fighting against our attempts to lose weight? Human bodies store fat in two forms: white adipose and brown adipose tissue. White adipose fat is ‘regular’ fat that’s burned to give us energy when needed. Brown adipose fat, on the other hand – which babies have an abundance of – is solely used to keep us warm, and sLR11’s job is to make sure it isn’t ‘wasted’ on any other kind of pursuit (like powering a lengthy session on the treadmill).
When investigating sLR11 in human subjects, they found a correlation between body mass and levels of the protein. “Our discovery may help explain why overweight individuals find it incredibly hard to lose weight,” said one of the team, Andrew Whittle. “Their stored fat is actively fighting against their efforts to burn it off at the molecular level.”
Knowing this, the researchers say they could manipulate the sLR11 protein to find potential treatments for both obesity and eating disorders in the future. Thermogenesis – the production of heat by the human body – has become an area of growing interest for scientists tackling problems related to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, but until now, very few molecules had been identified that can decrease thermogenesis.
“We have found an important mechanism that could be targeted not just to help increase people’s ability to burn fat, but also help people with conditions where saving energy is important, such as anorexia nervosa,” said lead researcher, Toni Vidal-Puig.
The researchers admit that a drug to combat or fight obesity is still some way off, but their findings could be used to inform the development of future treatments. The study has been published in Nature Communications.”
The Algorithm That Creates Diets That Work for You
Take a slice of cake and cut it in two. Eat one half, and let a friend scoff the other. Your blood-sugar levels will both spike, but to different degrees depending on your genes, the bacteria in your gut, what you recently ate, how recently or intensely you exercised, and more. The spikes, formally known as “postprandial glycemic responses” or PPGR, are hard to forecast since two people might react very differently to exactly the same food.
But Eran Elinav and Eran Segal from the Weizmann Institute of Science have developed a way of embracing that variability. By comprehensively monitoring the blood sugar, diets, and other traits of 800 people, they built an algorithm that can accurately predict how a person’s blood-sugar levels will spike after eating any given meal.
They also used these personalized predictions to develop tailored dietary plans for keeping blood sugar in check. These plans sometimes included unconventional items like chocolate and ice-cream, and were so counter-intuitive that they baffled both the participants and dieticians involved in the study. But they seemed to work when assessed in a clinical trial, and they hint at a future when individuals will get personalized dietary recommendations, rather than hewing to universal guidelines.
Currently, the most common method for forecasting a person’s PPGR is to look at the carbohydrate content of their meals. “People with type I diabetes determine how much insulin to inject based on the amount of carbs they’re going to have in the meal,” says Segal. “That’s the gold standard,” but carb content only weakly correlates with PPGR.
Alternatively, people could consult the glycemic index (GI), which puts a number on a food’s effect on blood sugar. But the Weizmann team argues that these numbers are based on single foods, and don’t reflect realistic meals with combinations of ingredients in varying amounts. “Ascribing a single PPGR to each food also assumes that the response is solely an intrinsic property of the food,” adds Segal. “But there are very striking differences between people’s responses to identical meals.” Their genes, lifestyle choices, the bacteria in their guts, and even the meals they had recently eaten, all have an influence.
To account for these factors, students David Zeevi and Tal Korem subjected 800 non-diabetic volunteers to “the most comprehensive profiling we could.” Upon signing up, each participant filled out a questionnaire about their medical histories and dietary habits, and provided a stool sample so the team could analyze their gut microbes.
Then, for a week, they wore skin-mounted monitors that continuously measured their blood sugar, and used a mobile app to record exercise and sleep patterns, stressful events, and all their meals, down to the weights of every ingredient where possible. For their first bites of the day, they ate one of four standardized meals that the team provided. Beyond that, they ate their usual food.
Although people are often notoriously unreliable at documenting their meals, Segal says that his volunteers were unusually motivated. “We didn’t pay them,” he says. “They joined because we explained that we’d be able to tell them which of the foods they normally eat spike their glucose levels. They came because they wanted to know and we said that if they didn’t log properly, we wouldn’t be able to tell them.”
The team found a huge amount of variation between the volunteers. The same food would cause huge sugar spikes in some people but tiny blips in others. The volunteers also differed substantially in the foods that triggered the sharpest spikes: Participant 445, for example, reacted strongly to bananas, while participant 644 spiked heavily post-cookies. “When people talk to their diabetic friends about foods that spike their glucose level, it’s really different for everyone,” says Segal. “That’s the intuition but, as far as I know, it’s never been demonstrated quantitatively on this scale.”
Zeevi and Korem showed that these personal differences were influenced by familiar factors like age and body mass index, and also less familiar ones like gut microbes. They found several groups of bacteria, and families of bacterial genes, that were linked to stronger PPGRs.
The team developed an algorithm that used all of these individual characteristics—some 137 factors in total—to predict a person’s blood-sugar responses to different foods. Unlike carbohydrate counting or the glycemic index, this algorithm doesn’t just look at the nutrient content of a meal, but also the traits of the person eating it.
It was remarkably accurate. When the team tested it on a fresh set of 100 volunteers, it predicted sugar spikes that matched the volunteers’ actual data with a correlation of 0.7 (where 1 would be perfect). That’s good: Even if the same person eats the same meal on two different days, the correlation between the two sugar spikes will be 0.77 at most. That sets a ceiling for predictability, one that the team’s algorithm came very close to hitting. It certainly outperformed the crude technique of counting carbs or calories; when Zeevi and Korem tried doing that, they got correlations of just 0.38 and 0.33.
Some plans were so counter-intuitive that neither dieticians nor volunteers could tell whether they were meant to represent a good diet or the bad one.
The algorithm could even provide people with effective, tailored dietary advice. The team recruited 26 new volunteers and randomly split them into two groups. Everyone was given two week-long diets—a “good” one designed to minimize their PPGRs, and a “bad” one designed to trigger big spikes. But one group received plans that were designed by a pair of experts, while the other stuck to diets fashioned by the algorithm.
Many of the diets created by the algorithm were deeply unorthodox. “It wasn’t just salad every day,” says Segal. “Some people got alcohol, chocolate, and ice-cream, in moderation. These are items that you’d typically never find on a dietician’s recommendations.” Some plans were so counter-intuitive that neither dieticians nor volunteers could tell whether they were meant to represent the good diet or the bad one. And yet, they effectively controlled blood-sugar levels for those particular volunteers.
For both groups of volunteers, “the differences were dramatic,” says Segal. “On the bad diets, blood glucose really reached abnormal level, but on the good diets, they normalized to healthy ranges.” And even though each participant ate different personalized meals, their gut microbes changed in consistent and perhaps beneficial ways. For example, several bacterial groups that had been associated with type 2 diabetes went down.
The algorithm even performed as well as the two experts, if not slightly better. And Segal says that it’s ultimately more versatile. The dieticians based their plans on each participant’s PPGRs to the meals they are in the previous week. The algorithm did that too, but it can also predict responses to any meal. “It’s not constrained to recommending people meals that have already been measured,” says Segal. “You could recommend any meal.”
Jennie Brand-Miller, a nutritionist at the University of Sydney and the director of the Glycemic Index Foundation, calls the study is a “game-changer” for showing a connection between PPGRs and gut bacteria, and for looking at these responses in healthy people without diabetes. “This drives home the medical relevance of high glucose levels within the so-called normal range,” she says.
But she adds that the researchers “draw a long bow” in dismissing the glycemic index and other metrics for predicting blood-sugar responses, which are better than the team gives them credit for. Similarly, David Jenkins from the University of Toronto adds that the team didn’t directly compare their algorithm to indices like GI. “It’s not a helpful paper,” he says.
But Segal thinks that the algorithm can only get better. His team is planning to improve it by collecting more detailed information about the volunteers’ physical activity, the bacterial strains in the gut, and even their genetics. They are also running a longer study to see if the personalized diets concocted by their algorithm can, over the course of a year, improve the health of prediabetic people at risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
They’re certainly not short of volunteers. The first wave of participants were so intrigued by their results that they urged their friends and family to sign up. Segal’s team ended up recruiting their 900 participants almost entirely through word of mouth, without any payment or marketing. “We have more than 4000 on the waiting list to take part in the next study,” he says.
21 Dec 15
Oops sorry, study almost a year old. Wish I could delete.
A new study published by researchers in the United States and Vietnam has found a surprising relationships between body image, depression, and obesity in a sample of US teens.
The study, published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, looked at 4175 teens in the Houston area, ages 11-17. The researchers measured the teens’ depression using DSM-V criteria. The researchers took the teenagers height and weight measurements and also measured their self-assessments of both weight and weight perception (categories: skinny, somewhat skinny, average, somewhat overweight, overweight). Based on the DSM-V criteria, depression was characterized as one major depressive episode in the previous year. Overall, based on BMI, 18.2% of the sample was considered overweight, and a further 20.8% were classified as obese.
When the researchers followed up with 3134 of the teens the following year, they found a statistically significant relationship between negative self-image at the beginning of the study, and obesity at the followup period.
Teens who perceived themselves as overweight, regardless of their actual weight, were twice as likely to be overweight at the 1 year followup.
According to lead author Robert E. Roberts, with the inclusion of body image into their modelling, no association between depression and obesity was observed, “meaning that body image is the mediating factor,”
Importantly, this recent study highlights the need to incorporate strategies to improve not only weight control, but also self-perception, when treating obesity in teens.
Only 66% of teens were able to be followed at 1 year, raising the possibility of non-response bias.
The study examined a highly localized population within the Houston region.
The study did not examine potentially confounding environmental factors (social environment, family, socio-economic status).
Robert E. Roberts, Hao T. Duong, Does major depression affect risk for adolescent obesity?, Journal of Affective Disorders, Volume 186, 1 November 2015, Pages 162-167, ISSN 0165-0327, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2015.06.030.
23 Dec 15
‘Fat but fit’ may be a myth, researchers say
A new study weighs in on the controversial health topic.
By Ariana Eunjung Cha
Source: The Washington Post
23 Dec 2015 – 9:25 AM
One of the most controversial ideas in medical science today is whether people can really be fat and fit. That is, is weight in itself a marker of health – or simply a suggestion of a person’s physical fitness?
A key study in this debate was published in 2012 by a team of researchers from the United States and Europe in the European Heart Journal. They argued that overweight and obese people were at no greater risk of heart disease or cancer as compared with those of normal weight – as long as they were “metabolically fit.”
By that they meant not having insulin resistance, diabetes, high triglycerides or high blood pressure and having good cholesterol levels. An astounding percentage – nearly half of the 43,000 obese people they had data on – were deemed fit according to this criteria, and when compared against similarly healthy normal weight participants, the fit obese participants had no higher risk of death.
Men who weighed in in the normal range, regardless of their fitness level, appeared to have a lower risk of death as compared to those who were obese but fit.
That settled the issue for many, but a large new study out this week in the International Journal of Epidemiology adds another dimension to our knowledge about how weight affects our health by focusing specifically on aerobic fitness.
The analysis involved data from 1,317,713 men in Sweden for an average of 29 years. Researchers evaluated their aerobic fitness by asking them to cycle until they got tired.
Men who weighed in in the normal range, regardless of their fitness level, appeared to have a lower risk of death as compared to those who were obese but fit (in the highest quarter of aerobic fitness). Even more striking: the beneficial effect of high aerobic fitness appeared to be reduced with increased obesity. In fact, those at the most extreme in terms of obesity did not see a benefit at all from aerobic fitness.
The researchers said the findings suggest that being obese may reduce the protective effects of being fit. “This data does not support the notion that ‘fat but fit’ is a benign condition,” they wrote.
Other recent research has highlighted the idea that it isn’t just your weight that impacts your health risks, but where it is on your body.
Of course this study is limited because it only involved men and the researchers noted that many in their sample died relatively early. Other recent research has highlighted the idea that it isn’t just your weight that impacts your health risks, but where it is on your body (like your mid-section or belly).
In fact, as one researcher told The Washington Post as far back as 2004, “this is something that really shouldn’t be a debate of one versus the other.”
“It’s clear that both fitness and fatness are important,” said Walter Willett, an expert on nutrition and health at the Harvard School of Public Health. “It’s definitely good to be as fit as possible no matter what your body weight. But it’s also clear that it is optimum to be both lean and fit. It shouldn’t be a question of one or the other.”
5 Jan 16
Take a break from the booze. Less liver fat, cholesterol and weight – just some of the benefits from a pioneering study into a month of alcohol abstinence.
By Andy Coghlan
Source: New Scientist
29 Dec 2015 – 3:38 PM UPDATED 29 Dec 2015 – 3:38 PM
Dry January, for many a welcome period of abstinence after the excesses of the holiday season, could be more than a rest for body and soul. New Scientist staff have generated the first evidence that giving up alcohol for a month might actually be good for you, at least in the short term.
Many people who drink alcohol choose to give up for short periods, but there is no scientific evidence that this has any health benefits. So we teamed up with Rajiv Jalan at the Institute for Liver and Digestive Health at University College London Medical School (UCLMS) to investigate.
The liver plays a role in over 500 processes vital for functions as diverse as digesting food, detoxification and hormone balance. In 2009, of the 11,575 people who died of liver disease in the UK, more than a third were attributed to alcohol consumption. Most of what we know about liver health comes from studies of people with chronic disease, many of whom are alcoholics. Very few studies have focused on liver function in apparently healthy people.
Read about it by clicking on the link:
13 Jan 16
An article about Brazil’s new dietary guidelines: http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2016/01/the-brazilian-guide-to-food-and-life/422301/
14 Jan 16
Researchers at University of Canberra, Australia, uncover ‘small’ lifestyle change which could reverse childhood obesity trend: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-11-12/canberra-researchers-uncover-ways-to-fight-childhood-obesity/6933506
16 Jan 16
I’ve just read a book about the science behind what we eat called the Diet Myth by Prof Tim Spector. Absolutely fascinating and very informative.
I was led to it by a newspaper article about the increasing incidence of digestive disorders.
I looked him up and found this great article: https://theconversation.com/your-gut-bacteria-dont-like-junk-food-even-if-you-do-41564
It is about a gut bacteria experiment he and his son (his son did the hard work!), in preparation for that book, to see how gut bacteria change when junk food becomes the diet.
And then I found this http://www.cbc.ca/natureofthings/features/tim-spectors-top-ten-list-of-gut-friendly-foods
His top ten list of gut friendly foods:
1. Jerusalem artichokes
8. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
9. Red wine
(Oh! No coffee 🙁 )
At least red wine and dark chocolate are included, as well as my daily apple 🙂 And have had my handful of nuts. Just reading the junk food link now.
19 Jan 16
It is a pretty yummy list!
Here is an interesting one: Literally watching what you eat may lead to healthier food choices. In today’s surprising research, experts claim mirrors could make unhealthy food (like doughnuts) seem less delicious.
22 Jan 16
Scientists are testing whether freeze-dried faecal pills could treat obesity
I think I’ll pass on that! Especially when the lead researcher says she has “no idea what the result will be”.
By the time they have it figured out we will be so lovely and skinny we won’t need to consider them! 💩
23 Jan 16
More on those micro organisms in our gut:
Low-fibre diets cause waves of extinction in the gut.
24 Jan 16
Though I’m not suggesting that the studies you link to are in any way related to voodoo, it’s interesting to note that the magicians of the homeopathy fraternity have long been fans of ingesting poo in the form of ‘nosodes’.
I didn’t know that Pot-bellied Heron!
I wonder why the scientists are bothering with all the research? 😉
PS Favourite piece on homeopathy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HMGIbOGu8q0
Superb. I’d not seen that one before.
1 Feb 16
Health Check: what happens to your body when you’re dehydrated?
5 Feb 16
Counting the facts about calories on Blueprint for Living (and when a walnut has less calories than you think)
6 Feb 16
The healthiest food may be your family’s ancestral diet
7 Feb 16
A good overview.
Explainer: What is the gut microbiota and how does it affect mind and body?
11 Feb 16
Low-carb diet led to reductions in medication requirements for people with type 2 diabetes, say researchers
12 Feb 16
Hello Cinque, I read most of the articles you posted. The article on ancestral diets was particularly interesting. I’m paying close attention these days to how different foods effect me. I just finished 30 days of the Whole 30 plan and have felt great for the most part. Today I had a few things that had been cut out, a glass of milk, a sandwich, and a gingersnap. Probably would have been better off re-introducing just one at a time. I’ll wait til tomorrow to see how I feel.
Ancient grains seem to be all the rage these days, at least here in the US. Have you read any articles about those?
Thanks 🙂 I love finding out the articles are interesting to people. I follow a few science sites and always have my ears pricked for new research about food and health etc.
I found that ‘ancestor’s diet’ research interesting too. I had better find out who my ancestors are! British and German mostly I think.
I had to look up Whole 30, it sounds like a fascinating experience. I remember reading that the indigenous people who lived here before white settlement ate hundreds of different herbs and vegetables and an enormous variety of meat too. They compared it to the average suburban diet which seemed so meagre in comparison. That was decades ago, more variety now!
15 Feb 16
People who frequently cook meals at home eat healthier and consume fewer calories than those who cook less, according to new Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health research.
Cinque, thanks for another interesting article. Yesterday I made a delicious Sunday dinner for our daughter’s family and one of my sisters. It made me think of the Sunday dinners of my youth. Back in the days when I was growing up people rarely ate out. Fast food restaurants hadn’t come to our area yet and most people just couldn’t afford to travel to eat out. I can remember walking home from school and as we got nearer to our house we could smell spaghetti sauce cooking or bread baking. And we always sat down at the table as a family to eat our meals. Nowadays families tend to eat in front of the t.v. or at different times rather than all together. I think that makes a big difference in how well people eat also. Being together as a family and enjoying one another’s company. Even as recently as when my kids were growing up we were the rare family who ate together every evening. Some of their friends even remarked on it.
Happy Monday! Patty
Here’s an interesting article on how intermittent fasting is different for men and women.
17 Feb 16
Eat your greens to boost good gut bacteria
Cinque, isn’t the freeze de faecal pill /faecal transplant etc the stuff that Makica and daughter are working on?
I can understand the rational of trying to change the gut flora to that of a skinny person but the idea of actually putting someone else’s poo into either end does not appeal!
Hi Susie, Makica’s project is something along these lines. There is so much work being done on gut flora at the moment (hence all the research I am finding to post!). Fecal transplants are one bit, but many people feel as you do!
27 Feb 16
Do we crave food our bodies need?
Cinque, that was an interesting article on cravings. After finishing the Whole 30 program I reintroduced certain foods. Not in the suggested order but just what I felt like having. I noticed that during the whole 30 I did not really crave anything but once I reintroduced bread I definitely felt cravings for breads and pasta. It was almost as if I couldn’t get enough. It was also interesting to read about what different cultures crave, such as those of us in North America craving chocolate and those in Japan crave rice and sushi. I can honestly say that I never crave chocolate as it gives me a headache but I did begin to crave bread and pasta once I had it. I wonder if the cravings have something to do with comfort foods. Since chocolate gave me headaches even as a child I’ve never associated it with comfort but my Italian family always had breads and pastas on hand. That’s what reminds me of happy times as a child, eating with the family, smelling the sauces cooking, smelling bread baking in the oven, eating freshly baked bread. Wonderful happy feelings. Thanks for another thought provoking article. PP
29 Feb 16
A paper by all of the ‘biggies’ in IF – Mattson, Harvie, Longo and Varady, among others: http://www.pnas.org/content/111/47/16647.full
1 Mar 16
Good to read that article Simco,
I was particularly fascinated by fig. 3, where they illustrate the five different patterns of food consumption. For some reason I had to stare at it for ages!
Patty it has amazed me that with 5:2 and no sugar, I just don’t have those intolerable cravings any more and that makes feeling hungry a completely different animal. Im glad you liked that article too.
Yes. Thanks Simcoe. I’ve printed it to digest fully. PVE
2 Mar 16
Lack of sleep alters brain chemicals to bring on cannabis style munchies
3 Mar 16
New research shows that sugar-loving immune cells in some people’s blood are likely contributors to coronary artery disease
4 Mar 16
Dr. Jason Fung’s article on the benefits of intermittent fasting for the brain:
8 Mar 16
Thanks Lucy, that was good to read.
Here’s one from the sidelines:
Your ‘ideal’ body, and why you want it
9 Mar 16
Here’s a recent article from the New York Times Health blog from yesterday, March 7, 2016… Some good stuff in this one! http://mobile.nytimes.com/blogs/well/2016/03/07/intermittent-fasting-diets-are-gaining-acceptance/?partner=rss&emc=rss&_r=0&referer=
10 Mar 16
RQP, that was a very good article from the NYtimes. Thanks for sharing. I recently watched a youtube video called “Dr. Mosley is killing people”. This guy just ranted on and on without any substantive arguments. It’s obvious that he has never read Dr. Mosley’s book or any other book on intermittent fasting. I’ll never understand why some people are happy to be uninformed.
11 Mar 16
I enjoyed that article too thanks RQP.
Now for something completely different. It is art! But worth sharing I thought. It is about body image: http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/2016/03/11/artist-jody-steels-body-image-video-highlights-cost-beauty
Back to Science!
‘Ultra-processed’ foods make up more than half of all calories consumed in the US diet, and contribute nearly 90% of all added sugar intake, finds research published in the online journal BMJ Open.
This man’s work is very interesting. He’s kicked up a storm over the last four years, of course, but many of the people whose work I trust regard him highly, such as Dr Michael Eades and the very interesting vet who writes the blog Hyperlipid.
His hypothesis is that the last 40 years of grain breeding with commerce as the main objective has given us grains that are more bad for you than traditional ones, and that even the older sorts pose major problems in human diets. He cites research on the addictive nature of wheats in most people and the effects of gluten on the behaviour of fat cells.
He has attracted much criticism as you would expect when a major industry gets threatened.
Thanks Apricot, I hadn’t seen that one before. If his hypothesis is right then good solid, peer reviewed research will surely come out that supports it.
I think there’s already been some. And some of the research he cites in his books has already pointed him towards the work he’s done, eg the large blood test study that showed the massive rise in coeliac disease over 50 years.
Gotta love those allergy fad authors. They must be laughing all the way to the bank.
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