Fetal programming: Gene transformation gone wild (Part II)

In part 1 of this blog, I discussed how dietary changes can alter gene expression and how those epigenetic changes can be mediated from one generation to the next by fetal programming. This is very clear from animal studies. One of the most frightening studies was published a few years ago (1). In this study, genetically identical mice were split into two colonies. For the next three generations they were fed exactly the same number of calories with exactly the same balance of protein, carbohydrate, and fat. The only difference was that one group had a diet rich in omega-6 fatty acids and low in omega-3 fatty acids, and the other had a better balance of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids. After three generations the mice fed the high omega-6 fatty acid diet were grossly obese.

In addition, the mice with high omega-6 fatty acids had fatty livers and enlarged hearts and kidneys, all indicative of major metabolic disturbances.

This also happens with the brain. It has been demonstrated that removing omega-3 fatty acids and replacing them with omega-6 fatty acids over three generations makes animals a lot dumber, probably due to significant reductions in neurotransmitters, like serotonin and dopamine (2-5). Not only are they dumber, but their offspring also show a strong preference for junk food. (6)

How could this happen in such a short period of time? The answer is fetal programming induced by increased cellular inflammation. If this cellular inflammation is maintained by an inflammatory diet, there will be a constant driving force to maintain these epigenetic effects from one generation to other.

The next question is how long does this epigenetic programming have to be continued until it becomes a permanent part of the gene structure. One indication might be found in the development of lactose intolerance in those populations who have been exposed to dairy products for thousands of years. Seventy percent of the world’s population can’t digest these dietary products because they have lost the ability to maintain the necessary enzyme production after weaning from mother’s breast milk. Those who have been constantly exposed to dairy products after weaning have developed an epigenetic programming that seems to be permanent.

These epigenetic changes in humans may take place in only one generation. This is the suggestion of a new article to be published in Diabetes that indicates more than 25 percent of the explanation for childhood obesity could be predicted by prenatal epigenetic changes at birth (7).

As long as our epidemic of cellular inflammation continues to be fueled by the Perfect Nutrition Storm, we can expect our children to continue to become fatter, sicker, and dumber (8).


  1. Hanbauer I, Rivero-Covelo I, Maloku E, Baca A, Hu Q, Hibbeln JR, and Davis JM. “The Decrease of n-3 Fatty Acid Energy Percentage in an Equicaloric Diet Fed to B6C3Fe Mice for Three Generations Elicits Obesity.” Cardiovasc Psychiatry Neurol: 2009, Article ID.867041 (2009)
  2. Chalon S, Delion-Vancassel S, Belzung C,,Guilloteau D, Leguisquet AM, Besnard JC, and Durand G. “Dietary fish oil affects monoaminergic neurotransmission and behavior in rats.” J Nutr 128: 2512-2519 (1998)
  3. Zimmer L, Delpal S, Guilloteau D, Aioun J, Durand G, and Chalon S. “Chronic n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid deficiency alters dopamine vesicle density in the rat frontal cortex.” Neurosci Lett 284: 25-28 (2000)
  4. Moriguchi T, Greiner RS, and Salem N. “Behavioral deficits associated with dietary induction of decreased brain docosahexaenoic acid concentration.” J Neurochem 75: 2563-2573 (2000)
  5. Chalon S. “Omega-3 fatty acids and monoamine neurotransmission.” Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids 75: 259-269 (2006)
  6. Ong ZY and Muhlhausler BS. “Maternal “junk-food” feeding of rat dams alters food choices and development of the mesolimbic reward pathway in the offspring.” FASEB J 25: S1530-6860 (2011)
  7. Godfrey KM, Sheppard A, Gluckman PD, Lillycrop KA, Burdge GC, McLean C, Rodford J, Slater-Jefferies J, Garratt E, Crozier SR, Emerald BS, Gale CR, Inskip HM, Cooper C, and Hanson MA. “Epigenetic gene promoter methylation at birth is associated with child’s later adiposity.” Diabetes 60: doi: 10.2337/db10-0979 (2011)
  8. Godfrey KM, Lillycrop KA, Burdge GC, Gluckman PD, and Hanson MA. “Epigenetic mechanisms and the mismatch concept of the developmental origins of health and disease.” Pediatr Res 61: 5R-10R (2007)

Nothing contained in this blog is intended to be instructional for medial diagnosis or treatment. If you have a medical concern or issue, please consult your personal physician immediately.

Fish oil and fat loss

I have often said, “It takes fat to burn fat”. As I describe in my book “Toxic Fat,” increased cellular inflammation in the fat cells turns them into “fat traps” (1). This means that fat cells become increasingly compromised in their ability to release stored fat for conversion into chemical energy needed to allow you to move around and survive. As a result, you get fatter, and you are constantly tired and hungry.

One of the best ways to reduce cellular inflammation in the fat cells is by increasing your intake of omega-3 fatty acids. This was demonstrated in a recent article that indicated supplementing a calorie-restricted diet with 1.5 grams of EPA and DHA per day resulted in more than two pounds of additional weight loss compared to the control group in a eight-week period (2).

How omega-3 fatty acids help to ”burn fat faster” is most likely related to their ability to reduce cellular inflammation in the fat cells (3,4) and to increase the levels of adiponectin (5). Both mechanisms will help relax a “fat trap” that has been activated by cellular inflammation.

However, there is a cautionary note. This is because omega-3 fatty acids are very prone to oxidation once they enter the body. This is especially true relative to the enhanced oxidation of the LDL particles (6-9).

This means that to get the full benefits any fish oil supplementation, you have to increase your intake of polyphenols to protect the omega-3 fatty acids from oxidation. How much? I recommend at least 8,000 additional ORAC units for every 2.5 grams of EPA and DHA that you add to your diet. That's about 10 servings per day of fruits and vegetables, which should be no problem if you are following the Zone diet. If not, then consider taking a good polyphenol supplement.

Once you add both extra fish oil and polyphenols to a calorie-restricted diet, you will burn fat faster without any concern about increased oxidation in the body that can lead to accelerated aging.


  1. Sears B. “Toxic Fat.” Thomas Nelson. Nashville, TN (2008)
  2. Thorsdottir I, Tomasson H, Gunnarsdottir I, Gisladottir E, Kiely M, Parra MD, Bandarra NM, Schaafsma G, and Martinez JA. “Randomized trial of weight-loss diets for young adults varying in fish and fish oil content.” Int J Obes 31: 1560-1566 (2007)
  3. Huber J, Loffler M, Bilban M, Reimers M, Kadl A, Todoric J, Zeyda M, Geyeregger R, Schreiner M, Weichhart T, Leitinger N, Waldhausl W, and Stulnig TM. “Prevention of high-fat diet-induced adipose tissue remodeling in obese diabetic mice by n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids.” Int J Obes 31: 1004-1013 (2007)
  4. Todoric J, Loffler M, Huber J, Bilban M, Reimers M, Kadl A, Zeyda M, Waldhausl W, and Stulnig TM. “Adipose tissue inflammation induced by high-fat diet in obese diabetic mice is prevented by n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids.” Diabetologia 49: 2109-2119 (2006)
  5. Krebs JD, Browning LM, McLean NK, Rothwell JL, Mishra GD, Moore CS, and Jebb SA. “Additive benefits of long-chain n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and weight-loss in the management of cardiovascular disease risk in overweight hyperinsulinaemic women.” Int J Obes 30: 1535-1544 (2006)
  6. Pedersen H, Petersen M, Major-Pedersen A, Jensen T, Nielsen NS, Lauridsen ST, and Marckmann P. “Influence of fish oil supplementation on in vivo and in vitro oxidation resistance of low-density lipoprotein in type 2 diabetes.” Eur J Clin Nutr 57: 713-720 (2003)
  7. Turini ME, Crozier GL, Donnet-Hughes A, and Richelle MA. “Short-term fish oil supplementation improved innate immunity, but increased ex vivo oxidation of LDL in man–a pilot study.” Eur J Nutr 40: 56-65 (2001)
  8. Stalenhoef AF, de Graaf J, Wittekoek ME, Bredie SJ, Demacker PN, and Kastelein JJ. “The effect of concentrated n-3 fatty acids versus gemfibrozil on plasma lipoproteins, low-density lipoprotein heterogeneity and oxidizability in patients with hypertriglyceridemia.” Atherosclerosis 153: 129-138 (2000)
  9. Finnegan YE. Minihane AM, Leigh-Firbank EC, Kew S, Meijer GW, Muggli R, Calder PC, and Williams CM. “Plant- and marine-derived n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids have differential effects on fasting and postprandial blood lipid concentrations and on the susceptibility of LDL to oxidative modification in moderately hyperlipidemic subjects.” Am J Clin Nutr 77: 783-795 (2003)

Nothing contained in this blog is intended to be instructional for medial diagnosis or treatment. If you have a medical concern or issue, please consult your personal physician immediately.

Fetal programming: Gene transformation gone wild (Part I)

Normally genes change very slowly through mutation. Most mutations are harmful and hence provide no survival advantage to the organism. This is why there is a less than a 2 percent difference between our genes and those of a chimpanzee, even though we became a separate species more than six million years ago. What distinguishes mankind is not the number of genes (corn has twice as many genes as humans), but the speed at which our genes can be turned on and off. This is because of the presence of gene transcription factors that can be activated or inhibited by nutrients. The effect of nutrients on gene expression is known as nutrigenomics.

Because of mankind’s rapid gene switching abilities, gene expression can be influenced significantly by the diet. Due to the speed at which new food ingredients are being introduced into the human diet, these types of nutrigenomic interactions can create radical changes in gene expression in a very short period of time. Normally what a person eats should only affect their gene expression during their lifetime. But is it possible that these changes in genetic expression can be transferred to the next generation?

We can see how genetic engineering (i.e. cross-breeding) can rapidly change the size and shape of dogs, flowers, vegetables and fruits. The genes in each of these species don’t change, but changes in gene expression induced by crossbreeding can persist from one generation to the next, especially if they are constantly reinforced. This is known as epigenetics.

Somehow we don’t think this type of epigenetic change can happen to us, but it does as a result of fetal programming. The prenatal period in the womb is the time that a child’s genes are most susceptible to epigenetic programming. Epigenetic programming can be amplified by the ongoing dietary effects on gene transcription factors (i.e. nutrigenomics) taking place in the mother. The result is the imprinting of epigenetic changes on the genes of the developing fetus that can alter the metabolic future of the child (1).

Examples of how this type of epigenetic programming influences future metabolic effects has been demonstrated under the conditions of famine, which generate increased obesity and cardiovascular disease in the next generation (2). This is also true of children who were exposed to excess calories or elevated levels of glucose while they were developing in the womb (3,4). Likewise hypertension (i.e. pre-eclampsia) during pregnancy increases the risk of stroke as adults if the fetus is exposed to the high blood pressure in the womb (5) as well as the increased risk of adult obesity if the fetus is exposed to gestational diabetes in the mother (6).

Bottom line: The dietary and metabolic environment the fetus is exposed to in the womb can echo through the rest of his or her life. In part II of this blog, I will explore how the Perfect Nutritional Storm, described in my book “Toxic Fat” (7) has been making Americans fatter, sicker and dumber for the last three generations.


  1. Kussman M, Krause L, and Siffert W. “Nutrigenomics: where are we with genetic and epigenic markers for disposition and susceptibility?” Nutrition Rev 68: S38-S47 (2010)
  2. Painter RC, Roseboom TJ, and Bleker OP. “Prenatal exposure to the Dutch famine and disease in later life.” Reprod Toxicol 20: 345-352 (2005)
  3. Singhal A. “Early nutrition and long-term cardiovascular health.” Nutrition Rev 64: S44-S49 (2006)
  4. Boney CM, Verma A, Tucker R, and Bovh BR. “Metabolic syndrome in childhood: associated with birth weight, maternal obesity, and gestational diabetes mellitus.” Pediatrics 115: e290-e296 (2005)
  5. Kajantie E, Eriksson JG, Osmond C, Thornburg K, and Barker DJP. “Pre-eclampsia is associated with increased risk of stroke in the adult offspring.” Stroke 40: 1176-1180 (2009)
  6. Lawlor DA, Pichtenstein P, and Langstrom N. “Association of maternal diabetes mellitus in pregnancy with offspring adiposity into early adulthood.” Circulation 123: 258-265 (2011)
  7. Sears B. “Toxic Fat.” Thomas Nelson. Nashville, TN (2008)

Nothing contained in this blog is intended to be instructional for medial diagnosis or treatment. If you have a medical concern or issue, please consult your personal physician immediately.

A new obesity suspect

The number of overweight and obese has been remarkably stable for the past several years at about two-thirds of the adult population. This strongly suggests that these Americans are genetically prone to gain weight under the right dietary circumstances. Yet a greater number of adults are moving from a classification of being simply overweight to being labeled as obese. This is a strong indication that those who are genetically predisposed to weight gain are becoming fatter. According to the Centers for Disease Control, only three states in 2007 had more than 30 percent of the adult population classified as obese. In only two years, the number of states that have more than 30 percent obesity in adult populations had increased to nine. That’s a 300 percent increase in two years!

One new suspect in our growing obesity crisis may be caffeinated coffee. It has been known for a long time that a high-fat meal increases blood sugar as well as maintains high levels of triglycerides (1). A new study from the University of Guelph found that consuming a high-fat meal increased blood sugar by more than 30 percent when giving a standard glucose tolerance test five hours later (2). Adding the equivalent of two cups of coffee more than doubled this increase in blood-sugar levels five hours after a high-fat meal.

The implication is that a constant diet of high-fat foods and a lot of coffee will accelerate the development of insulin resistance. When this occurs, the pancreas is forced to release more insulin to help reduce blood sugar levels. Unfortunately, it is excess insulin that makes you fat and keeps you fat.

The controversy over caffeine has continued for more than 100 years. The first instance occurred in a trial in the early part of the 20th century at which the U.S. government sued Coca-Cola for adulterating a food by adding caffeine to a soft drink. (Fortunately for Coca-Cola, the company had removed the coca extracts containing cocaine several years earlier). In a trial similar to the Scopes trial on evolution that would be held 15 years later in the same court system, the testimony was highly charged on both sides. The local judge dismissed the case, but the government continued it for many years in various appeals courts until the case was settled with a no-contest plea (3).

Now a new call for limits on caffeine was presented in a recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (4). Maybe with more research we will find that caffeine may be another factor for those who are genetically predisposed to gain weight to become fatter than ever.


  1. Tushuizen ME, Nieuwland R, Scheffer PG, Sturk A, Heine RJ, and Diamant M. “Two consecutive high-fat meals affect endothelial-dependent vasodilation, oxidative stress and cellular microparticles in healthy men.” J Thromb Haemost 4: 1003-1010 (2006)
  2. Beaudoin MS, Robinson LE, and Graham TE. “An oral lipid challenge and acute intake of caffeinated coffee additively decrease glucose tolerance in healthy men.” J Nutrition 141: 574-581 (2011)
  3. Carpenter M. “A century later, jury’s still out on caffeine limits.” New York Times. March 28, 2011
  4. Arria A and O’Brien MC. “The ‘high’ risk of energy drinks.” JAMA 305: 600-601 (2011)

Nothing contained in this blog is intended to be instructional for medial diagnosis or treatment. If you have a medical concern or issue, please consult your personal physician immediately.

Omega-3 fatty acids and blood pressure

Blood Pressure CuffIt was recognized many years ago that fish oil has a dose-dependent effect on lowering blood pressure (1). So how does it do it? There are a lot of different ways.

The first is the ability of the omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil to alter the levels of a group of hormones known as eicosanoids (2,3). These are the hormones that cause blood vessels to contract, thereby increasing the pressure needed to pump blood through the arteries. The omega-3 fatty acids, especially eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), inhibit both the synthesis and release of the omega-6 fatty acid arachidonic acid (AA) that is the molecular building block necessary to produce those eicosanoids that cause constriction of blood vessels.

The second way that fish oil helps reduce blood pressure is to accelerate weight loss. When you lose excess weight, blood pressure invariably decreases. A recent trial has indicated that when you add fish oil to a calorie-restricted diet, there is greater weight loss (4). This study was followed by an additional trial that indicated when adding fish oil to a weight-reduction diet, there was a further effect on lowering blood pressure (5). So how does fish oil help you lose excess weight? The answer lies in the ability of the omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil to reduce cellular inflammation in the fat cells (6). It's that cellular inflammation that makes you fat and keeps you fat. Reducing that cellular inflammation in the fat cells is the key to weight loss.

Finally another cause of increased blood pressure is increased stress. It was shown in 2003 that high levels of fish oil reduce the rise of blood pressure induced by mental stress (7).

Of course, the best way to reduce blood pressure is to follow an anti-inflammatory diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids. That means a diet rich in fruits and vegetables with adequate levels of low-fat protein and low levels of omega-6 and saturated fats. It's also commonly known as the Zone diet.


  1. Morris MC, Sacks F, and Rosner B. “Does fish oil lower blood pressure? A meta-analysis of controlled trials.” Circulation 88: 523-533 (1993)
  2. Sears B. “The Zone.” Regan Books. New York, NY (1995)
  3. Sears B. “The OmegaRx Zone.” Regan Books. New York, NY (2002)
  4. Thorsdottir I, Tomasson H, Gunnarsdottir I, Gisladottir E, Kiely M, Parra MD, Bandarra NM, Schaafsma G, and Martinez JA. “Randomized trial of weight-loss diets for young adults varying in fish and fish oil content.” Int J Obes 31: 1560-1566 (2007)
  5. Ramel A, Martinez JA, Kiely M, Bandarra NM, and Thorsdottir I. “Moderate consumption of fatty fish reduces diastolic blood pressure in overweight and obese European young adults during energy restriction.” Nutrition 26: 168-174 (2010)
  6. Sears B. “Toxic Fat.” Thomas Nelson. Nashville, TN (2008)
  7. Delarue J, Matzinger O, Binnert C, Schneiter P, Chiolero R, and Tappy L. “Fish oil prevents the adrenal activation elicited by mental stress in healthy men.” Diabetes Metab 29: 289-295 (2003)

Nothing contained in this blog is intended to be instructional for medial diagnosis or treatment. If you have a medical concern or issue, please consult your personal physician immediately.

New solution or simply admitting failure?

SurgeryLast week the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) announced that gastric bypass surgery is a cost-effective treatment for type 2 diabetes. This marks the first time in modern medicine that cutting out normal tissue is now considered good medicine. It also indicates the pathetic state of medical science for the treatment of diabetes.

Make no mistake: Type 2 diabetes is now a pandemic, affecting approximately 300 million people worldwide. This is projected to increase to some 450 million people worldwide by 2030. Since diabetes is one of the most costly chronic disease conditions, it is the most likely to break the financial backbone of health-care systems in every advanced country.

The typical gastric bypass surgery costs from $15,000 to $24,000. Just for argument's sake, let's assume it is $20,000 for each surgery. Since some 26 million people in the United States have type 2 diabetes, then a mere $520 billion dollars spent on gastric bypass surgery would solve our growing epidemic. Obviously we don't have that type of money floating in the health-care system.

Furthermore, the 10-year failure rate is relatively high for this type of surgery (1). For example, 20 percent of patients who were initially obese (BMI >50 percent) could not maintain their long-term BMI below 35 percent (the definition of morbidly obese). This failure rate rises to 58 percent for those whose initial BMI was greater than 50.

The key feature as to why gastric bypass surgery works is the almost immediate suppression of hunger, mediated by improved release of hormones from the gut (i.e. PYY) that go directly to the brain to tell the patient to stop eating. Over time it would appear that this initial enhancement of PYY release is being compromised. As a result, those patients regain the lost weight.

So maybe gastric bypass is not the best long-term solution (and definitely not a cost-effective one in those patients that regain much of their lost weight) for solving the current epidemic of diabetes. So what's the alternative? One solution would be an anti-inflammatory diet that supplies adequate protein to stimulate PYY release as well as control the levels of cellular inflammation in the pancreas, the underlying reason why insufficient insulin levels are secreted in the first place (2).

Call me crazy, but this dietary approach appears far more cost-effective.


  1. Christou NV, Look D, and MacLean LD. “Weight gain after short- and long-limb gastric bypass in patients followed for longer than 10 years.” Ann Surg 244: 734-740 (2006)
  2. Donath MY,Boni-Schnetzler M, Ellingsgaard H, and Ehses JA. “Islet inflammation impairs the pancreatic beta-cell in type 2 diabetes.” Physiology 24: 325-331 (2009)

Nothing contained in this blog is intended to be instructional for medial diagnosis or treatment. If you have a medical concern or issue, please consult your personal physician immediately.