Meditation: Push-ups for the brain?

Meditation has always been considered a “fringe” area of medicine. Although it has been around for thousands of years, it was never considered “high-tech”.

However, the development of new imaging technologies has finally given researchers the ability to ask some interesting questions about meditation and its effect on brain structure and cognitive performance.

When comparing brain wave patterns using old technologies like an EEG, it has been demonstrated that experienced meditators have higher levels of alpha waves (indicative of a relaxed brain) and lower levels of beta waves (indicative of focusing on intentional tasks or anxiety) during mediation (1). More recent imaging technology like the SPECT scan indicates that experienced meditators have improved cerebral blood flow (2). MRI technology has shown that experienced meditators have a greater density of grey matter in the brain (3), improved neural connections (4), and lower sensitivity to induced pain (5) when compared to matched control groups.

One of the problems with these types of studies has always been subject recruitment. The studies described above are simply various examples of case-control epidemiological studies. This type of study is often done in cancer epidemiology and is used to compare someone with cancer to a control without cancer to see if any differences are apparent (like if smoking is associated with lung cancer). The problem is that experienced meditators may already have different brain structures or improved neural networks and corresponding improved attention spans that attracted them to meditation in the first place. This is like comparing professional athletes to their fans watching them on TV and then looking for differences in fitness between the two groups.

Aware of these shortcomings, more recent, better controlled, shorter-term studies have taken either non-meditators or experienced meditators and put them into an intensive meditation program to be compared to equally matched subjects waiting to enter the same a program. Using a more tightly controlled group of subjects, it has been found that meditation does indeed have benefits in reducing sensitivity to pain (6), improving ability to modulate alpha waves that help reduce distractions (7), increasing brain grey matter (8), and increasing telomerase activity (9). The increased telomerase activity is usually associated with increased lifespan because when telomeres on the DNA become too short, the cell dies.

There are a lot of health benefits that stem from sitting in a comfortable chair thinking of nothing for at least 20 minutes a day. In fact, it is so easy that most people never get around to doing it.

So if you don’t have time to take at least 20 minutes a day to meditate, then consider taking high-dose fish oil. In as little as 35 days, you will see it also generates significant increases in the intensity of alpha waves, increased attention span, and improved mood (10) just like experienced meditators, who have spent years trying to reach the same goals. And if you maintain high levels of omega-3 fatty acids in your blood for a longer period of time, it appears that you get decreased telomere shortening that should help you live longer (11). And if you are worried about time, taking adequate levels of fish oil to get these benefits only takes 15 seconds a day.

Of course, if you were really smart, you would do both every day.

References

  1. Lagopoulos J, Xu J, Rasmussen I, Vik A, Malhi GS, Eliassen CF, Arntsen IE, Saether JG, Hollup S, Holen A, Davanger S, and Ellingsen O. “Increased theta and alpha EEG activity during nondirective meditation.” J Alt Complementary Medicine 15: 1187-1192 (2009)
  2. Newberg A, Alavi A, Baime M, Pourdehnad M, Santanna J, and d’Aquili E. “The measurement of regional cerebral blood flow during the complex cognitive task of meditation: a preliminary SPECT study.” Psychiatry Res 106: 113-122 (2001)
  3. Toga AW, Lepore N., Gaser C. The underlying anatomical correlates of long-term meditation: larger hippocampal and frontal volumes of gray matter. Neuroimage 45: 672-678 (2009)
  4. Luders E, Clark K, Narr KL, Toga AW. “Enhanced brain connectivity in long-term meditation practitioners [In Process Citation] Neuroimage 57: 1308-1316 (2011)
  5. Grant JA, Courtemanche J, Duerden EG, Duncan GH, and Rainville P. “Cortical thickness and pain sensitivity in zen meditators.” Emotion 10: 43-53 (2010)
  6. Zeidan F, Martucci KT, Kraft RA, Gordon NS, McHaffie JG, and Coghill RC. “Brain mechanisms supporting the modulation of pain by mindfulness meditation.” J Neuroscience 31: 5540-5548 (2011)
  7. Kerr CE, Jones SR, Wan Q, Pritchett DL, Wasserman RH, Wexler A, Villanueva JJ, Shaw JR, Lazar SW, Kaptchuk TJ, Littenberg R, Hamalainen MS, and Moore CI. “Effects of mindfulness meditation training on anticipatory alpha modulation in primary somatosensory cortex.” Brain Research Bulletin 85: 96-103 (2011)
  8. Holzel BK, Carmody J, Vangel M, Congleton C, Yerramsetti SM, Gard T, and Lazar SW. “Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density.” Psychiatry Research 191: 36-43 (2011)
  9. Jacobs TL, Epel ES, Lin J, Blackburn EH, Wolkowitz OM, Bridwell DA, Zanesco AP, Aichele SR, Sahdra BK, Maclean KA, King BG, Shaver PR, Rosenberg EL, Ferrer E,; Wallace BA, and Saron CD. “Intensive meditation training, immune cell telomerase activity, and psychological mediators.” Psychoneuroendocrinology 36: 664-681 (2011)
  10. Fontani G, Corradeschi F, Felici A, Alfatti F, Migliorini S, and Lodi L. “Cognitive and physiological effects of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation in healthy subjects.” Eur J Clin Invest 35: 691-
  11. Farzaneh-Far R, Lin J, Epel ES, Harris WS, Blackburn EH, and Whooley MA. “Association of marine omega-3 fatty acid levels with telomeric aging in patients with coronary heart disease.” JAMA 303: 250-257 (2010)

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.

Eat Less, Get Hungry

Telling an obese person simply to eat less rarely succeeds. Is it because they are weak-willed individuals or is there something more complex going on? New research indicates the latter. A new article in Cell Metabolism showed that during extreme calorie restriction, the levels of fatty acids begin to rapidly rise in the blood as the body begins breaking down stored fat for energy. These newly released fatty acids from the fat cells can then enter into the brain (the hypothalamus to be exact) and cause the self-digestion of cells in the hunger neurons (1). This self-digestion of the cells in the hunger neurons produces a rise in the very powerful hunger hormone (AgRP) from the same bundle of neurons. Not surprisingly, the urge to eat becomes almost overpowering. This begins to explain why very low calorie diets can cause rapid weight loss, but are rarely successful in keeping the weight off.

This is why very low calorie diets that promise quick weight loss invariably cause the rapid release of stored fatty acids that promotes constant hunger. This is clearly not a sustainable way to maintain long-term weight management.

Of course the question might be whether it is all fatty acids or just one that causes the problem of cellular death in the hunger neurons? I believe the answer comes back to the usual suspect, arachidonic acid (2). It has been known for 20 years that when you put obese individuals on a very low calorie diet there is a rapid increase in the levels of arachidonic acid levels in the blood (3). Arachidonic acid can easily cross the blood brain barrier and enter into the hypothalamus. Since arachidonic acid is a powerful promoter of cell death (4), increased concentrations inside the hypothalamus may be the primary accelerator of the death of the hunger neurons. Increased levels of arachidionic acid in the blood are also the underlying cause of insulin resistance because of its effect on the generation of cellular inflammation (2). So as you build up the levels of stored arachidonic acid in the fat cells, caused by the Perfect Nutritional Storm (2), you are almost ensuring constant hunger when you try to lose weight quickly by following very low calorie diets. To make matters even worse, as arachidonic acid levels also build up in the brain increasing the production of endocannabinoids (5). These are the hormones that give you the continual munchies (they are related to the active ingredient in marijuana).

So is there any good news in all of this research? Yes as long as you develop a lifetime dietary strategy for reducing arachidonic acid and the cellular inflammation it causes as well as following a reasonable low calorie diet that supplies adequate levels of fat to moderate the release of stored fatty acids from the fat cells. It means following an anti-inflammatory diet with adequate protein using low-glycemic load carbohydrates and fats very low in omega-6 fatty acids, but adequate in monounsaturated and omega-3 fats.

That’s why you never want to start any type of weight loss program without adding omega-3 fatty acids to counteract the released of stored arachidonic acid from the fat cells. Not only will these omega-3 fatty acids reduce the degradation of the hunger neurons thereby reducing the release of powerful hunger hormones during calorie restriction, but they will also inhibit the release of endocannabinoids in the brain (6). The combination of the two events will ensure weight loss without hunger and that’s sustainable.

References

  1. Kaushik S,Rodriguez-Navarro JA, Arias E, Kiffin R, Sahu S, Schwartz GJ, Cuervo AM, and Singh R. “Autophagy in hypothalamic AgRP neurons regulates food intake and energy balance.” Cell Metabolism 14: 173-183 (2011)
  2. Sears B. Toxic Fat. Thomas Nelson. Nashville, TN (2008)
  3. Phinney SD, Davis PG, Johnson SB, and Holman RT. “Obesity and weight loss alter serum polyunsaturated lipids in humans.” Amer J Clin Nutr 53: 831-838 (1991)
  4. Pompeia C, Lima T, and Curi R. “Arachidonic acid cytotoxicity: can arachidonic acid be a physiological mediator of cell death?” Cell Biochemistry and Function 21:97-104 (2003)
  5. Kim J, Li Y, and Watkins BA. “Endocannabinoid signaling and energy metabolism: A target for dietary intervention.” Nutrition 27: 624-632 (2011)
  6. Oda E. “n-3 Fatty acids and the endocannabinoid system.” Am J Clin Nutr 85: 919 (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.

Preventing obesity through prenatal nutrition

It is obvious that pediatric obesity is a growing problem. However, compared to adult obesity, it is a relatively new problem. In a new article to be published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, it is pointed out that while childhood obesity has increased some 300 percent since 1960, most of that increase only began in the mid 1990s (1). This is well after the beginning of the climb of adult obesity, which started in the 1980s. Why the lag time? I believe it may have been caused by the amplification of any genetic predisposition to obesity by prenatal programming in the womb. That means you had to have obese mothers whose own hormonal changes and diet were altering the fetal programming of their children, thus amplifying their likelihood for obesity after birth.

This possibility makes sense based on results from another recent article that demonstrates that the lower the omega-3 fatty acid status in the mother, the more likely the child would be obese by the age of 3 (2). In this particular study, researchers found that by age 3 about 10 percent of the children were already obese. What they also analyzed was even though virtually all the women were consuming very low levels of omega-3 fatty acids during pregnancy, the higher the levels of the omega-3 fatty acids in mother’s diet, or her blood, and especially in the blood from the umbilical cord to the fetus, the lower the levels of obesity in the child three years later after birth.

Of course, lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids usually indicate higher levels of omega-6 fatty acids, giving rise to an unbalanced ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids. This is why the highest correlation with increased childhood obesity was found with an increasing ratio of arachidonic acid to EPA and DHA in the blood of the mother and also in the umbilical cord of the fetus. This makes perfect sense since it is known from animal studies that the higher the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio in the diet of the mother, the greater the obesity in the offspring (3-5).

So if you want to begin to decrease childhood obesity, it is probably best to start in the womb of the mother with appropriate prenatal nutrition using appropriate levels of omega-3 fatty acids. This would prevent the fetal programming of the unborn child that would lead to rapid accumulation of excess body fat after birth. I think this makes a lot more sense than telling obese children to “eat less and exercise more” after their genetic expression has been altered in the womb. And if this makes sense, then doesn’t it also strongly suggest that feeding children more omega-3 and less omega-6 fatty acids after birth will silence the activation of ancient genes that make them fat and keep them fat (6).

References

  1. Lee H, Lee D, Guo G, and Harris KM. “Trends in body mass index in adolescence and young adulthood in the United States: 1959-2002.” J Adolescent Heath DOI:10.1016/jadolheath2011.04.019 (2011)
  2. Donahue SMA, Rifas-Shiman SL, Gold DR, Jouni ZE, Gilman MW, and Oken E. “Prenatal fatty acid status and child adiposity at age 3.” Am J Clin Nutr 93: 780-788 (2011)
  3. Korotkova M, Gabrielsson BG, Holmang, A, Larrson BM, Hanson LA, and Strandvik B. “Gender-related long-term effects in adult rats by perinatal dietary ratio of n-6/n-3 fatty acids.” Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol 288: R575-579 (2005)
  4. Ailhaud G, Guesnet P, and Cannane SC. “An emerging risk factor for obesity: does disequilibrium of polyunsaturated fatty acid metabolism contribute to excessive adipose tissue development?” Br J Nutr 100: 461-470 (2008)
  5. Massiera L, Barbry P, Guesnet P, Joly A, Luquet S, Moreihon-Brest C, Moshen-Kanson T, Amri E-Z, and Ailhaud G. “A western-like fat diet is sufficient to induce a gradual enhancement in fat mass over generations.” J Lipid Res 51: 2352-2361 (2010)
  6. Massiera Saint-Marc P, Seydoux J, Murata T, Kobayshi T, Narumiya S, Guesnet P, Amri E-Z, Negrel R, and Alhaud G. “Arachidonic acid and prostacyclin signaling promote adipose tissue development: a human health concern?’ J Lipid Res 44: 271-279 (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.

How to eliminate 50 percent of all coronary events

The European Society of Cardiology estimates a 50 percent reduction of coronary events if you can stabilize soft, vulnerable plaques (1). We are often led to believe that plaques you can see on an angiogram are “killer” plaques. It’s true that if they are large enough to obstruct blood flow, they will decrease oxygen transfer to the heart muscle cells making them more tired with less effort.

This is the definition of stable angina. It simply means it takes less effort to over-exert the heart muscles before they fatigue. However, you need approximately a 90 percent total obstruction of the blood vessel to develop stable angina. These plaques account for most of the plaques you might find in an angiogram. This is why if you take an angiogram, you are often immediately wheeled into the operating room to have a stent put into the artery with the belief you are only seconds away from an immediate heart attack and death.

However, the same angiogram can’t see a few plaques (because they are so small), known as the soft, vulnerable ones. When soft, vulnerable plaques rupture (like a pimple), then you have the death and disability (i.e., damaged heart tissue) that truly characterize heart disease. Technically, this is called an acute coronary event, and it has very little to do with the stable plaques that can cause angina. It is this small number of “rogue” soft, vulnerable plaques that are the true killers in heart disease (2,3).

The ultimate cause of plaque rupture is cellular inflammation inside the plaque. Cellular inflammation degrades the fibrous external coating of the plaque. Usually inside these soft, vulnerable plaques are also a lot of macrophages engorged with lipids. This is called the “necrotic core”. When the plaque bursts, these lipid pools are released into the bloodstream causing platelet aggregation and the rapid blockage of the artery resulting in a complete restriction of blood flow (as opposed to a limited restriction of blood flow with a typical stable plaque that will never rupture). It is estimated that about 75 percent of all coronary events are caused by ruptures of the soft, vulnerable plaques (2).

As I mentioned above, the really scary part of this story is that there is no type of imaging technology that can detect dangerous soft, vulnerable plaques. In essence, you don’t know if you have them or not. This is why the prediction of impeding cardiovascular events remains a guessing game. Even more interesting is that these soft, vulnerable plaques seem to form rather quickly (in about 10 years) as opposed to growing slowly over a lifetime (4). Moreover, the rate of growth of these soft, vulnerable plaques is strongly correlated with increasing insulin levels in the blood (4).

So what does this mean for people who don’t want to die from a sudden rupture of soft, vulnerable plaques that can’t be detected? The first thing is to reduce the inflammation within the plaque. Surprisingly, there is only one clinical study that has ever been published that addressed this question, and it used fish oil (5). This study indicated that if you give patients relatively high doses of fish oil, you could see a definite remodeling of the soft, vulnerable plaques in about 40 days compared to subjects taking a placebo composed of safflower oil. The plaques in the subjects taking the fish oil became less inflamed, had higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, fewer macrophages and more well-formed fibrous caps compared to those taking the placebo. So taking a therapeutic level of fish oil for a lifetime seems to be a good way to reduce the rupture of these plaques.

Another way to potentially reduce their formation in the first place is lower insulin levels. The reason insulin levels are elevated is because organs, such as the adipose tissue, the liver and the muscles, are also inflamed (6). The best way to reduce that systemic inflammation is to follow the anti-inflammatory diet and take therapeutic levels of fish oil for a lifetime. Your success is best measured by the AA/EPA ratio in the blood. Call me crazy, but I think that’s what I have been recommending for the past 16 years (7).

References

  1. Yia-Herttulala S, Bentzon JF, Daemen M, Falk E, Garcia-Garcia HM, Merrmann J, Hoefer IM, Juekma JW, Krams R, Kwak BR, Marx N, Maruszeqica M, Newby A, Pasterkamp G, Serruys PWJC, Waltenberger J, Weber C, and Tokgozoglu L. “Stabilization of atherosclerotic plaques.” Thomobosis and Haemostasis 106: 1-19 (2011)
  2. Schaar JA, Muller JE, Falk E, Virmani R, Fuster V, Serruys PW, Colombo A, Stefanadis C, Ward Casscells S, Moreno PR, Maseri A, and van der Steen AF. “Terminology for high-risk and vulnerable coronary artery plaques. Report of a meeting on the vulnerable plaque.” Eur Heart J 25: 1077-1082 (2004)
  3. Lloyd-Jones D, Adams R, Carnethon M, De Simone G, Ferguson TB, Flegal K, Ford E, Furie K, Go A, Greenlund K, Haase N, Hailpern S, Ho M, Howard V, Kissela B, Kittner S, Lackland D, Lisabeth L, Marelli A, McDermott M, Meigs J, Mozaffarian D, Nichol G, O’Donnell C, Roger V, Rosamond W, Sacco R, Sorlie P, Stafford R, Steinberger J, Thom T, Wasserthiel-Smoller S, Wong N, Wylie-Rosett J, and Hong Y. “Heart disease and stroke statistics–2009 update: a report from the American Heart Association Statistics Committee and Stroke Statistics Subcommittee.” Circulation 119:480-486 (2009)
  4. Hagg S, Salehpour M, Noori P, Lundstrom J, Possnert G, Takolander R, Konrad P, Rosfors S, Ruusalepp A, Skogsberg J, Tegner J, and Bjorkegren J. “Carotid plaque age is a feature of plaque stability inversely related to levels of plasma insulin.” PLoS One 6: e1824 (2011)
  5. Thies F, Garry JM, Yaqoob P, Rerkasem K, Williams J, Shearman CP, Gallagher PJ, Calder PC, and Grimble RF. “Association of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids with stability of atherosclerotic plaques: a randomized controlled trial.” Lancet 2003 361: 477-485 (2003)
  6. Sears, B. “Toxic Fat.” Thomas Nelson. Nashville, TN (2008)
  7. Sears B. “The Zone.” Regan Books. New York, NY (1995)

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.

If you’re fat, you may be OK

It is well known from epidemiological studies that about 30 percent of obese individuals and 50 percent of overweight individuals are relatively healthy in terms of cardiometabolic risk factors (1). The same study also indicated that about 25 percent of normal-weight individuals have significant cardiometabolic risk. A follow-up study indicated individuals defined as “metabolically healthy obese” are not at any long-term risk of heart disease (2).

Is the world turning upside down?

I explained the reasons behind these paradoxical observations in my most recent book, “Toxic Fat,” published three years ago (3). It simply depends on what type of fat cells you have. If you have healthy fat cells (“good” fat), they will pull excess arachidionic acid out of the bloodstream and store it in the fat cells. This buried arachidonic acid can spread inflammation to other organs that ultimately results in the appearance of cardiometabolic risk factors. On the other hand, if you have “bad” fat (unhealthy or sick fat cells), they are not very effective in removing arachidonic acid from the bloodstream. Once this happens, circulating arachidonic acid can metastasize like a cancer to other organs. This begins a very slippery slope toward the early development of cardiometabolic diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease. Finally, you get to the stage of dying fat cells that are surrounded by inflammatory macrophages. Now you are in true trouble as the previously stored arachidonic acid is more rapidly released back into the bloodstream.

Now let's fast forward to a new article in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (4) that simply confirms what I wrote about fat cell inflammation three years ago. As with the earlier epidemiological study, researchers found that about 30 percent of the obese subjects had little inflammation in their fat cells as indicated by the absence of inflammatory macrophages. This percentage of obese patients was essentially identical to that found in the earlier epidemiological study (1). When the arterial blood flow of the metabolically healthy obese was compared to lean subjects, the rates were virtually identical, whereas the arterial blood flow rates were much lower (that's bad) in the obese subjects who had significant fat cell inflammation.

Unfortunately, their characterization of inflamed fat cells was incorrect. What they were really looking at was dying fat cells. The fat cells of these so-called metabolically healthy obese subjects were already sick (i.e., bad fat) since there were metabolic markers (hyperinsulinemia, increased TG/HDL ratios, elevated blood glucose and increased CRP levels) that indicated that inflammation was already spreading to other organs (such as the liver, muscles and pancreas).

The best way to know if you have truly healthy fat cells (no matter how many you have) is to have a low AA/EPA ratio in the blood. This remains the best clinical marker of the true health of the adipose tissue. If you have healthy fat cells (good fat), then you can expect cellular inflammation in other organs will be reduced leading to a longer and better life no matter what your weight.

References

  1. Wildman RP, Muntner P, Reynolds K, McGinn AP, Rajpathak S, Wylie-Rosett J, and Sowers MR. “The obese without cardiometabolic risk factor clustering and the normal weight with cardiometabolic risk factor clustering: prevalence and correlates of 2 phenotypes among the US population.” (NHANES 1999-2004) Arch Intern Med 168: 1617-1624 (2008)
  2. Wildman RP. “Healthy obesity.” Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care 12: 438-443 (2009)
  3. Sears B. “Toxic Fat.” Thomas Nelson. Nashville, TN (2008)
  4. Farb MG, Bigornia S, Mott M, Tanriverdi K, Morin KM, Freedman JE, Joseph L, Hess DT, Apovian CM, Vita JA, and Gokce N. “Reduced adipose tissue inflammation represents an intermediate cardiometabolic phenotype in obesity.” J Am Coll Cardiol 58: 232-237 (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.

Pass the salt please?

One of the great “truths” in cardiovascular medicine is that to prevent stroke and cardiovascular death you reduce your salt intake. But is it true? A new analysis of the existing literature from the Cochrane Library indicates this may not be the case (1). Analyzing a great number of published studies, researchers came to the conclusion that there is no strong evidence to support the idea that salt restriction reduces cardiovascular disease or all-cause mortality in people with either normal or increased blood pressure. Furthermore, they found that while reducing salt intake did decrease blood pressure, it also increased the risk of all-cause death in people with existing congestive heart failure.

If that wasn’t enough, an article in the May 4 issue of the Journal of the American Heart Association found that low salt increased the risk of death from heart attacks and stokes, while not reducing blood pressure (2). This study was done with middle-aged Europeans and followed them for nearly eight years. During this time, the less salt they consumed, the greater the number who died of heart disease.

Needless to say, the American Heart Association (the same people who recommend eating lots of omega-6 fats) was enraged, similar to the Wizard of Oz telling Dorothy to ignore the man behind the curtain.

So why might restriction of salt consumption cause increased heart attacks? The reason may be due to increased insulin resistance induced by salt restriction (3). Insulin resistance increases insulin levels, and if that is combined with increased consumption of omega-6 fatty acids (remember the American Heart Association), you now have a sure-fire prescription to produce more arachidonic acid. It’s the inflammatory eicosanoids derived from arachidionic acid that would cause inflammation in the arterial wall leading to a heart attack.

This is not to say that some people are not salt-sensitive (African-Americans are particularly so), but I believe the problem is more a matter of balance. You need some sodium, but you also need potassium to balance it. This is confirmed by a recent study from Harvard Medical School that demonstrates that the higher the sodium-to-potassium ratio in the blood, the greater the likelihood of cardiovascular mortality (4). The relationship for increased death was significantly greater for a high sodium-to-potassium level than simply the sodium level itself.

Getting sodium in your diet is easy (sprinkle salt on your food), but getting adequate levels of potassium means eating a lot of fruits and vegetables. So rather than restricting salt intake or taking drugs (i.e. diuretics) to reduce the levels of sodium in the body, think about eating more fruits and vegetables if your goal is to reduce the likelihood of a heart attack. Oh, yes, also ignore the advice of American Heart Association and take more omega-3 and less omega-6 fatty acids.

References

  1. Taylor, RS, Ashton KE, Moxham T, Hooper L and Ebrahim S. “Reduced dietary salt for the prevention of cardiovascular disease.” Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD009217 (2011)
  2. Stolarz-Skrzypek K, Kuznetsova T, Thijs L, Tikhonoff V, Seidlerova J, Richart T, Jin Y, Olszanecka A, Malyutina S, Casiglia E, Filipovsky J, Kawecka-Jaszcz K, Nikitin Y, and Staessen JA. “Fatal and nonfatal outcomes, incidence of hypertension, and blood pressure changes in relation to urinary sodium excretion.” JAMA 305: 1777-1785 (2011)
  3. Alderman MH. “Evidence relating dietary sodium to cardiovascular disease.” J Am Coll Nutr 25: 256S-261S (2006)
  4. Yang Q, Liu T, Kuklina EV, Flanders WD, Hong Y, Gillespie C, Chang M-H, Gwinn M, Dowling N, Khoury MJ, and Hu FB. “Sodium and potassium intake and morality among US adults.” Arch Intern Med 171: 1183-1191 (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.

Obesity continues to climb

Last week the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation reported that more than 12 states now have adult obesity rates greater than 30 percent, and that one in three children are either overweight or obese. However, 16 years ago, no state in the United States had an adult obesity rate greater than 20 percent. So in less than a generation, adult obesity has skyrocketed. Yet at the same time, according to the Centers for Disease Control, the percentage of overweight people has remained fairly constant since 1960, while the percentage of obese individuals has increased significantly since 1980. What this suggests is that there is a genetic component that can be activated in those individuals predisposed to gain weight. Once activated, accumulation of excess fat accelerates.

I feel the driving force between this activation of genetic factors is the increasing inflammatory nature of the American diet. We know that it is elevated insulin levels that make us fat and keep us fat. But what really causes insulin to become elevated in the first place? The simple explanation is that it comes from eating excess carbohydrates. However, that is too simplistic an explanation since one-third of adult Americans who are thin are also eating excess carbohydrates.

A more comprehensive answer is it’s insulin resistance that causes elevated insulin levels. Insulin resistance is a consequence of disturbances in the body’s insulin-signaling pathways in the cell caused by cellular inflammation. My most recent book, “Toxic Fat,” goes into great detail on this subject (1). But simply stated, the more cellular inflammation you have in your cells, the greater the likelihood of insulin resistance. And if you are genetically prone to gain weight, increasing insulin resistance will really pack on the extra fat. More insidious is that insulin resistance also creates a “fat trap” through which incoming dietary calories are trapped in your fat cells and can’t be released to provide the necessary energy the body needs. This means you are constantly hungry.

If you are surrounded by cheap processed foods (rich in omega-6 fatty acids and refined carbohydrates), then you are going to quench that hunger with those foods that increase cellular inflammation to even greater levels. The end result is an increasing rise of obesity.

But the fastest growing segment of the overweight and obese population is not adults, but children under the age of 5, with 20 percent now either overweight or obese before entering kindergarten (2). You can’t blame school lunches for this because they are not in school yet. What you can blame is epigenetics (3). This is how the metabolic future of the child can be greatly determined in the womb by the inflammatory nature of the mother’s diet. When these children are born, their altered genetics make them sitting targets for a world full of inflammatory food. Unless you change the foundation of the food supply to become more anti-inflammatory (less omega-6 fatty acids and a lower glycemic load), then the future for these children is incredibly bleak.

References

  1. Sears B. “Toxic Fat.” Thomas Nelson. Nashville, TN (2008)
  2. Kim J, Peterson KE, Scanlon KS, Fitzmaurice GM, Must A, Oken E, Rifas-Shiman SL, Rich-Edwards JW, and Gillman MW. “Trends in overweight from 1980 through 2001 among preschool-aged children enrolled in a health maintenance organization. Obesity 14: 1107-1112 (2006)
  3. Lustig RH editor. “Obesity Before Birth.” Springer. New York (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.

The key to a healthy gut

Most people think all you need for a healthy gut is to consume bacterial-fortified yogurt products. In reality, the balance of bacteria in your gut may hold a key toward managing systemic inflammation in our bodies.

First of all, there are a lot of bacteria in our guts. The human body contains about 100 trillion cells, but the number of bacteria in the gut is 10 times greater in number. Furthermore, these bacteria are not just taking up space; they are actually providing numerous useful functions that make them a symbiotic “organ” to our own body. In particular, they can ferment carbohydrates to provide additional energy, make various vitamins, break down toxins we might ingest, and help prevent the growth of pathogenic bacteria.

Although there are literally millions of different bacteria in the world, only about 500 species actually reside in our guts. We also know that these gut bacteria can be further divided into three distinct bacterial ecosystems (1). Just like there are four unique blood groups that can classify every human, we also have three distinct bacterial systems. Once one of these systems becomes established in the gut, it begins to alter the gut environment that only certain species of other bacteria can follow and safely begin their symbiotic relationship with us.

So how does each ecosystem of bacteria keep out the bad apples (like Salmonella)? First of all, the bacteria in each distinct ecosystem have to alert our own immune cells in the intestine that they are friends, not foes. Apparently they have learned how to suppress the immune system in our own cells so they can co-exist in our gut (2). However, I believe even though these ecosystems of bacteria can be recognized as friends and not foes, they still need unique nutrients to help them act as the first line of defense against millions of other harmful bacteria.

Those nutrients are polyphenols. In the plant world, these polyphenols act as antibiotics against microbial attack. There is evidence that the “good” bacteria in our gut can use them as a means to help ward off invading bacteria that threaten our own unique bacterial fingerprint. Of course, the only way we can continue to help our unique bacterial partners in our gut is to continue to eat lots of fruits and vegetables that are rich in polyphenols. That’s why your grandmother told you to eat an apple a day to keep the doctor away.

References

  1. Arumugam M, Raes J, Pelletier E, et al. “Enterotypes of the human gut microbiome.” Nature DOI: 10.1038/nature09944 (2011)
  2. Round JL, Lee SM, Li Jennifer, Tran G, Bana J, Chatila TA and Mazmanian SK. “The toll-like receptor 2 pathway establishes colonization by a commensal of the human microbiota.” Science DOI:10.1126/scienc.1206095 (2011)
  3. Moreno S, Scheyer T, Romano CS, and Vojnov AA. “Antioxidant and antimicrobial activities of rosemary extracts linked to their polyphenol composition.” Free Radic Res 40: 223-231 (2006)

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.

Zone diet validation studies

Weight Loss

Any diet that restricts calories will result in equivalent weight loss. However, the same doesn’t hold true as to what the source of that weight loss is. Weight loss from either dehydration (such as ketogenic diets) or cannibalization of muscle and organ mass (such as low-protein diets) has no health benefits. Only when the weight loss source is from stored fat do you gain any health benefits. Here the Zone diet has been shown to be superior to all other diets in burning fat faster (1-4). It has been demonstrated that if a person has a high initial insulin response to a glucose challenge, then the Zone diet is also superior in weight loss (5,6). A recent study from the New England Journal of Medicine indicates that a diet composition similar to the Zone diet is superior to other compositions in preventing the regain of lost weight (7). This is probably caused by the increased satiety induced by the Zone diet compared to other diets (1,8,9).

Reduction of cellular inflammation

There is total agreement in the research literature that the Zone diet is superior in reducing cellular inflammation (10-12). Since cellular inflammation is the driving force for chronic disease, then this should be the ultimate goal of any diet. Call me crazy for thinking otherwise.

Heart disease

It is ironic that the Ornish diet is still considered one of the best diets for heart disease, since the published data indicates that twice as many people had fatal heart attacks on the Ornish diet compared to a control diet (13). This is definitely the case of don’t confuse me with the facts. On the other hand, diets with the same balance of protein, carbohydrate and fat as the Zone diet has have been shown to be superior in reducing cardiovascular risk factors, such as cholesterol and fasting insulin (14,15).

Diabetes

The first publication validating the benefits of the Zone diet in treating diabetes appeared in 1998 (16). Since that time there have been several other studies indicating the superiority of the Zone diet composition for reducing blood glucose levels (17-20). In 2005, the Joslin Diabetes Research Center at Harvard Medical School announced its new dietary guidelines for treating obesity and diabetes. These dietary guidelines were essentially identical to the Zone diet. Studies done at the Joslin Diabetes Research Center following those dietary guidelines confirm the efficacy of the Zone diet to reduce diabetic risk factors (21). If the Zone diet isn’t recommended for individuals with diabetes, then someone should tell Harvard.

Ease of use

The Zone diet simply requires balancing one-third of your plate with low-fat protein with the other two-thirds coming from fruits and vegetables (i.e. colorful carbohydrates). Then you add a dash (that’s a small amount) of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. The Zone diet is based on a bell-shaped curve balancing low-fat protein and low-glycemic-index carbohydrates, not a particular magic number. If you balance the plate as described above using your hand and your eye, it will approximate 40 percent of the calories as carbohydrates, 30 percent of calories as protein, and 30 percent of the calories as fat. Furthermore, it was found in a recent Stanford University study that the Zone diet provided greater amounts of micronutrients on a calorie-restricted program than any other diet (22).

Eventually all dietary theories have to be analyzed in the crucible of experimentation to determine their validity. So far in the past 13 years since I wrote my first book, my concepts of anti-inflammatory nutrition still seem to be at the cutting edge.

References

  1. Skov AR, Toubro S, Ronn B, Holm L, and Astrup A. “Randomized trial on protein vs carbohydrate in ad libitum fat reduced diet for the treatment of obesity.” Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord 23: 528-536 (1999)
  2. Layman DK, Boileau RA, Erickson DJ, Painter JE, Shiue H, Sather C, and Christou DD. “A reduced ratio of dietary carbohydrate to protein improves body composition and blood lipid profiles during weight loss in adult women.” J Nutr 133: 411-417 (2003)
  3. Fontani G, Corradeschi F, Felici A, Alfatti F, Bugarini R, Fiaschi AI, Cerretani D, Montorfano G, Rizzo AM, and Berra B. “Blood profiles, body fat and mood state in healthy subjects on different diets supplemented with omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids.” Eur J Clin Invest 35: 499-507 (2005)
  4. Layman DK, Evans EM, Erickson D, Seyler J, Weber J, Bagshaw D, Griel A, Psota T, and Kris-Etherton P. “A moderate-protein diet produces sustained weight loss and long-term changes in body composition and blood lipids in obese adults.” J Nutr 139: 514-521 (2009)
  5. Ebbeling CB, Leidig MM, Feldman HA, Lovesky MM, and Ludwig DS. “Effects of a low-glycemic-load vs low-fat diet in obese young adults: a randomized trial.” JAMA 297: 2092-2102 (2007)
  6. Pittas AG, Das SK, Hajduk CL, Golden J, Saltzman E, Stark PC, Greenberg AS, and Roberts SB. “A low-glycemic-load diet facilitates greater weight loss in overweight adults with high insulin secretion but not in overweight adults with low insulin secretion in the CALERIE Trial.” Diabetes Care 28: 2939-2941 (2005)
  7. Larsen TM, Dalskov SM, van Baak M, Jebb SA, Papadaki A, Pfeiffer AF, Martinez JA, Handjieva-Darlenska T, Kunesova M, Pihlsgard M, Stender S, Holst C, Saris WH, and Astrup A. “Diets with high or low protein content and glycemic index for weight-loss maintenance.” N Engl J Med 363: 2102-2113 (2010)
  8. Ludwig DS, Majzoub JA, Al-Zahrani A, Dallal GE, Blanco I, Roberts SB, Agus MS, Swain JF, Larson CL, and Eckert EA. “Dietary high-glycemic-index foods, overeating, and obesity.” Pediatrics 103: E26 (1999)
  9. Agus MS, Swain JF, Larson CL, Eckert EA, and Ludwig DS. “Dietary composition and physiologic adaptations to energy restriction.” Am J Clin Nutr 71: 901-907 (2000)
  10. Pereira MA, Swain J, Goldfine AB, Rifai N, and Ludwig DS. “Effects of a low-glycemic-load diet on resting energy expenditure and heart disease risk factors during weight loss.” JAMA 292: 2482-2490 (2004)
  11. Pittas AG, Roberts SB, Das SK, Gilhooly CH, Saltzman E, Golden J, Stark PC, and Greenberg AS. “The effects of the dietary glycemic load on type 2 diabetes risk factors during weight loss.” Obesity 14: 2200-2209 (2006)
  12. Johnston CS, Tjonn SL, Swan PD, White A, Hutchins H, and Sears B. “Ketogenic low-carbohydrate diets have no metabolic advantage over nonketogenic low-carbohydrate diets.” Am J Clin Nutr 83: 1055-1061 (2006)
  13. Ornish D, Scherwitz LW, Billings JH, Brown SE, Gould KL, Merritt TA, Sparler S, Armstrong WT, Ports TA, Kirkeeide RL, Hogeboom C, and Brand RJ, “Intensive lifestyle changes for reversal of coronary heart disease.” JAMA 280: 2001-2007 (1998)
  14. Wolfe BM and Piche LA. “Replacement of carbohydrate by protein in a conventional-fat diet reduces cholesterol and triglyceride concentrations in healthy normolipidemic subjects.” Clin Invest Med 22: 140-1488 (1999)
  15. Dumesnil JG, Turgeon J, Tremblay A, Poirier P, Gilbert M, Gagnon L, St-Pierre S, Garneau C, Lemieux I, Pascot A, Bergeron J, and Despres JP. “Effect of a low-glycaemic index, low-fat, high-protein diet on the atherogenic metabolic risk profile of abdominally obese men.” Br J Nutr 86:557-568 (2001)
  16. Markovic TP, Campbell LV, Balasubramanian S, Jenkins AB, Fleury AC, Simons LA, and Chisholm DJ. “Beneficial effect on average lipid levels from energy restriction and fat loss in obese individuals with or without type 2 diabetes.” Diabetes Care 21: 695-700 (1998)
  17. Layman DK, Shiue H, Sather C, Erickson DJ, and Baum J. “Increased dietary protein modifies glucose and insulin homeostasis in adult women during weight loss.” J Nutr 133: 405-410 (2003)
  18. Gannon MC, Nuttall FQ, Saeed A, Jordan K, and Hoover H. “An increase in dietary protein improves the blood glucose response in persons with type 2 diabetes.” Am J Clin Nutr 78: 734-741 (2003)
  19. Nuttall FQ, Gannon MC, Saeed A, Jordan K, and Hoover H. “The metabolic response of subjects with type 2 diabetes to a high-protein, weight-maintenance diet.” J Clin Endocrinol Metab 2003 88: 3577-3583 (2003)
  20. Gannon MC and Nuttall FQ. “Control of blood glucose in type 2 diabetes without weight loss by modification of diet composition.” Nutr Metab (Lond) 3: 16 (2006)
  21. Hamdy O and Carver C. “The Why WAIT program: improving clinical outcomes through weight management in type 2 diabetes.” Curr Diab Rep 8: 413-420 (2008)
  22. Gardner CD, Kim S, Bersamin A, Dopler-Nelson M, Otten J, Oelrich B, and Cherin R. “Micronutrient quality of weight-loss diets that focus on macronutrients: results from the A TO Z study.” Am J Clin Nutr 92: 304-312 (2010)

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.