Archive for the ‘Metabolic Syndrome’ Category

Adults, obese and otherwise

Sunday, February 12th, 2012

PIck well and cut back your waste/waist

In my last post I explained the concept and the math behind the body mass index (BMI) approach to evaluating if your weight was normal or not (your BMI is very  well in synch with the most scientific methods of determining body fat percentages). Now I want to expand on that a bit  with some recent statistics and some thoughts on how we can lose weight if we need to. Unfortunately, some of us have lots of extra pounds we should shed if we want to have our best shot at leading long, healthy lives.

The Feb 1, 2012 issue of JAMA had a number of interesting articles on obesity. I’ve previously mentioned several on childhood and adolescent obesity; today I’d like to zero in on two whose focus is American adults.

Four CDC staffers, led by Katherine Flegal, PhD, published the most recent statistics from a recurring national survey with the daunting acronym NHANES. This national health and nutrition survey (the E stands for examination) started in 1971, but from 1999 on has been released results in two-year cycles. The current article from the National Center for Health Statistics, looking at the 2009-2010 NHANES data had a little good news and lots of bad news.

After 1980, until the turn of the 21st century, the prevalence (scientific term for percentage) of obesity in our population kept zooming up. Now it appears to have leveled off. I guess that’s something we should be happy about, except now over 35% of adults in this country are obese. Men and women have about equally high rates of obesity and men have caught up to women in this regard over the last twelve years. Some subsets, by sex and racial groups, are even more likely to be obese or very obese.

The worst news from this article was that no group–men, women, non-Hispanic whites, Hispanics or non-Hispanic blacks–had a decrease in the prevalence of obesity in this most recent data set.

So which exercise and diet should we try?

getting enough exercise is difficult when your joints hurt

Many adults report “No Leisure-Time Physical activity.” Overall, more of us are exercising, but the data vary from state to state. Those who have arthritis, fifty million in the US, need special attention or are even more likely to get no exercise. The CDC has worked with the Arthritis Foundation to develop ideas for this huge group. Going back to my review of articles on youngsters, I think for the rest of us, we could begin with simple steps, parking at the far end of the parking lot and substituting some walking for part of our screen time as two examples.

Harvard Medical School’s free online HEALTHbeat publication had a review of pros and cons of various diets in its Feb 7, 2012 edition. The bottom line still is if you want to lose weight, you must cut down on your calories. The Mediterranean-style emphasis on fruits and vegetables, unrefined carbohydrates, nuts, seeds and fish may be the most effective in reducing cardiovascular and diabetic risks.

My New Year’s Resolution is to keep my weight under 150 pounds. I have to work at it as I like to eat, but most of the time I’ve stayed away from splurges.

How about you?

 

JAMA

 

 

What sweeteners do you use? Part 4: HFCS and mercury

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012

A safer place for mercury

In my last post I mentioned that fructose metabolism appears to be more complex than I learned in medical school. Of course that was in 1962-1966 and a lot has changed in medical knowledge in the forty-five plus years since then. We all know that fructose, in the form of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is added to many processed foods and sweetened drinks; the question being debated is, “Is that bad for us?”

I’ve been reading a variety of articles from the medical literature and some popular websites on the subject and not all scientists, physicians and dietitians agree on the answer. I previously mentioned a Mayo Clinic online article that stresses the need to cut our added-sugar intake, both table sugar and HFCS, and mentions that research on HFCS isn’t yet at the point to implicate it as worse for you than other added sweeteners.

There’s also an article by Jennifer Goldstein from Prevention magazine that I found on the msnbc website. I’m not sure of her science background (she’s now the Beauty Director for the magazine). Nonetheless, her article is reasonably well-balanced, if you read between the lines. The over-all conclusion is that anti-HFCS evidence is slim. She quotes an NYC-based nutritionist as saying the calories in HFCS and table sugar, gram for gram, are equal, but mentions several reports that have shown HFCS samples may contain mercury… in small amounts.

But you don't want it here, or in your food

Mercury is a neurotoxin, a substance which can damage the brain, especially the developing brain of a fetus or infant. Even “small amounts” are considered dangerous for babies in the womb. We have all heard of its presence in fish, but mercury in HFCS was new to me. I’m about three years behind, it appears. I found a Washington Post article from January, 2009 which mentioned two studies examining this issue.

At that time, in spite of industry denials, nearly half of HFCS samples tested contained mercury as did almost a third of processed food and beverage products. The researchers writing on this  enormously significant problem noted that HFCS had been made using chemicals produced in industrial plants clinging to an outmoded, 19th century method

A now-retired FDA scientist, Renee Dufault, headed a study in 2009 showing low levels of mercury in all the processed foods she and colleagues tested (and none in organic foods) and then had their results verified by two independent labs. She then says the FDA’s head of their Food Additives section told her to quit her HFCS studies. She quit the FDA instead and published her results. A physician-headed team at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, a non-profit watchdog, repeated her studies using commercial beverages and foods. Their twenty-plus-page paper is worth reading.

By the middle of December, 2010, the HFCS industry had gotten the message. But until all HFCS made in the United States is mercury-free I’m going to avoid it.

Reading Taubes: part one

Saturday, July 2nd, 2011

Avoid white bread

A while back one of my blog readers asked if I had ever read Taubes. I wasn’t sure if that was a book title, a diet plan or an author, so I Googled the word and eventually purchased two books written by a veteran science writer, Gary Taubes.

Taubes studied applied physics at Harvard and areospace engineering at Stanford, then wrote articles for Discover and Science plus four books. He looks for scientific controversises and wades into them. In July 2002 he published an article in the New York Times Magazine titled “What if it’s All Been a Big Fat Lie,”

The article takes us back to the Adkins diet craze. Dr. Atkins, trained in cardiology, was significantly overweight and used a JAMA study as a basis for his own personal diet plan. He then published two books urging dieters to severely limit carbohydrate consumption. At one point it was estimated that one out of eleven North American adults were on his diet. His company made over $100 million, but filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2005, two years after he died.

Taubes explores some of the same turf, saying it’s refined carbohydrates that make us fat. His initial plunge into the field was the NYT piece, followed by a 2007 book, Good Calories, Bad Calories and now a 2011 book, Why We get Fat: and What to do About It.

Taubes has hefty credentials as a science writer; he is the only print journalist to have received the Science in Society Journalism Award three times. Currently he’s a Robert Woods Johnson Foundation investigator in Health Policy Research at UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health. But his initial article ignited a firestorm. In the piece Taubes mentions that the common veiwpoint links the kickoff of the obesity epidemic  (in the early 1980s), to cheap fatty foods, large portion servings (at commercial establishments presumably), an increase in food advertisements and a sedentary lifestyle.

He would beg to differ, invoking what he terms “Endocrinology 101,” an explanation that says human evolution was not designed for a high-sugar, high-starch diet. Until a comparatively recent era (roughly 10,000 years ago) we were not agriculturists, but hunter-gatherers. So Taubes thinks the problem is our increased consumption of sugar, high fructose corn syrup, white bread, pasta &  white rice.

Others think he picks and chooses his facts. I don’t think he’s wrong in his basic premise, but he also disagrees with the ideas of “calories in; calories out,” avoiding saturated fats and exercising being important in weight control (He seems to think people who exercise then hurry off to eat more).

more than one way to "thin a cat"

I’m down thirty pounds since early in 2009, have easily kept the weight off by exercising six days a week, avoiding sugar & HFCS foods and eating lots  more veggies and fruits while cutting back on portion size of meat dishes.

I’ll read more on Taubes and his detractors and let you know what I agree with and what I don’t.