Thursday, September 24, 2015

Humans on a Cafeteria Diet

In the 1970s, as the modern obesity epidemic was just getting started, investigators were searching for new animal models of diet-induced obesity.  They tried all sorts of things, from sugar to various types of fats, but none of them caused obesity as rapidly and reproducibly as desired*.  1976, Anthony Sclafani tried something new, and disarmingly simple, which he called the "supermarket diet": he gave his rats access to a variety of palatable human foods, in addition to standard rodent chow.  They immediately ignored the chow, instead gorging on the palatable food and rapidly becoming obese (1).  Later renamed the "cafeteria diet", it remains the most rapid and effective way of producing dietary obesity and metabolic syndrome in rodents using solid food (2).

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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Speaking in Lisbon on October 5

My friend Pedro Bastos graciously invited me to speak at a conference he organized in Lisbon on October 5 titled "Food, Nutrition and the Prevention of Chronic Diseases".  I will give two talks:

  • "Ancestral Health: What is Our Human Potential?"  This talk will explore the health of non-industrial cultures in an effort to understand how much of our modern chronic disease burden is preventable, and it will briefly touch on one major aspect of non-industrial life that may protect against the "diseases of civilization".  This presentation will focus on age-adjusted data from high quality studies.  
  • "Why Do We Overeat: a Neurobiological Perspective."  This talk will attempt to explain why most of us consume more calories than we need to maintain weight-- a phenomenon that is a central cause of morbidity and mortality in the modern world.  It will touch on some of the brain mechanisms involved in ingestive behavior, and outline a framework to explain why these mechanisms are often maladaptive in today's environment.
Pedro will speak about dairy consumption, vitamin D, and chronic disease.  

The conference is targeted to health professionals and students of nutrition, however it's open to anyone who is interested in these topics.  It's sponsored by NutriScience, a Portuguese nutrition education and consulting company.  Sadly, I don't speak Portuguese, so my talks will be in English.  

Access the full program, and register for the conference, using the links below:

Monday, September 21, 2015

Primal Docs

Chris Armstrong, creator of the website Celiac Handbook, has designed a new non-commercial website called Primal Docs to help people connect with ancestral health-oriented physicians.  It's currently fairly small, but as more physicians join, it will become more useful.  If you are a patient looking for such a physician in your area, or an ancestral health-oriented physician looking for more exposure, it's worth having a look at his site:

Primal Docs

Update 9/22: apparently there is already another website that serves a similar purpose and has many more physicians enrolled: Paleo Physicians Network.

Monday, September 14, 2015

More Thoughts on Macronutrient Trends

I had a brief positive exchange with Gary Taubes about the NuSI post.  He reminded me that there's an artifact (measurement error) in the USDA data on fat consumption in the year 2000 when they changed assessment methods.  Here are the USDA data on macronutrient consumption since 1970, corrected for loss (28.8%) but not corrected for the artifact:
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Sunday, September 13, 2015

Fat Tissue Insulin Sensitivity and Obesity

In this post, I'll discuss a few more facts pertaining to the idea that elevated insulin promotes the accumulation of fat mass.  

Insulin Action on Fat Cells Over the Course of Fat Gain

The idea that insulin acts on fat cells to promote obesity requires that insulin suppress fat release in people with more fat (or people who are gaining fat) to a greater extent than in lean people.  As I have written before, this is not the case, and in fact the reverse is true.  The fat tissue of obese people fails to normally suppress fatty acid release in response to an increase in insulin caused by a meal or an insulin injection, indicating that insulin's ability to suppress fat release is impaired in obesity (1, 2, 3).  The reason for that is simple: the fat tissue of obese people is insulin resistant.

There has been some question around the blogosphere about when insulin resistance in fat tissue occurs.  Is it only observed in obese people, or does it occur to a lesser extent in people who carry less excess fat mass and are perhaps on a trajectory of fat gain?  To answer this question, let's turn the clocks back to 1968, a year before Neil Armstrong first set foot on the moon. 

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Saturday, September 12, 2015

Nutrition Science Initiative (NuSI)

Some of you may have heard of an ambitious new nutrition research foundation called the Nutrition Science Initiative (NuSI).  In this post, I'll explain what it is, why it matters, and how I feel about it-- from the perspective of an obesity researcher. 

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Thursday, September 10, 2015

Calories and Carbohydrate: a Natural Experiment

In the lab, we work hard to design experiments that help us understand the natural world.  But sometimes, nature sets up experiments for us, and all we have to do is collect the data.  These are called "natural experiments", and they have led to profound insights in every field of science.  For example, Alzheimer's disease is not usually considered a genetic disorder.  However, researchers have identified rare cases in which AD is inherited in a simple genetic manner.  By identifying the genes involved, and what they do, we were able to increase our understanding of the molecular mechanisms of the disease.

The natural experiment I'll be discussing today began in 1989 with the onset of a major economic crisis in Cuba. This coincided with the loss of the Soviet Union as a trading partner, resulting in a massive economic collapse over the next six years, which gradually recovered through 2000. 

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Sunday, September 6, 2015

Hyperinsulinemia: Cause or Effect of Obesity?

Is Elevated Insulin the Cause or Effect of Obesity?

The carbohydrate hypothesis, in its most popular current incarnation, states that elevated insulin acts on fat cells to cause fat storage, leading to obesity.  This is due to its ability to increase the activity of lipoprotein lipase and decrease the activity of hormone-sensitive lipase, thus creating a net flux of fat into fat cells.  I'm still not sure why this would be the case, considering that fat tissue becomes more insulin resistant as body fat accumulates, therefore insulin action on it is not necessarily increased.  Total fat release from fat tissue increases with total fat mass (1), demonstrating that insulin is not able to do its job of suppressing fat release as effectively in people who carry excess fat.  But let's put that problem aside for the moment and keep trucking.

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Saturday, September 5, 2015

A Late Summer Harvest

It's been a good year for gardening in Seattle, at least in my garden.  Thanks to great new tools* and Steve Solomon's recipe for homemade fertilizer, my house has been swimming in home-grown vegetables all summer.  I'm fortunate that a friend lets me garden a 300 square foot plot behind her house.  Here's a photo of part of today's harvest; various kale/collards, zucchini, tomatoes and the last of the pole beans:


Perfect for the Eocene diet.  

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Friday, September 4, 2015

Catered Paleo Dinner with Yours Truly

Gil Butler, organizer of the Western Washington Paleo Enthusiasts group, has organized a catered "paleo" dinner on Sunday, October 9th.  He will be screening the first episode of "Primal Chef", Featuring Robb Wolf and others.  He invited me to give a short (20 minute) presentation, which I accepted.  There are still roughly 30 spots remaining [update 9/21-- the event is full].

The event will be in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle and the price is $15.76 per person.  I will not be paid for this talk, it's just an opportunity to share ideas and meet people. 

Click here to register.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Is Refined Carbohydrate Addictive?

[Note: in previous versions, I mixed up "LGI" and "HGI" terms in a couple of spots.  These are now corrected.  Thanks to readers for pointing them out.]

Recently, a new study was published that triggered an avalanche of media reports suggesting that refined carbohydrate may be addictive:

Refined Carbs May Trigger Food Addiction
Refined Carbs May Trigger Food Addictions
Can You be Addicted to Carbs?
etc.

This makes for attention-grabbing headlines, but in fact the study had virtually nothing to do with food addiction.  The study made no attempt to measure addictive behavior related to refined carbohydrate or any other food, nor did it aim to do so.

So what did the study actually find, why is it being extrapolated to food addiction, and is this a reasonable extrapolation?  Answering these questions dredges up a number of interesting scientific points, some of which undermine popular notions of what determines eating behavior.

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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Book Review: The End of Overeating

The End of Overeating was written based on the personal journey of Dr. David A. Kessler (MD) to understand the obesity epidemic, and treat his own obesity in the process.  Dr. Kessler was the FDA commissioner under presidents George HW Bush and Bill Clinton.  He is known for his efforts to regulate cigarettes, and his involvement in modernizing Nutrition Facts labels on packaged food.  He was also the dean of Yale medical school for six years-- a very accomplished person. 

Dr. Kessler's book focuses on 1) the ability of food with a high palatability/reward value to cause overeating and obesity, 2) the systematic efforts of the food industry to maximize food palatability/reward to increase sales in a competitive market, and 3) what to do about it.  He has not only done a lot of reading on the subject, but has also participated directly in food reward research himself, so he has real credibility.  The End of Overeating is not the usual diet book. 
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