Tag Archives: fat

Food Addiction…Real or Not?

Below is an article from CNN that I read this morning.  See my comments at the end!

CNN Article

Scientists have finally confirmed what the rest of us have suspected for years: Bacon, cheesecake, and other delicious yet fattening foods may be addictive.

A new study in rats suggests that high-fat, high-calorie foods affect the brain in much the same way as cocaine and heroin. When rats consume these foods in great enough quantities, it leads to compulsive eating habits that resemble drug addiction, the study found.

Doing drugs such as cocaine and eating too much junk food both gradually overload the so-called pleasure centers in the brain, according to Paul J. Kenny, Ph.D., an associate professor of molecular therapeutics at the Scripps Research Institute, in Jupiter, Florida. Eventually the pleasure centers “crash,” and achieving the same pleasure–or even just feeling normal–requires increasing amounts of the drug or food, says Kenny, the lead author of the study.

“People know intuitively that there’s more to [overeating] than just willpower,” he says. “There’s a system in the brain that’s been turned on or over-activated, and that’s driving [overeating] at some subconscious level.”

In the study, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, Kenny and his co-author studied three groups of lab rats for 40 days. One of the groups was fed regular rat food. A second was fed bacon, sausage, cheesecake, frosting, and other fattening, high-calorie foods–but only for one hour each day. The third group was allowed to pig out on the unhealthy foods for up to 23 hours a day.

Not surprisingly, the rats that gorged themselves on the human food quickly became obese. But their brains also changed. By monitoring implanted brain electrodes, the researchers found that the rats in the third group gradually developed a tolerance to the pleasure the food gave them and had to eat more to experience a high.

They began to eat compulsively, to the point where they continued to do so in the face of pain. When the researchers applied an electric shock to the rats’ feet in the presence of the food, the rats in the first two groups were frightened away from eating. But the obese rats were not. “Their attention was solely focused on consuming food,” says Kenny.

In previous studies, rats have exhibited similar brain changes when given unlimited access to cocaine or heroin. And rats have similarly ignored punishment to continue consuming cocaine, the researchers note.

The fact that junk food could provoke this response isn’t entirely surprising, says Dr.Gene-Jack Wang, M.D., the chair of the medical department at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory, in Upton, New York.

“We make our food very similar to cocaine now,” he says.

Coca leaves have been used since ancient times, he points out, but people learned to purify or alter cocaine to deliver it more efficiently to their brains (by injecting or smoking it, for instance). This made the drug more addictive.

According to Wang, food has evolved in a similar way. “We purify our food,” he says. “Our ancestors ate whole grains, but we’re eating white bread. American Indians ate corn; we eat corn syrup.”

The ingredients in purified modern food cause people to “eat unconsciously and unnecessarily,” and will also prompt an animal to “eat like a drug abuser [uses drugs],” says Wang.

The neurotransmitter dopamine appears to be responsible for the behavior of the overeating rats, according to the study. Dopamine is involved in the brain’s pleasure (or reward) centers, and it also plays a role in reinforcing behavior. “It tells the brain something has happened and you should learn from what just happened,” says Kenny.

Overeating caused the levels of a certain dopamine receptor in the brains of the obese rats to drop, the study found. In humans, low levels of the same receptors have been associated with drug addiction and obesity, and may be genetic, Kenny says.

However, that doesn’t mean that everyone born with lower dopamine receptor levels is destined to become an addict or to overeat. As Wang points out, environmental factors, and not just genes, are involved in both behaviors.

Wang also cautions that applying the results of animal studies to humans can be tricky. For instance, he says, in studies of weight-loss drugs, rats have lost as much as 30 percent of their weight, but humans on the same drug have lost less than 5 percent of their weight. “You can’t mimic completely human behavior, but [animal studies] can give you a clue about what can happen in humans,” Wang says.

Although he acknowledges that his research may not directly translate to humans, Kenny says the findings shed light on the brain mechanisms that drive overeating and could even lead to new treatments for obesity.

“If we could develop therapeutics for drug addiction, those same drugs may be good for obesity as well,” he says.

Dr. Court’s Comments

I agree with many of the statements in this article.  I do believe brain chemistry plays a major role in why people make the wrong food decisions.  Altering brain chemistry to improve symptoms of various problems is a large part of my practice.  I disagree that it’s only the ‘fat’ in these foods that are addictive.  If you feed a rat a fatty food like frosting it also must contain a lot of sugar and carbohydrate.  How are we to know that these addictive behaviors were not a result of the carbohydrate in the food that the rats ate?

We must also consider that these rats were fed a steady diet of unhealthy fats as well.  Avocado’s are high in fat.  I seriously doubt that if you fed the rats avocado they would become addicted. It is the type of fat that is terribly important.

Carbohydrates and simple sugars have long shown to increase levels of serotonin and dopamine.  It stimulates the feel good receptors in our brains.  I think it’s a large leap to assume it’s the fat that’s the problem.  Mainstream research wants to focus on fat as the culprit behind all disease, but it may not be.  I think we would serve ourselves better if we took a step back and examined carbohydrates for their addictive traits.  I think we’d see a much stronger correlation between simple carbohydrates and overeating than with fatty foods.

Consider that most fast food meals are a combination of unhealthy fat and simple carbs.  Anecdotally, many people will tell you that they get a lift when they eat their daily McDonald’s value meal.  For them it is a kind of ‘food fix’ that makes them feel good.  This feeling of satisfaction and happiness, however, can be changed.  Over time, by making the right choices of food people begin to lose their cravings for sugary/carby foods.  I routinely put people on detoxification programs and initially the diet is hard for them because they crave starchy foods.  It is a rare occasion that someone comes to me after a detox and tells me they craved nothing but fatty foods.  It is almost always the carbohydrates that people miss.

After all, as human beings our physiology is geared to go after carbohydrates.  They are the simplest and easiest way to get energy into our bodies.  There is a primal drive to consume carbohydrates.  Wouldn’t it make sense then that we might have some genetic predisposition to be “addicted” to carbohydrates?  I believe so.

Dr.Gene-Jack Wang, M.D., the chair of the medical department at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory, in Upton, New York had a great quote in this article.  He said:

“We make our food very similar to cocaine now,” he says.

Coca leaves have been used since ancient times, he points out, but people learned to purify or alter cocaine to deliver it more efficiently to their brains (by injecting or smoking it, for instance). This made the drug more addictive.

According to Wang, food has evolved in a similar way. “We purify our food,” he says. “Our ancestors ate whole grains, but we’re eating white bread. American Indians ate corn; we eat corn syrup.”

You will notice the examples he cited were both of the refined carbohydrate type, not fat. In my practice this has always been the case.  People are not addicted to fat.  They are addicted to the simple carbohydrates that are so prevalent in Western diets.  Think about it yourself; would you rather have a fatty pork chop or a carbohydrate laden doughnut?  Almost everyone would choose the doughnut.  Yes, I am aware doughnuts tend to be high in fat, but when you choose doughnut it isn’t because the fat appeals to you.  It’s the sweet, fluffiness that pings your brain.

While I applaud this study for recognizing that there is more to weight loss than simple calorie-in calorie-out, I think the researchers may have come to the wrong conclusions.  Next time they should try and isolate sugar from fat and test the hypothesis with more controlled variables.

Leave a comment

Filed under Brain Health, Diet, Public Health

A New Take On Low-Carb…Sort Of

Below is an interview with Dr. Eric Westman, director of the Duke Lifestyle Medicine Clinic in Durham, N.C. about the ‘new’ Atkins diet book he co-authored.

Q: How is the current Atkins diet different from the original?

A: We have emphasized that you have to have five servings of vegetables a day. The book hammers home right away at the myth that you don’t eat vegetables on Atkins. You have to. That’s just sound nutrition. Overall, there has been a large amount of research on low-carb diets, and we incorporated that knowledge into the book.

Q: What does the research, including your work, reveal about the diet?

A: The research shows it’s a healthy lifestyle and many more foods are a part of it. It’s also a therapeutic diet for people with diabetes, obesity, high triglycerides or high blood pressure. People who follow it have improvements.

Q: Does this plan work because it cuts most junk foods?

A: Absolutely, that’s part of it. It is shifting from a junk-food-based diet to an occasional sweet treat, much like most people ate after World War II. All popular diets eliminate junk foods. But it depends on what you call junk foods. A lot of people think of pork rinds as a junk food, but I think of them as a health food. They have no carbs, so in the context of a low-carb diet, they’re fine.

Q: What are the advantages of this plan over others?

A: You get to eat delicious foods: butter, bacon, cream. If you like meat, seafood, avocados, nuts, cheese and brie, it’s fabulous. And hunger suppression is one of the biggest advantages. People aren’t hungry when they eat this way.

Q: The Atkins diet has been criticized for being too high in saturated (animal) fat. It’s about 17% of calories vs. the recommended 7%. Is the saturated fat content unhealthy?

A: Studies have shown that in people following Atkins, the saturated fat is not a problem. People who follow Atkins had improvements in cardio metabolic risk factors such as triglycerides, good cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar. The diet fat issue is at the crux of the fear of this diet. But look at the Europeans and French people and all the fat they eat, and they are doing just fine.

Q: Doesn’t the diet drastically cut whole grains, even though research shows they are good for you?

A: In the last two phases (of the diet, known as pre-maintenance and maintenance), most people can eat whole grains, so it’s inaccurate to say that they are totally forbidden, although in the first two phases (induction and ongoing weight loss), you do have to limit them.

Q: Why cut so much fruit?

A: The way Atkins works is it suppresses appetite and hunger, and you can’t do that if you have a lot of sugar in the diet. Fruit is sugar with some fiber. In the induction phase, you eat avocados, olives and tomatoes, which are fruits. And in Phase 2 (ongoing weight loss), you introduce berries and melons.

Via – Digesting the facts on the ‘New Atkins’ low-carb diet

Dr. Court’s Comments

It has long been a myth that the Atkins diet is bad for you.  Dr. Atkins made his first observations that low carbohydrate diets were the best way to maintain health after he managed to lose weight by placing himself on a carbohydrate restricted diet.  This was in the 1960’s.  He published his first book in the early 70’s, which soon became a best seller.  It was many years, however, before this became an accepted way to diet and manage weight.

The principle behind the Atkins diet is the control of insulin.  Insulin is a hormone in the body that is secreted in response to carbohydrate intake and to a much lesser degree protein intake.  Insulin has profound effects on metabolism. It causes cells in the liver, muscle, and fat tissue to take up glucose from the blood, storing it as glycogen in the liver and muscle, and stopping use of fat as an energy source. The problem occurs when excess carbohydrate is consumed.  Massive amounts of insulin are released and only so much glycogen can be stored in the muscles and liver.  The rest of that energy is stored at fat. When insulin is produced in low amounts, as is the case with the Atkins diet, the body begins to use fat as an energy source.  It is the burning of this fat that is the very way people are able to lose weight on the Atkins diet.

Consider someone who has insulin dependent diabetes if you want to see the effects of insulin.  If they are insulin dependent that means they do not produce it on their own and require it exogenously.  Many times patients go months before they are aware of this fact and guess what results.  Since they cannot burn the glucose they consume for energy they must burn their body fat to survive.  As a matter of fact one of the hallmark signs of insulin dependent diabetes is uncontrolled weight loss.  This of course is not a healthy person or way to lose weight, but it illustrates very nicely the metabolic effects of insulin (or lack there of).

Many detractors of the low-carb diet say that it is unhealthy, but they clearly do not understand physiology and have not looked at the research.

“There are nearly a dozen randomized controlled trials of obese people trying to lose weight that show those on a low-carb diet do as well or better in the short and long term as people on conventional low-fat, low-calorie diets. And the low-carb diet is associated with favorable improvements in heart disease risk factors.  The research shows that many of the original concerns about the Atkins diet’s impact on LDL (bad) cholesterol and rapid regain were not realized.” Comments by Gary Foster, Director of the Center for Obesity Research and Education at Temple University in Philadelphia.

There is another positive to eating an Atkins type low-carb diet.  It is inherently an anti-inflammatory diet.  The low-carb diets end up being low in grains and  grains are a massive source of inflammation in the American diet.  I routinely check inflammatory markers before placing my patients on a diet program.  I always recommend more emphasis on healthy fats and proteins and less on the carbohydrates.  The markers I like to use are CRP, or c-reactive protein, and homocysteine.  Clinically, the results of placing people on a low-carb diet are always favorable in terms of inflammatory markers.  Their lipid profiles (cholesterol, triglycerides) always improve as well.  If these markers all improve, how can the diet be unhealthy for your heart as some people claim? This is usually a question that goes unanswered by physicians that tout the low fat diet as superior.

The low-carb ‘craze’ is not a craze at all.  It is here to stay and it is the most effective way to reduce weight and maintain heart health.  The studies that have been done are very conclusive, but they fly in the face of many years of conventional ‘wisdom.’  The problem is that the conventional system has failed.  Americans are as fat as they have ever been and diabetes is at epidemic proportions.  Maybe it’s time to re-evaluate our thoughts on diet and look at the hormonal process that is required to store fat.  This process, which requires insulin, can be controlled but not by eating a low fat diet.  It must be controlled by controlling carbohydrate intake.  If this is done, health ensues.

1 Comment

Filed under Diet

Why eating fish could be bad for you

If you look other places online, you will find that most health experts recommend that people eat fish.  They are loaded with nutrients that are beneficial for a lot of things.  In particular, they have omega-3 fatty acids in them.

Omega-3 fatty acids are a class of fats that are essential for human beings.  When I say essential it means that they must be obtained from diet.  We cannot synthesize them from other fats that already exist in our body.  They have been shown to have many heath benefits  to them.  Some are listed below.

  • Reduce varicose veins
  • Reduce blood pressure
  • Reduce blood triglycerides
  • Reduce heart attack rates
  • Improve cholesterol levels
  • Reduce cardiac arrhythmias
  • Reduce depression
  • Reduce the risk of stroke
  • Protect you from cancer
  • Reduce symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis
  • Reduce the risk of dementia
  • Increased immunity

All of these health benefits have been documented by studies.  I routinely recommend that my patients eat fish and take fish oil supplements.  If that’s the case, then how in the world could eating fish be bad for you?

The problem with eating any old fish is that many fish we consume are farmed.  Farmed fish are grown in large tanks and fed diets full of grain designed to fatten them up very quickly.  When fish are fed grain, they consume large amounts of another fatty acid.  This fatty acid is called omega-6.  While this fatty acid is also essential, in large amounts it can be dangerous.  It is the precursor of all of the inflammatory enzymes in the body.  Farm raised fish, therefore are actually pro-inflammatory! (For the dangers of inflammation see one of our earlier posts.)  Inflammation is behind many human diseases including heart disease and cancer.

What you must do is eat wild fish.  When you buy fish from the meat counter at your grocery store, they always delineate what fish are farmed and what are wild.  Always buy wild fish.  These fish are the ones that will have all of the protective benefits for your health that you are looking for.  The farmed fish may actually be detrimental to your overall health in the long run.  Any fish that you buy in the freezer section is almost always going to be farmed as well.  Always buy fresh fish and always buy wild.

4 Comments

Filed under Brain Health, Diet, Public Health