Monday, May 28, 2012

How Bad is Fructose? David Despain Interviews Dr. John Sievenpiper

In my article "Is Sugar Fattening?", I discussed a recent review paper on fructose, by Dr. John Sievenpiper and colleagues (1).  It was the most recent of several review papers to conclude that fructose is probably not inherently fattening in humans, but that it can be fattening if it's consumed to excess, due to the added calories.  Dr. Sievenpiper and colleagues have also written other papers addressing the metabolic effects of fructose, which appear to be fairly minor unless it's consumed to excess (2, 3, 4, 5).  The senior author on these studies is Dr. David Jenkins at McMaster University.  David Despain, a science and health writer who publishes a nice blog called Evolving Health, recently interviewed Dr. Sievenpiper about his work.

It's an interesting interview and very timely, due to the recent attention paid to fructose in the popular media. This has mostly been driven by a couple of high-profile individuals-- an issue they discuss in the interview.  The interview, recent papers, and sessions at scientific conferences are part of an effort by researchers to push back against some of the less well founded claims that have received widespread attention lately.

Read more »

Monday, May 21, 2012

Lower Blood Pressure Naturally

Recently, Chris Kresser published a series on dietary salt (sodium chloride) and health (1).  One of the issues he covered is the effect of salt on blood pressure.  Most studies have shown a relatively weak relationship between salt intake and blood pressure.  My position overall is that we're currently eating a lot more salt than at almost any point in our evolutionary history as a species, so I tend to favor a moderately low salt intake.  However, there may be more important factors than salt when it comes to blood pressure, at least in the short term. 

Read more »

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Beyond Ötzi: European Evolutionary History and its Relevance to Diet. Part III

In previous posts, I reviewed some of the evidence suggesting that human evolution has accelerated rapidly since the development of agriculture (and to some degree, before it).  Europeans (and other lineages with a long history of agriculture)  carry known genetic adaptations to the Neolithic diet, and there are probably many adaptations that have not yet been identified.  In my final post in this series, I'll argue that although we've adapted, the adaptation is probably not complete, and we're left in a sort of genetic limbo between the Paleolithic and Neolithic state. 

Recent Genetic Adaptations are Often Crude

It may at first seem strange, but many genes responsible for common genetic disorders show evidence of positive selection.  In other words, the genes that cause these disorders were favored by evolution at some point because they presumably provided a survival advantage.  For example, the sickle cell anemia gene protects against malaria, but if you inherit two copies of it, you end up with a serious and life-threatening disorder (1).  The cystic fibrosis gene may have been selected to protect against one or more infectious diseases, but again if you get two copies of it, quality of life and lifespan are greatly curtailed (2, 3).  Familial Mediterranean fever is a very common disorder in Mediterranean populations, involving painful inflammatory attacks of the digestive tract, and sometimes a deadly condition called amyloidosis.  It shows evidence of positive selection and probably protected against intestinal disease due to the heightened inflammatory state it confers to the digestive tract (4, 5).  Celiac disease, a severe autoimmune reaction to gluten found in some grains, may be a by-product of selection for protection against bacterial infection (6).  Phenylketonuria also shows evidence of positive selection (7), and the list goes on.  It's clear that a lot of our recent evolution was in response to new disease pressures, likely from increased population density, sendentism, and contact with domestic animals.

Read more »

Monday, May 7, 2012

Beyond Ötzi: European Evolutionary History and its Relevance to Diet. Part II

In previous posts, I described how Otzi was (at least in large part) a genetic descendant of Middle Eastern agriculturalists, rather than being purely descended from local hunter-gatherers who adopted agriculture in situ.  I also reviewed evidence showing that modern Europeans are a genetic mixture of local European hunter-gatherers, incoming agricultural populations from the Middle East, neanderthals, and perhaps other groups.  In this post, I'll describe the evidence for rapid human evolution since the end of the Paleolithic period, and research indicating that some of these changes are adaptations to the Neolithic (agricultural/horticultural/pastoral) diet.

Humans have Evolved Significantly Since the End of the Paleolithic

Evolution by natural selection leaves a distinct signature in the genome, and geneticists can detect this signature tens of thousands of years after the fact by comparing many genomes to one another.  A landmark paper published in 2007 by Dr. John Hawks and colleagues showed that humans have been undergoing "extraordinarily rapid recent genetic evolution" over the last 40,000 years (1).  Furthermore:
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Saturday, May 5, 2012

Media Appearances

Last October, I participated in a panel discussion organized by the Harvard Food Law Society in Boston.  The panel included Drs. Walter Willett, David Ludwig, Robert Lustig, and myself, with Corby Kummer as moderator.  Dr. Willett is the chair of the Harvard Department of Nutrition; Dr. Ludwig is a professor of nutrition and pediatrics at Harvard; Dr. Lustig is a professor of clinical pediatrics at UCSF; and Kummer is a food writer and senior editor for The Atlantic
Read more »

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Beyond Ötzi: European Evolutionary History and its Relevance to Diet. Part I

In the previous post, I explained that Otzi descended in large part from early adopters of agriculture in the Middle East or nearby.  What I'll explain in further posts is that Otzi was not a genetic anomaly: he was part of a wave of agricultural migrants that washed over Europe thousands of years ago, spreading their genes throughout.  Not only that, Otzi represents a halfway point in the evolutionary process that transformed Paleolithic humans into modern humans.

Did Agriculture in Europe Spread by Cultural Transmission or by Population Replacement?

There's a long-standing debate in the anthropology community over how agriculture spread throughout Europe.  One camp proposes that agriculture spread by a cultural route, and that European hunter-gatherers simply settldd down and began planting grains.  The other camp suggests that European hunter-gatherers were replaced (totally or partially) by waves of agriculturalist immigrants from the Middle East that were culturally and genetically better adapted to the agricultural diet and lifestyle.  These are two extreme positions, and I think almost everyone would agree at this point that the truth lies somewhere in between: modern Europeans are a mix of genetic lineages, some of which originate from the earliest Middle Eastern agriculturalists who expanded into Europe, and some of which originate from indigenous hunter-gatherer groups including a small contribution from neanderthals.  We know that modern-day Europeans are not simply Paleolithic mammoth eaters who reluctantly settled down and began farming. 

Read more »

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Lessons From Ötzi, the Tyrolean Ice Man. Part III

There are two reasons why I chose this time to write about Otzi.  The first is that I've been looking for a good excuse to revisit human evolutionary history, particularly that of Europeans, and what it does and doesn't tell us about the "optimal" human diet.  The second is that Otzi's full genome was sequenced and described in a recent issue of Nature Communications (1).  A "genome" is the full complement of genes an organism carries.  So what that means is that researchers have sequenced almost all of his genes. 

Read more »

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Lessons From Ötzi, the Tyrolean Ice Man. Part II

Otzi's Diet

Otzi's digestive tract contains the remains of three meals.  They were composed of cooked grains (wheat bread and wheat grains), meat, roots, fruit and seeds (1, 2).  The meat came from three different animals-- chamois, red deer and ibex.  The "wheat" was actually not what we would think of as modern wheat, but an ancestral variety called einkorn.

Isotope analysis indicates that Otzi's habitual diet was primarily centered around plant foods, likely heavily dependent on grains but also incorporating a variety of other plants (3).  He died in the spring with a belly full of einkorn wheat.  Since wheat is harvested in the fall, this suggests that his culture stored grain and was dependent on it for most if not all of the year.  However, he also clearly ate meat and used leather made from his prey.  Researchers are still debating the quantity of meat in his diet, but it was probably secondary to grains and other plant foods. It isn't known whether or not he consumed dairy.

Read more »

Monday, April 16, 2012

Exercise and Food Intake

The New York Times just published an article reviewing some of the recent research on exercise, food intake and food reward, titled "Does Exercise Make You Overeat?".  I was planning to write about this at some point, but I don't know when I'd be able to get around to it, and the NYT article is a fair treatment of the subject, so I'll just point you to the article.

Basically, burning calories through exercise causes some people to eat more, but not everyone does, and a few people actually eat less.  Alex Hutchinson discussed this point recently on his blog (1).  Part of it depends on how much fat you carry-- if you're already lean, the body is more likely to increase hunger because it very much dislikes going too low in body fat.  Most overweight/obese people do not totally make up for the calories they burn through exercise by eating more, so they lose fat.  There is a lot of individual variability here.  The average obese person won't lose a substantial amount of fat through exercise alone.  However, everyone knows someone who lost 50+ pounds through exercise alone, and the controlled trials support that it happens in a minority of people.  On the other side of the spectrum, I have a friend who gained fat while training for a marathon, and lost it afterward. 

Read more »

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Next Primal Chef Event Sunday 5/20

Gil Butler has been working on a television show called Primal Chef, where he invites local chefs to make creative dishes from a list of Paleo ingredients, in a designated amount of time.  The format is reminiscent of Iron Chef.  The food is judged afterward by figures in the Paleo community.  Robb Wolf was a judge on the first episode.

Gil has invited me to be a judge on the next show, along with Sara Fragoso and Dr. Tim Gerstmar.  The next day, Sunday April 20th, Gil is organizing a catered Primal Chef event in Seattle, with Paleo dinner, speakers, entertainment, prizes, and a screening of part of Paleo Chef episode 1.  You can read the details and sign up here.  I won't be speaking because I don't have time to put together another talk right now, but I will be attending the event. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Lessons From Ötzi, the Tyrolean Ice Man. Part I

This is Otzi, or at least a reconstruction of what he might have looked like.  5,300 years ago, he laid down on a glacier near the border between modern-day Italy and Austria, under unpleasant circumstances.  He was quickly frozen into the glacier.  In 1991, his slumber was rudely interrupted by two German tourists, which eventually landed him in the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Italy. 

Otzi is Europe's oldest natural human mummy, and as such, he's an important window into the history of the human species in Europe.  His genome has been sequenced, and it offers us clues about the genetic history of modern Europeans.

Otzi's Story

Read more »

Friday, April 6, 2012

Global Meat Production, 1961-2009


Total global meat production per person has steadily increased from 0.13 lbs per day in 1961 to 0.29 lbs per day in 2009*, a 120 percent increase over the last half century (currently in the US, average meat consumption is about half a pound per day).  Since meat consumption in the US and Europe has only increased modestly over time, this change mostly reflects greatly increased meat consumption over the last half century in developing countries** in Asia, Africa and South America.  In 1961, it's likely that most of the 0.13 pounds per day of meat was consumed in affluent countries such as the US, with not much consumed elsewhere (with some exceptions).  Historically, meat has always been expensive relative to other food sources in agricultural societies, so it's eaten by those who can afford it.
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Monday, April 2, 2012

Eocene Diet Follow-up

Now that WHS readers around the globe have adopted the Eocene Diet and are losing weight at an alarming rate, it's time to explain the post a little more.  First, credit where credit is due: Melissa McEwen made a similar argument in her 2011 AHS talk, where she rolled out the "Cambrian Explosion Diet", which beats the Eocene Diet by about 470 million years.  It was probably in the back of my head somewhere when I came up with the idea.

April Fools day is good for a laugh, but humor often has a grain of truth in it.  In this case, the post was a jumping off point for discussing human evolution and what it has to say about the "optimal" human diet, if such a thing exists.  Here's a preview: evolution is a continuous process that has shaped our ancestors' genomes for every generation since the beginning of life.  It didn't end with the Paleolithic, in fact it accelerated, and most of us today carry meaningful adaptations to the Neolithic diet and lifestyle. 

Read more »

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Eocene Diet

65 million years ago, a massive asteroid slammed into the Yucatan peninsula, creating a giant dust cloud that contributed to the extinction of terrestrial dinosaurs.  In the resulting re-adjustment of global ecosystems, a new plant tissue evolved, which paved the way for the eventual appearance of humans: fruit.  Fruit represents a finely crafted symbiosis between plants and animals, in which the plant provides a nourishing morsel, and the animal disperses the plant's seeds inside a packet of rich fertilizer.

Fruit was such a powerful selective pressure that mammals quickly evolved to exploit it more effectively, developing adaptations for life in the forest canopy.  One result of this was the rapid emergence of primates, carrying physical, digestive and metabolic adaptations for the acquisition and consumption of fruit and leaves.  Primates also continued eating insects, a vestige of our early mammalian heritage. 

Read more »

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Onward

In upcoming posts, I plan to pursue two main themes.  The first is a more comprehensive exploration of what determines eating behavior in humans, the neurobiology behind it, and the real world implications of this research.  The reward and palatability value of food are major factors, but there are others, and I've spent enough time focusing on them for the time being.  Also, the discussions revolving around food reward seem to be devolving into something that resembles team sports, and I've had my fill.

The second topic I'm going to touch on is human evolutionary history, including amazing recent insights from the field of human genetics.  These findings have implications for the nutrition and health of modern humans. 

I look forward to exploring these topics, and others, with all of you in the coming months.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Recent Media Appearances

Men's Health interviewed and quoted me in an article titled "Reprogram Your Metabolism", written by Lou Schuler.  Part of the article was related to the food reward concept.  I'm glad to see the idea gradually reaching the mainstream. 

Boing Boing recently covered an article by Dr. Hisham Ziauddeen and colleagues in Nature Reviews Neuroscience that questioned the idea that common obesity represents food addiction-- an idea that I often encounter in my reading.  Maggie Koerth-Baker asked me if I wanted to respond.  I sent her a response explaining that I agree with the authors' conclusions and I also doubt obesity is food addiction per se, as I have explained in the past, although a subset of obese people can be addicted to food.  I explained that the conclusions of the paper are consistent with the idea that food reward influences fat mass.  You can find my explanation here.


Thursday, March 22, 2012

Food Reward: Approaching a Scientific Consensus

Review papers provide a bird's-eye view of a field from the perspective of experts.  Recent review papers show that many obesity researchers are converging on a model for the development of obesity that includes excessive food reward*, in addition to other factors such as physical inactivity, behavioral traits, and alterations in the function of the hypothalamus (a key brain region for the regulation of body fatness).  Take for example the four new review papers I posted recently by obesity and reward researchers:
Read more »

Monday, March 19, 2012

Speaking at AHS12

I'll be giving a 40 minute presentation at the Ancestral Health Symposium this summer titled "Digestive Health, Inflammation and the Metabolic Syndrome".  Here's the abstract:
The “metabolic syndrome” is a cluster of health problems including abdominal obesity, insulin resistance, low-grade inflammation, high blood pressure and blood lipid abnormalities that currently affects one third of American adults.  It is the quintessential modern metabolic disorder and a major risk factor for diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers.  This talk will explore emerging links between diet, gut flora, digestive health and the development of the metabolic syndrome.  The audience will learn about factors that may help maintain digestive and metabolic health for themselves and the next generation.
Excessive fat mass is an important contributor to the metabolic syndrome, but at the same level of body fatness, some people are metabolically normal while others are extremely impaired.  Even among obese people, most of whom have the metabolic syndrome, about 20 percent are metabolically normal, with normal fasting insulin and insulin sensitivity, normal blood pressure, normal circulating inflammatory markers, and normal blood lipids.

What determines this?  Emerging research suggests that one factor is digestive health, including the bacterial ecosystem inside each person's digestive tract, and the integrity of the gut barrier.  I'll review some of this research in my talk, and leave the audience with actionable information for maintaining gastrointestinal and metabolic health.  Most of this information will not have been covered on this blog.

The Ancestral Health Symposium will be from August 9-12 at Harvard Law School in Boston, presented in conjunction with the Harvard Food Law society.  Tickets are currently available-- get them before they sell out!  Last year, they went fast.

See you there!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Qnexa, the Latest Obesity Drug

There are very few obesity drugs currently approved for use in the US-- not because effective drugs don't exist, but because the FDA has judged that the side effects of existing drugs are unacceptable. 

Although ultimately I believe the most satisfying resolution to the obesity epidemic will not come from drugs, drugs offer us a window intn the biological processes that underlie obesity and fat loss.  Along those lines, here's a quote from a review paper on obesity drugs that I think is particularly enlightening (1):
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Friday, March 9, 2012

Boing!

I just had a featured article published on Boing Boing, "Seduced by Food: Obesity and the Human Brain".  Boing Boing is the most popular blog on the Internet, with over 5 million unique visitors per month, and it's also one of my favorite haunts, so it was really exciting for me to be invited to submit an article.  For comparison, Whole Health Source had about 72,000 unique visitors last month (200,000+ hits).

The article is a concise review of the food reward concept, and how it relates to the current obesity epidemic.  Concise compared to all the writing I've done on this blog, anyway.  I put a lot of work into making the article cohesive and understandable for a somewhat general audience, and I think it's much more effective at explaining the concept than the scattered blog posts I've published here.  I hope it will clear up some of the confusion about food reward.  I don't know what's up with the image they decided to use at the top. 

Many thanks to Mark Frauenfelder, Maggie Koerth-Baker, and Rob Beschizza for the opportunity to publish on Boing Boing, as well as their comments on the draft versions!

For those who have arrived at Whole Health Source for the first time via Boing Boing, welcome!   Have a look around.  The "labels" menu on the sidebar is a good place to start-- you can browse by topic.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Tweet

I've decided, on the sage advice of a WHS reader, to join the world of Twitter.  I'll be using it to announce new posts, as well as communicating papers that I find interesting, but either don't have time to blog about or think are too technical for a general audience.  My tag is "whsource".  Head on over to Twitter if you want to follow my tweets.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Palatability, Satiety and Calorie Intake

WHS reader Paul Hagerty recently sent me a very interesting paper titled "A Satiety Index of Common Foods", by Dr. SHA Holt and colleagues (1).  This paper quantified how full we feel after eating specific foods.  I've been aware of it for a while, but hadn't read it until recently.  They fed volunteers a variety of commonly eaten foods, each in a 240 calorie portion, and measured how full each food made them feel, and how much they ate at a subsequent meal.  Using the results, they calculated a "satiety index", which represents the fullness per calorie of each food, normalized to white bread (white bread arbitrarily set to SI = 100).  So for example, popcorn has a satiety index of 154, meaning it's more filling than white bread per calorie. 

One of the most interesting aspects of the paper is that the investigators measured a variety of food properties (energy density, fat, starch, sugar, fiber, water content, palatability), and then determined which of them explained the SI values most completely.

Read more »

Monday, February 27, 2012

Soda-Free Sunday

Last Thursday, I received a message from a gentleman named Dorsol Plants about a public health campaign here in King County called Soda Free Sunday.  They're asking people to visit www.sodafreesundays.com and make a pledge to go soda-free for one day per week. 

Drinking sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs), including soda, is one of the worst things you can do for your health.  SSB consumption is probably one of the major contributors to the modern epidemics of obesity and metabolic dysfunction.

I imagine that most WHS readers don't drink SSBs very often if at all, but I'm sure some do.  Whether you want to try drinking fewer SSBs, or just re-affirm an ongoing commitment to avoid them, I encourage you to visit www.sodafreesundays.com and make the pledge.  You can do so even if you're not a resident of King county.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Is Sugar Fattening?

Buckle your seat belts, ladies and gentlemen-- we're going on a long ride through the scientific literature on sugar and body fatness.  Some of the evidence will be surprising and challenging for many of you, as it was for me, but ultimately it paints a coherent and actionable picture.

Read more »

Saturday, February 18, 2012

By 2606, the US Diet will be 100 Percent Sugar

The US diet has changed dramatically in the last 200 years.  Many of these changes stem from a single factor: the industrialization and commercialization of the American food system.  We've outsourced most of our food preparation, placing it into the hands of professionals whose interests aren't always well aligned with ours.

It's hard to appreciate just how much things have changed, because none of us were alive 200 years ago.  To help illustrate some of these changes, I've been collecting statistics on US diet trends.  Since sugar is the most refined food we eat in quantity, and it's a good marker of processed food consumption, naturally I wanted to get my hands on sugar intake statistics-- but solid numbers going back to the early 19th century are hard to come by!  Of all the diet-related books I've read, I've never seen a graph of year-by-year sugar intake going back more than 100 years.

A gentleman by the name of Jeremy Landen and I eventually tracked down some outstanding statistics from old US Department of Commerce reports and the USDA: continuous yearly sweetener sales from 1822 to 2005, which have appeared in two of my talks but I have never seen graphed anywhere else*.  These numbers represent added sweeteners such as cane sugar, high-fructose corn syrup and maple syrup, but not naturally occurring sugars in fruit and vegetables.  Behold:

Read more »

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Cigarette Smoking-- Another Factor in the Obesity Epidemic

Obesity rates in the US have more than doubled in the last 30 years, and rates of childhood obesity and extreme adult obesity have tripled.  One third of US adults are considered obese, and another third overweight.  This is the "obesity epidemic".

The obesity epidemic has coincided with significant changes in the US diet, which are clearly involved.  However, there's another probable contributor that's often overlooked: declining smoking rates.  

Here's a graph of cigarette consumption over the last century in the US (1):
Read more »

Monday, February 6, 2012

My TEDx Talk, "The American Diet: a Historical Perspective"

On October 21st, I spoke at the Harvard Food Law Society's TEDx conference, Forum on Food Policy.  The conference kicked off with three talks on nutrition, by Drs. Walter Willett, David Ludwig and myself.  My talk is only 17 minutes long as per TED format, but it's packed with research on both quantitative and qualitative changes in the US diet over the last two centuries.  It contains surprises for almost anyone, and I can guarantee you've never learned this much about the history of the US diet in 17 minutes.  The talk was titled "The American Diet: a Historical Perspective"; you can access it by following that link.

Read more »

Saturday, February 4, 2012

An Interview with Dr. C. Vicky Beer, Paleo-friendly MD

As I was preparing my recent article on the Paleo diet (1), I interviewed a local Paleo-friendly MD named C. Vicky Beer.  I was only able to include a snippet of the interview in the article, but I thought WHS readers would be interested to read the rest of the interview with Dr. Beer:

Read more »

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Animal Theory, Going Feral in 2012

Since the late 1970s, scholarship in the field of human and nonhuman animal relations--a development of animal, environmental, and social liberation movements--has significantly developed, testing the limits of the humanism and liberalism that gave birth to it. In the 1980s and 90s, philosophers, historians, sociologists, anthropologists, feminists, socialists, and literary theorists have contributed to this academic and cultural project. Research in human and non-human animal relations has particularly come into vogue in the last decade. This new literature developed out of increasing interdisciplinary as well a younger generation with more radical political ambitions, those who were dissatisfied with the presuppositions and/or simplicity of earlier theory.

Below are a few lists of books published between 2010 and 2012 that I would love to read by the end of the year; books such as Zoopolis which re-conceptualizes interspecies ethics as interspecies justice, Critical Theory and Animal Liberation which organizes the most sophisticated collection of critical animal studies theory to date, Creaturely Poetics which articulates a movement in animal ethics away from reason and power toward vulnerability, and Social Lives with Other Animals which investigates the social formation of species identity within the particular intersections of oppression. Animalkind, Beyond Animal Rights, and Animal Ethics in Context further challenge the traditional and universal morality espoused by animal advocates for more nuanced considerations that are far from self-certain. And if these books aren't tricky enough, the first philosophy book entirely dedicated to the moral considerability of plants, Plants as Persons, is bound to give the zoocentrist a run for her money.

Tim Tyler's book CIFERAE and Dominic Pittman's Human Error, and Boddice's Anthropocentrism add further complexity to our understanding of our humanity and the hegemony of anthropocentrism while Pat Shippman and Hal Herzog explore the myths of human-animal relationships with the latest empirical research in anthropology and psychology. Then there is Meat, Animals and Public Health, and Animals as Biotechnology which offer meditations on the relationship between our treatment of animals and the intersections of human, animal, and ecological health. Last but not least, I'm majorly anticipating Kari Weil's Thinking Animals, which seems like it will provide the greatest synthesis of human-animal studies yet published.



If you are interested in contributing a book summary and review to be posted on this blog, please send me an email or comment below.

NEW DIRECTIONS IN ANIMAL ETHICS / JUSTICE:
Zoopolis: A Political Theory of Animal Rights (Sue Donaldson, Will Kymlicka, 2012)
Zoopolis offers a new agenda for the theory and practice of animal rights. Most animal rights theory focuses on the intrinsic capacities or interests of animals, and the moral status and moral rights that these intrinsic characteristics give rise to. Zoopolis shifts the debate from the realm of moral theory and applied ethics to the realm of political theory, focusing on the relational obligations that arise from the varied ways that animals relate to human societies and institutions. Building on recent developments in the political theory of group-differentiated citizenship, Zoopolis introduces us to the genuine "political animal". It argues that different types of animals stand in different relationships to human political communities. Domesticated animals should be seen as full members of human-animal mixed communities, participating in the cooperative project of shared citizenship. Wilderness animals, by contrast, form their own sovereign communities entitled to protection against colonization, invasion, domination and other threats to self-determination. `Liminal' animals who are wild but live in the midst of human settlement (such as crows or raccoons) should be seen as "denizens", resident of our societies, but not fully included in rights and responsibilities of citizenship. To all of these animals we owe respect for their basic inviolable rights. But we inevitably and appropriately have very different relations with them, with different types of obligations. Humans and animals are inextricably bound in a complex web of relationships, and Zoopolis offers an original and profoundly affirmative vision of how to ground this complex web of relations on principles of justice and compassion.



Critical Theory and Animal Liberation (John Sabonmatsu, 2011)
Critical Theory and Animal Liberation is the first collection to approach our relationship with other animals from the critical or 'left' tradition in political and social thought. Breaking with past treatments that have framed the problem as one of 'animal rights,' the authors instead depict the exploitation and killing of other animals as a political question of the first order. The contributions highlight connections between our everyday treatment of animals and other forms of social power, mass violence, and domination, from capitalism and patriarchy to genocide, fascism, and ecocide. Contributors include well-known writers in the field as well as scholars in other areas writing on animals for the first time. Among other things, the authors apply Freud's theory of repression to our relationship to the animal, debunk the 'Locavore' movement, expose the sexism of the animal defense movement, and point the way toward a new transformative politics that would encompass the human and animal alike.


Creaturely Poetics: Animality and Vulnerability in Literature and Film (Anat Pick, 2011)
Simone Weil once wrote that “the vulnerability of precious things is beautiful because vulnerability is a mark of existence,” establishing a relationship between vulnerability, beauty, and existence transcending the separation of species. Her conception of a radical ethics and aesthetics could be characterized as a new poetics of species, forcing a rethinking of the body’s significance, both human and animal. Exploring the “logic of flesh” and the use of the body to mark species identity, Anat Pick reimagines a poetics that begins with the vulnerability of bodies, not the omnipotence of thought. Pick proposes a “creaturely” approach based on the shared embodiedness of humans and animals and a postsecular perspective on human-animal relations. She turns to literature, film, and other cultural texts, challenging the familiar inventory of the human: consciousness, language, morality, and dignity. Reintroducing Weil’s elaboration of such themes as witnessing, commemoration, and collective memory, Pick identifies the animal within all humans, emphasizing the corporeal and its issues of power and freedom. In her poetics of the creaturely, powerlessness is the point at which aesthetic and ethical thinking must begin.


Social Lives with Animals: Tales of Sex, Death and Love (Erika Cudworth 2011)
The conventional trilogy of social domination, of class, 'race' and gender has been challenged by new concerns around other distinctions – of place and location, age and generation, sexuality and forms of embodied difference. Despite these important developments, sociology has mostly stopped short at the difference of species. Erika Cudworth draws on various traditions of critical theorizing in sociology and animal studies in arguing that the social is not exclusively human and that species should be understood as a complex system of social domination which is co-constituted with intra-human social dominations. This understanding of species as a social system of relations is exemplified through three case studies: the eating of animals as food, the rearing of animals in industrial agriculture and the keeping of animals as companions. These sites reveal ways in which relations of species domination shape the lives both of humans, and of domesticated animals. Social Lives with Other Animals is a critical sociology of species which takes us beyond theories of speciesism or anthropocentricity and presents a necessary challenge to the power relations in the social formations of species.


Animalkind: What We Owe to Animals (Jean Kazez, 2010)
By exploring the ethical differences between humans and animals, Animalkind establishes a middle ground between egalitarianism and outright dismissal of animal rights. A thought-provoking foray into our complex and contradictory relationship with animals. Advocates that we owe each animal due respect. Offers readers a sensible alternative to extremism by speaking of respect and compassion for animals, not rights. Balances philosophical analysis with intriguing facts and engaging tales


Beyond Animal Rights: Food, Pets, and Ethics (Tony Milligan, 2010)
Issues to do with animal ethics remain at the heart of public debate. In "Beyond Animal Rights," Tony Milligan goes beyond standard discussions of animal ethics to explore the ways in which we personally relate to other creatures through our diet, as pet owners and as beneficiaries of experimentation. The book connects with our duty to act and considers why previous discussions have failed to result in a change in the way that we live our lives. The author asks a crucial question: what sort of people do we have to become if we are to sufficiently improve the ways in which we relate to the non-human? Appealing to both consequences and character, he argues that no improvement will be sufficient if it fails to set humans on a path towards a tolerable and sustainable future. Focusing on our direct relations to the animals we connect with the book offers guidance on all the relevant issues, including veganism and vegetarianism, the organic movement, pet ownership, and animal experimentation


Animal Ethics in Context (Clare Palmer, 2011)
It is widely agreed that because animals feel pain we should not make them suffer gratuitously. Some ethical theories go even further: because of the capacities that they possess, animals have the right not to be harmed or killed. These views concern what not to do to animals, but we also face questions about when we should, and should not, assist animals that are hungry or distressed. Should we feed a starving stray kitten? And if so, does this commit us, if we are to be consistent, to feedhng wild animals during a hard winter? In this controversial book, Clare Palmer advances a theory that claims, with respect to assisting animals, that what is owed to one is not necessarily owed to all, even if animals share similar psychological capacities. Context, history, and relation can be critical ethical factors. If animals live independently in the wild, their fate is not any of our moral business. Yet if humans create dependent animals, or destroy their habitats, we may have a responsibility to assist them. Such arguments are familiar in human casesùwe think that parents have special obligations to their children, for example, or that some groups owe reparations to others. Palmer develops such relational concerns in- the context of wild animals, domesticated animals, and urban scavengers, arguing that different contexts can create different moral relationships.


WHAT IT MEANS TO BE HUMAN:
CIFERAE: A Bestiary in Five Fingers (Tim Tyler, 2012)
In this bold and creative new investigation into the philosophical and intellectual parameters of the question of the animal, Tom Tyler explores a curious fact: in arguing or assuming that knowledge is characteristically human, thinkers have time and again employed animals as examples, metaphors, and fables. From Heidegger’s lizard and Popper’s bees to Saussure’s ox and Freud’s wolves, Tyler points out, “we find a multitude of brutes and beasts crowding into the texts to which they are supposedly unwelcome.” Inspired by the medieval bestiaries, Tyler’s book features an assortment of “wild animals” (ferae)—both real and imaginary—who appear in the works of philosophy as mere ciferae, or ciphers; each is there deployed as a placeholder, of no importance or worth in their own right. Examining the work of such figures as Bataille, Moore, Nietzsche, Kant, Whorf, Darwin, and Derrida, among others, Tyler identifies four ways in which these animals have been tsed and abused: as interchangeable ciphers; as instances of generalized animality; as anthropomorphic caricatures; and as repetitive stereotypes. Looking closer, however, he finds that these unruly beasts persistently and mischievously question the humanist assumptions of their would-be employers. Tyler ultimately challenges claims of human distinctiveness and superiority, which are so often represented by the supposedly unique and perfect human hand. Contrary to these claims, he contends that the hand is, in fact, a primitive organ, and one shared by many different creatures, thereby undercutting one of the foundations of anthropocentricism and opening up the possibility of nonhuman, or more-than-human, knowledge.


Thinking Animals: Why Animal Studies Now? (Kari Weil, 2012)
Animal studies has emerged as a major field within the humanities, despite its challenge to the very notion of the “human” that shapes humanities scholarship. Kari Weil investigates the rise of animal studies and its singular reading of literature and philosophy through the lens of human-animal relations and difference, providing not only a critical introduction to the field but also an appreciation of its thrilling acts of destabilization. Weil explores the mechanisms we use to build knowledge of other animals, to understand ourselves in relation to other animals, and to represent animals in literature, philosophy, theory, art, and cultural practice. Examining real and imagined confrontations between human and nonhuman animals, she charts the presumed lines of difference between human beings and other species and the personal, ethical, and political implications of those boundaries. Her considerations recast the work of such authors as Kafka, Mann, Woolf, and Coetzee, and such philosophers as Nietzsche, Heidegger, Derrida, Deleuze, Agamben, Cixous, and Hearne, while incorporating the aesthetic perspectives of such visual artists as Bill Viola, Frank Noelker, and Sam Taylor-Wood and the “visual thinking” of the autistic animal scientist Temple Grandin. Weil addresses theories of pet keeping and domestication; the importance of animal agency; the intersection of animal studies, disability studies, and ethics; and the role of gender, shame, love, and grief in shaping our attitudes toward animals. Exposing humanism’s conception of the human as a biased illusion, and embracing posthumanism’s acceptance of human and animal entanglement, Weil unseats the comfortable assumptions of humanist thought and its species-specific distinctions.


Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why it's so Hard to Think Straight about Animals (Hal Herzog, 2010)
Drawing on more than two decades of research in the emerging field of anthrozoology, the science of human–animal relations, Hal Herzog offers surprising answers to thesd and other questions related to the moral conundrums we face day in and day out regarding the creatures with whom we share our world... Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat is a highly entertaining and illuminating journey through the full spectrum of human–animal relations, based on Dr. Herzog’s groundbreaking research on animal rights activists, cockfighters, professional dog-show handlers, veterinary students, and biomedical researchers. Blending anthropology, behavioral economics, evolutionary psychology, and philosophy, Herzog carefully crafts a seamless narrative enriched with real-life anecdotes, scientific research, and his own sense of moral ambivalence... Alternately poignant, challenging, and laugh-out-loud funny, this enlightening and provocative book will forever change the way we look at our relationships with other creatures and, ultimately, how we see ourselves.


Human Error: Species-Being and Media Machines (Dominic Pettman, 2011)
What exactly is the human element separating humans from animals and machines? The common answers that immediately come to mind—like art, empathy, or technology—fall apart under close inspection. Dominic Pettman argues that it is a mistake to define such rigid distinctions in the first place, and the most decisive “human error” may be the ingrained impulse to understand ourselves primarily in contrast to our other worldly companions. In Human Error, Pettman describes the three sides of the cybernetic triangle—human, animal, and machine—as a rubric for understanding key figures, texts, and sites where our species-being is either reinforced or challenged by our relationship to our own narcissistic technologies. Consequently, species-being has become a matter of specious-being, in which the idea of humanity is not only a case of mistaken identity but indeed the mistake of identity. Human Error boldly insists on the necessity of relinquishing our anthropomorphism but also on the extreme difficulty of doing so, given how deeply this attitude is bound with all our other most cherished beliefs about forms of life.


The Animal Connection: A New Perspective on What Makes Us Human (Pat Shipman, 2011)
Why do humans all over the world take in and nurture other animals? This behavior might seem maladaptive--after all, every mouthful given to another species is one that you cannot eat--but in this heartening new study, acclaimed anthropologist Pat Shipman reveals that our propensity to domesticate and care for other animals is in fact among our species' greatest strengths. For the last 2.6 million years, Shipman explains, humans who coexisted with animals enjoyed definite adaptive and cultural advantages. To illustrate this point, Shipman gives us a tour of the milestones in human civilization--from agriculture to art and even language--and describes how we reached each stage through our unique relationship with other animals. The Animal Connection reaffirms our love of animals as something both innate and distinctly human, revealing that the process of domestication not only changed animals but had a resounding impact on us as well.--From publisher description.


What it Means to be Human: Historical Reflections from the 1800s to the Present (Joanna Bourke, 2011)
In this fascinating account, Joanna Bourke addresses the profound question of what it means to be “human” rather than “animal.” How are people excluded from political personhood? How does one become entitled to rights? The distinction between the two concepts is a blurred line, permanently under construction. If the Earnest Englishwoman had been capable of looking 100 years into the future, she might have wondered about the human status of chimeras, or the ethics of stem cell research. Political disclosures and scientific advances have been re-locating the human-animal border at an alarming speed. In this meticulously researched, illuminating book, Bourke explores the legacy of more than two centuries, and looks forward into what the future might hold for humans, women, and animals.


Anthropocentrism: Humans, Animals, Environments (Rob Boddice, 2011)
Anthropocentrism is a charge of human chauvinism and an acknowledgement of human ontological boundaries. Anthropocentrism has provided order and structure to humans' understanding of the world, while unavoidably expressing the limits of that understanding. This collection explores the assumptions behind the label ‘anthropocentrism', critically enquiring into the meaning of ‘human'. It addresses the epistemological and ontological problems of charges of anthropocentrism, questioning whether all human views are inherently anthropocentric. In addition, it examines the potential scope for objective, empathetic, relational, or ‘other' views that trump anthropocentrism. With a principal focus on ethical questions concerning animals, the environment and the social, the essays ultimately cohere around the question of the non-human, be it animal, ecosystem, god, or machine.

AGRO-ECOLOGY:
Plants as Persons: A Philosophical Botany (Matthew Hall, 2011)
Matthew Hall challenges readers to reconsider the moral standing of plants, arguing that they are other-than-human persons. Plants constitute the bulk of our visible biomass, underpin all natural ecosystems, and make life on Earth possible. Yet plants are considered passive and insensitive beings rightly placed outside moral consideration. As the human assault on nature continues, more ethical behavior toward plants is needed. Hall surveys Western, Eastern, Pagan, and Indigenous thought, as well as modern science and botanical history, for attitudes toward plants, noting the particular resources for plant personhood and those modes of thought which most exclude plants. The most hierarchical systems typically put plants at the bottom, but Hall finds much to support a more positive view of plants. Indeed, some Indigenous animisms actually recognize plants as relational, intelligent beings who are the appropriate recipients of care and respect. New scientific findings encourage this perspective, revealing that plants possess many of the capacities of sentience and mentality traditionally denied them.
 

Meat: A Benign Extravagance (Simon Fairlie, 2010)
Meat is a groundbreaking exploration of the difficult environmental, ethical and health issues surrounding the human consumption of animals. Garnering huge praise in the UK, this is a book that answers the question: should we be farming animals, or not? Not a simple answer, but one that takes all views on meat eating into account. It lays out in detail the reasons why we must indeed decrease the amount of meat we eat, both for the planet and for ourselves, and yet explores how different forms of agriculture--including livestock--shape our landscape and culture.At the heart of this book, Simon Fairlie argues that society needs to re-orient itself back to the land, both physically and spiritually, and explains why an agriculture that can most readily achieve this is one that includes a measure of livestock farming. It is a well-researched look at agricultural and environmental theory from a fabulous writer and a farmer, and is sure to take off where other books on vegetarianism and veganism have fallen short in their global scope.


Animals and Public Health: Why Treating Animals Better is Critical to Human Welfare (Aysha Akhtar, 2012)
It is often assumed, particularly by those in the health fields, that the welfare of animals is in opposition to that of humans. Aysha Akhtar, M.D., M.P.H., dispels that notion by presenting scientific evidence that demonstrates just how intricately related human and animal health and welfare are. In a lively and engaging manner, this highly accessible text takes the reader through a diverse array of health topics and explores the link between the way we treat animals and how it affects human health. Dr. Akhtar explores the lives of animals in violent homes, factory farms, experimental laboratories, the entertainment industry and the wildlife trade. She reveals how their poor treatment is both directly and indirectly related to some of the most significant and urgent health issues we face today. This ground-breaking and timely book draws from examples as diverse as domestic violence, Michael Vick's dog-fighting ring, the world's most ominous infectious diseases, animal attacks, high-profile drug failures and global warming. The result is a powerful and compelling argument on the critical need to improve our treatment of animals not only to alleviate their suffering but also to alleviate our own.

Animals as Biotechnology: Ethics, Sustainability, and Critical Animal Studies (Richard Twine, 2010)
In Animals as Biotechnology: Ethics, Sustainability and Critical Animal Studies sociologist Richard Twine places the questioning of human/animal relations at the heart of sustainability and climate change debates. This book is shaped by the incongruous parallel emergence of two approaches to nonhuman animals. The animal sciences concerned with the efficient and profitable production of animals into meat and dairy products now embrace molecular knowledge as a means to extract new sources of biocapital from farmed animal bodies. However the emergence of animal studies and critical animal studies ”mostly in the humanities and social sciences ”work to question the dominant instrumental character of our relations with other animals. Twine considers the emergence of these approaches to bring into relief the paradox of a novel biotechnological power to breed new forms of animals at the very time when critical animal studies and threats such as climate change pose serious questions of anthropocentrism and hubris... This book concludes by considering whether growing counter calls to reduce our consumption of meat/dairy products in the face of climate change threats are in fact complicit with an anthropocentric discourse that would marginalize from its understanding of sustainability a more thorough ethical questioning of normative human/animal relations.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Paleo Diet Article in Sound Consumer

I recently wrote an article for my local natural foods grocery store, PCC, about the "Paleolithic" diet.  You can read it online here.  I explain the basic rationale for Paleo diets, some of the scientific support behind it, and how it can be helpful for people with certain health problems.  I focused in particular on the research of Dr. Staffan Lindeberg at the University of Lund, who has studied non-industrial populations using modern medical techniques and also conducted clinical diet trials using the Paleo diet.
Read more »

Friday, January 27, 2012

Insulin and Obesity: Another Nail in the Coffin

There are several versions of the insulin hypothesis of obesity, but the versions that are most visible to the public generally state that elevated circulating insulin (whether acute or chronic) increases body fatness.  Some versions invoke insulin's effects on fat tissue, others its effects in the brain.  This idea has been used to explain why low-carbohydrate and low-glycemic-index diets can lead to weight loss (although frankly, glycemic index per se doesn't seem to have much if any impact on body weight in controlled trials). 

I have explained in various posts why this idea does not appear to be correct (1, 2, 3), and why, after extensive research, the insulin hypothesis of obesity lost steam by the late 1980s.  However, I recently came across two experiments that tested the hypothesis as directly as it can be tested-- by chronically increasing circulating insulin in animals and measuring food intake and body weight and/or body fatness.  If the hypothesis is correct, these animals should gain fat, and perhaps eat more as well. 

Read more »

Monday, January 23, 2012

What Causes Insulin Resistance? Part VII

In previous posts, I outlined the factors I'm aware of that can contribute to insulin resistance.  In this post, first I'll list the factors, then I'll provide my opinion of effective strategies for preventing and potentially reversing insulin resistance.

The factors

These are the factors I'm aware of that can contribute to insulin resistance, listed in approximate order of importance.  I could be quite wrong about the order-- this is just my best guess. Many of these factors are intertwined with one another. 
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Sunday, January 22, 2012

Three Announcements

Chris Highcock of the blog Conditioning Research just published a book called Hillfit, which is a conditioning book targeted at hikers/backpackers.  He uses his knowledge and experience in hiking and conditioning to argue that strength training is an important part of conditioning for hiking.  I'm also a hiker/backpacker myself here in the rugged and beautiful Pacific Northwest, and I also find that strength training helps with climbing big hills, and walking farther and more easily with a lower risk of injury.

Richard Nikoley of the blog Free the Animal has also published a book called Free the Animal: Beyond the Blog, where he shares his strategies for losing fat and improving health and fitness.  I haven't had a chance to read it yet, but Richard has a reasonable perspective on diet/health and a sharp wit. 

Also, my friend Pedro Bastos has asked me to announce a one-day seminar at the University of Lisbon (Portugal) by Dr. Frits Muskiet titled "Vitamins and Minerals: A Scientific, Modern, Evolutionary and Global View".  It will be on Sunday, Feb 5-- you can find more details about the seminar here.  Dr. Muskiet is a researcher at the Groningen University Medical Center in the Netherlands.  He studies the impact of nutrients, particularly fatty acids, on health, from an evolutionary perspective.  Wish I could attend. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

What Causes Insulin Resistance? Part VI

In this post, I'll explore a few miscellaneous factors that can contribute to insulin resistance: smoking, glucocorticoids/stress, cooking temperature, age, genetics and low birth weight.

Smoking

Smoking tobacco acutely and chronically reduces insulin sensitivity (1, 2, 3), possibly via:
  1. Increased inflammation
  2. Increased circulating free fatty acids (4)
Paradoxically, since smoking also protects against fat gain, in the very long term it may not produce as much insulin resistance as one would otherwise expect.  Diabetes risk is greatly elevated in the three years following smoking cessation (5), and this is likely due to the fat gain that occurs.  This is not a good excuse to keep smoking, because smoking tobacco is one of the most unhealthy things you can possibly do.  But it is a good reason to tighten up your diet and lifestyle after quitting.

Read more »

Sunday, January 15, 2012

What Causes Insulin Resistance? Part V

Previously in this series, we've discussed the role of cellular energy excess, inflammation, brain insulin resistance, and micronutrient status in insulin resistance.  In this post, I'll explore the role of macronutrients and sugar in insulin sensitivity.

Carbohydrate and Fat

There are a number of studies on the effect of carbohydrate:fat ratios on insulin sensitivity, but many of them are confounded by fat loss (e.g., low-carbohydrate and low-fat weight loss studies), which almost invariably improves insulin sensitivity.  What interests me the most is to understand what effect different carbohydrate:fat ratios have on insulin sensitivity in healthy, weight stable people.  This will get at what causes insulin resistance in someone who does not already have it.

Read more »

Thursday, January 12, 2012

New Obesity Review Paper by Yours Truly

The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism just published a clinical review paper written by myself and my mentor Dr. Mike Schwartz, titled "Regulation of Food Intake, Energy Balance, and Body Fat Mass: Implications for the Pathogenesis and Treatment of Obesity" (1).  JCEM is one of the most cited peer-reviewed journals in the fields of endocrinology, obesity and diabetes, and I'm very pleased that it spans the gap between scientists and physicians.  Our paper takes a fresh and up-to-date look at the mechanisms by which food intake and body fat mass are regulated by the body, and how these mechanisms are altered in obesity.  We explain the obesity epidemic in terms of the mismatch between our genes and our current environment, a theme that is frequently invoked in ancestral health circles.

Read more »

Monday, January 9, 2012

What Causes Insulin Resistance? Part IV

So far, we've explored three interlinked causes of insulin resistance: cellular energy excess, inflammation, and insulin resistance in the brain.  In this post, I'll explore the effects on micronutrient status on insulin sensitivity.

Micronutrient Status

There is a large body of literature on the effects of nutrient intake/status on insulin action, and it's not my field, so I don't intend this to be a comprehensive post.  My intention is simply to demonstrate that it's important, and highlight a few major factors I'm aware of.

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Sunday, January 8, 2012

What Causes Insulin Resistance? Part III

As discussed in previous posts, cellular energy excess and inflammation are two important and interlinked causes of insulin resistance.  Continuing our exploration of insulin resistance, let's turn our attention to the brain.

The brain influences every tissue in the body, in many instances managing tissue processes to react to changing environmental or internal conditions.  It is intimately involved in insulin signaling in various tissues, for example by:
  • regulating insulin secretion by the pancreas (1)
  • regulating glucose absorption by tissues in response to insulin (2)
  • regulating the suppression of glucose production by the liver in response to insulin (3)
  • regulating the trafficking of fatty acids in and out of fat cells in response to insulin (4, 5)
Because of its important role in insulin signaling, the brain is a candidate mechanism of insulin resistance.

Read more »

Saturday, January 7, 2012

What Causes Insulin Resistance? Part II

In the last post, I described how cellular energy excess causes insulin resistance, and how this is triggered by whole-body energy imbalance.  In this post, I'll describe another major cause of insulin resistance: inflammation. 

Inflammation

In 1876, a German physician named W Ebstein reported that high doses of sodium salicylate could totally eliminate the signs and symptoms of diabetes in certain patients (Berliner Klinische Wochenschrift. 13:337. 1876). Following up on this work in 1901, the British physician RT Williamson reported that treating diabetic patients with sodium salicylate caused a striking decrease in the amount of glucose contained in the patients' urine, also indicating an apparent improvement in diabetes (2).  This effect was essentially forgotten until 1957, when it was rediscovered.

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Friday, January 6, 2012

What Causes Insulin Resistance? Part I

Insulin is an ancient hormone that influences many processes in the body.  Its main role is to manage circulating concentrations of nutrients (principally glucose and fatty acids, the body's two main fuels), keeping them within a fairly narrow range*.  It does this by encouraging the transport of nutrients into cells from the circulation, and discouraging the export of nutrients out of storage sites, in response to an increase in circulating nutrients (glucose or fatty acids). It therefore operates a negative feedback loop that constrains circulating nutrient concentrations.  It also has many other functions that are tissue-specific.

Insulin resistance is a state in which cells lose sensitivity to the effects of insulin, eventually leading to a diminished ability to control circulating nutrients (glucose and fatty acids).  It is a major contributor to diabetes risk, and probably a contributor to the risk of cardiovascular disease, certain cancers and a number of other disorders. 

Why is it important to manage the concentration of circulating nutrients to keep them within a narrow range?  The answer to that question is the crux of this post. 

Read more »

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

New York Times Magazine Article on Obesity

For those of you who haven't seen it, Tara Parker-Pope write a nice article on obesity in the latest issue of NY Times Magazine (1).  She discusses  research showing  that the body "resists" fat loss attempts, making it difficult to lose fat and maintain fat loss once obesity is established.
Read more »

Monday, January 2, 2012

High-Fat Diets, Obesity and Brain Damage

Many of you have probably heard the news this week:

High-fat diet may damage the brain
Eating a high-fat diet may rapidly injure brain cells
High fat diet injures the brain
Brain injury from high-fat foods

Your brain cells are exploding with every bite of butter!  Just kidding.  The study in question is titled "Obesity is Associated with Hypothalamic Injury in Rodents and Humans", by Dr. Josh Thaler and colleagues, with my mentor Dr. Mike Schwartz as senior author (1).  We collaborated with the labs of Drs. Tamas Horvath and Matthias Tschop.  I'm fourth author on the paper, so let me explain what we found and why it's important.  

The Questions

Among the many questions that interest obesity researchers, two stand out:
  1. What causes obesity?
  2. Once obesity is established, why is it so difficult to treat?
Our study expands on the efforts of many other labs to answer the first question, and takes a stab at the second one as well.  Dr. Licio Velloso and collaborators were the first to show in 2005 that inflammation in a part of the brain called the hypothalamus contributes to the development of obesity in rodents (2), and this has been independently confirmed several times since then.  The hypothalamus is an important brain region for the regulation of body fatness, and inflammation keeps it from doing its job correctly.

The Findings

Read more »

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Junk Free January

Last year, Matt Lentzner organized a project called Gluten Free January, in which 546 people from around the world gave up gluten for one month.  The results were striking: a surprisingly large proportion of participants lost weight, experienced improved energy, better digestion and other benefits (1, 2).  This January, Lentzner organized a similar project called Junk Free January.  Participants can choose between four different diet styles:
  1. Gluten free
  2. Seed oil free (soybean, sunflower, corn oil, etc.)
  3. Sugar free
  4. Gluten, seed oil and sugar free
Wheat, seed oils and added sugar are three factors that, in my opinion, are probably linked to the modern "diseases of affluence" such as obesity, diabetes and coronary heart disease.  This is particularly true if the wheat is eaten in the form of white flour products, and the seed oils are industrially refined and used in high-heat cooking applications.

If you've been waiting for an excuse to improve your diet, why not join Junk Free January?