Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Obesity Epidemic

I find it interesting that last year there were 435,000 deaths from cigarette smoking. Last year, there were also 400,000 deaths from obesity related illness. Obesity is second only to smoking as a cause of death. That is significant.
I have spent the last year reading and researching everything available on weight control. For the last 10 years of my clinical practice, two things have been elusive. First, almost two-thirds of the patient's in my practice are overweight or obese. That correlates with the current figures in the united states. However, most of these patients are very closely watching their diets and are exercising. However, the average patient is only able to loose 5-10 lbs and then the weight seems to return. Despite the depth and certainty of our faith that saturated fat is the nutritional bane of our lives and that sedentary behavior and over-indulgence or over-eating are the cause of our nations obesity, there is, and always has been, significant and plenteous evidence that the above assumptions are wrong . . . dead wrong.
I have patient after patient that comes to my office limiting their intake of fat and limiting their calories (sometimes to less than 1000 per day) and exercising more than most triathletes and they are still gaining weight.
Second, these same patients continue to have a climb in their cholesterol levels. It seems that I just continue to raise their doses of cholesterol lowering medicine to chase the numbers as they increase in adiposity.
To quote H.L Mencken, "There is always and easy solution to every human problem, neat, plausible, and wrong." After, a year of reviewing study after study and reading every legitimate source of research I can get my hands on I have come to the conclusion, as have many others, that fat doesn't make you fat.
Case in point, obesity rates remained fairly constant in the United States from 1960-1980 and then around the time the surgeon general released his "Report on Nutrition and Health" recommending that we all cut the fat out of our diets, our weight has increased to almost 33% being overweight in 2009.
This surge in obesity seems to correlate extremely closely with the constant message that obesity, diabetes and heart disease are caused by fat. We have been told for the last 30 years that we should eat less fat and eat more carbohydrates. Our society has been bombarded by this message and for the most part, we have believed it and followed suite. And the proof is in the statistics. We are getting fatter and fatter.
However, seeing what I have seen in the last 10 years of my practice, a large number of people have turned to the message of Dr. William Banting published in his "Letter on Corpulence" published in 1863 after he lost over 50 lbs. This message has been republished and repackaged in a number of ways, but the physiologic message is the same: Eat Fat and Grow Slim(1958), Calories Don't Count (1961), The Doctor's Quick Weight Loss Diet (1968), Dr. Atkin's Diet Revolution (1972), The Complete Scarsdale Medical Diet (1978), The Zone (1995), Protein Power (1996), Sugar Busters! (1998), and The South Beach Diet (2003). All of these advocate that it is the carbohydrates that are the problem and not the fat. It is fascinating to me that these have all been dismissed by the American Heart Association, The American Medical Association, and multiple nutritional authorities as misdirected fads. I, myself, told patients for years that these were just "fad diets." However, we were wrong.
Claude Bernard explained it this way, "In medicine, we are often confronted with poorly observed and indefinite facts which form actual obstacles to science, in that men always bring them up, saying: it is a fact, it must be accepted." (An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine, 1865) The fact of the matter is that body weight is set by a complex interaction of hormones regulated by the body to maintain a homeostatic balance. The urge to simplify this complex situation so that physicians and apply it and patients can embrace it seems to have taken precedence over the obligation of science to present the evidence with relentless honesty. Unfortunately, this is an area of science where an enormous amount of data has been theorized and instead of rigorously proving those theories, there has become a dedicated practice of convincing the public that those theories have already been tested and the answers are already known. This is an area of medicine that, in the words of Gary Taubes, "purports itself to be science and yet function like a religion."
We have understood the actual science of fatty acid metabolism since the 1930's when Rudolf Schoenheimer & David Rittenberg identified the stages of cholesterol in the metabolism.
In 1965, we had a clear understanding of which hormones stimulate fat mobilization and which hormones promote fat accumulation. Forty years ago, there was no controversy to this. And the facts have not change, in fact we know more about hunger and the hormonal balance of fat mobilization and fat storage than we ever did before. And in 1976, Stephen Woods and Dan Porte described the evidence that insulin is the primary factor in the drive to store fat as "overwhelming."
So what is the bottom line? It is this. When your body sees carbohydrates or sugars of any type, it produces insulin. Insulin is the driving force to store fat. Whenever insulin is present, the body is told to store fat. When insulin is not present the body will use is previously stored fats for fuel. The key then to weight management is management of carbohydrates. The fewer carbohydrates you eat, the less insulin you make and the less fat you will store.

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2 comments:

Nikki Ritter said...

I am morbidly obese. In January I decided to go on a low carb diet (less than 16 carbs a day and these all come from fresh green veggies not breads or rice). Since January 1st (today is Feb 16) I have lost a total of 21 pounds. I am beginning to be concerned about the future risks of eating so much protein (I am sticking to mostly fish and chicken and only eating beef 1-2 times a week). Any thoughts on that?

DocMuscles said...

You're doing it right! The worry of "too much protein" is one that always arises with this diet. I have seen patients eat up to 40 grams of protein per meal and have no problems. There is no scientific data that confirms the worry you expressed. Keep up the good work, however, please make sure someone is monitoring your electrolytes regularly as this can be a problem with some people who lower their carbohydrates as the fat loss increases diuresis and loss of electrolytes.