Bitter Success in the U.K.

fish-and-chips

In many parts of Great Britain (which includes Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales), and even in England itself, the local inhabitants are very conscious of their relative standings in the national obesity statistics. There is sincere feeling about making a good appearance.

The largely rural county of Dorset, which contains almost 420,000 people, had to face this last winter:

There were 10,390 admissions in Dorset’s hospitals last year where obesity was the main reason for a person being admitted or a secondary factor — nearly seven times higher than the 1500 recorded in 2011/12.

A National Health Service official suggested that perhaps hospitals have merely become more conscientious about keeping thoroughly descriptive records. The Obesity Health Alliance (OHA) begs to differ. At the time, the OHA comprised over 30 groups, and has since grown to 39. We are talking heavy hitters — the British Medical Association; the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation; the Royal College of This, That, and the Other Thing — who all agree that something needs to be done. It is a coalition of institutions with august names and resolute intentions.

Just last month, the OHA announced that the average British child ingests the equivalent of five doughnuts’ worth of “hidden sugar” each and every day. Research performed by the National Diet and Nutrition Survey showed that kids between 11 and 18 tend to consume more than twice the maximum recommended dose of sugar.

Journalist Laura Donnelly noted:

The alliance said children were regularly consuming high amounts of hidden sugars from soup, ready meals, and breakfast cereals, without their parents realizing how unhealthy such foods were.

The price of victory

Despite the unacceptable level of obesity-related hospital admissions, Dorset wasn’t even the most obese. Plenty of places in England scored worse, and they all correlate with areas of destitution, or as the British say, “income deprivation.”

But when residents want to limit the number of takeaway outlets they are willing to tolerate and enable, doing well in the national stats does not guarantee a win. Far from it. Their virtue can be used against them in a cruelly twisted way.

In its inimitable style, the Daily Mail explains just such a controversy with these crisp points:

— Plans were submitted to build a fish and chip shop opposite a school in Dorset
— But Budmouth College in Weymouth is unable to prevent it from being built
— They aren’t able to challenge it on health grounds as obesity levels are low

The word “college,” incidentally, carries a different meaning in Britain. The students are Year 6 and Year 7, so these are 10- and 11-year-olds. Journalist Abe Hawken writes:

The application […] can’t be rejected as children in the local area are healthier than average. School leaders, local councillors and parents have slammed the decision as they believe its arrival will increase obesity statistics.

Local authorities okayed the fast food shop, and one politician explained how “the committee felt the points put forward for development outweighed those against it.” Of course the committee felt this way. It is what committees all too often seem to do. Parents, educators, health professionals, and kids are fighting a real uphill battle.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Number of obesity admissions to hospital in Dorset SEVEN times what it was four years ago,” BourneMouthEcho.co.uk, 11/07/16
Source: “Children are eating equivalent of five donuts a day in ‘hidden sugars’,” Telegraph.co.uk, 02/24/17
Source: “School can’t stop CHIP SHOP being built next door on health grounds because local children’s obesity levels are below national average,” DailyMail.co.uk, 01/02/17
Photo credit: sstrieu via Visualhunt/CC BY-ND

Great Britain’s Long Journey

kid-eating-cereal-from-above

Childhood Obesity News continues to chronicle various aspects of the struggle to institute a sugar tax in Great Britain. The media had been full of disturbing warnings of the shape of things to come. Early in 2016, the always-sensational Daily Mail presented to its public this headline: “Fat children will ‘collapse the NHS’: Number of 11-year-olds weighing more than 15st DOUBLES in a year.”

In America, that would be 210 pounds, which generally is agreed to be too much for a child to weigh almost anywhere. In England, there were 383 kids in that weight class, up from 176 only two years before.

The National Obesity Forum’s Tam Fry warned:

To treat a child who is obese by age 11 is like moving a mountain. Once you’ve got overweight, its hard to get down to normal size… They should be weighed from the age of 2. If they’re getting excessively fat, something can be done early.

In The Star, Alice Evans wrote:

The NCMP measures the height and weight of more than a million children in England every year.

This is puzzling in the light of Fry’s assertion that children are only weighed twice, at ages 4 and 11. At any rate, the important point was that “The number of children who are overweight or obese when they leave primary school has hit record levels.”

As Her Majesty’s subjects and citizens (which are two different things) argued over the sugar tax and related matters, the Coca-Cola Company was surprisingly out in front of societal developments. Merinews.com reported:

The company is currently reformulating 200 products to reduce the sugar content in them. Fanta and Sprite with 30 per cent less sugar are already on shelves in the United Kingdom…

At the same time, the Brits learned from the Education Endowment Foundation that school breakfast clubs help children do better in their studies, and by a startling margin:

A new study suggests that Year 2 children who attend primaries offering a before-school club could make an extra two months progress in these core subjects over a year, compared to youngsters in other schools….

The report looked at the results of the Magic Breakfast project, which provided 106 schools with the support and resources to offer a free breakfast club, including to all Year 2 children. It ran between September 2014 and July 2015.

Teachers reported improvements in classroom behavior and the children’s ability to concentrate. The EEF gave resistant parents something to think about by adding:

These improvements mean that breakfast club provision can have benefits even for children who do not attend, by improving their classroom learning environment.

Privately funded experiments like this encouraged the government to commit £10m for healthy breakfast clubs.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Fat children will ‘collapse the NHS’: Number of 11-year-olds weighing more than 15st DOUBLES in a year,” DailyMail.co.uk, 02/22/16
Source: “‘Worrying trend’ of rising childhood obesity,” TheStar.co.uk, 11/014/16
Source: “How Coca-Cola Co has turned the battle against sugar into a profitable business,”
Merinews.com, 10/27/16
Source: “School breakfast clubs boost pupils’ results, research shows,” AOL.co.uk, 11/04/16
Photo via Visualhunt

In Great Britain, the Beat Goes On

cheering-kids

Childhood Obesity News has accused soda, pizza and potato snacks of being incomparable obesity villains, which they are, but breakfast cereal is right up there in that class too. Let’s give blame where blame is due.

What makes cereal such an outstandingly offensive product is the boldness and scope of its advertising. Great Britain recognizes it as shameless and attempts to curb it. The nation’s Obesity Health Alliance is no friend of any cartoon animal, mythical creature, or live celebrity whose mission is to incite children to desire products — especially when the children are seduced by “advergames” and other channels that parents are not generally tuned in to.

Professor John Wass writes:

The internet has opened up a whole new world of opportunities for advertisers to persuade children to eat their products. Companies are exploiting gaps in the regulations to target children online with promotions for products that cannot be advertised on children’s television.

Toward the end of last year, the World Health Organization issued a report stating that “hidden digital advertising and marketing” is a menace because it promotes all the wrong kinds of food. WHO urged policymakers to do more to protect kids from things like “advergames.” The organization’s spokesperson pointed out that parents may be unlikely to see the same advertisements their children encounter, and if they did, they might be appalled.

Trouble on all sides

Sometimes the focus of the conversation shifts to the enormous number of takeaway outlets, which Americans know as fast food joints. The organization Public Health England had generated a map of takeaway outlet saturation in each part of the country. The local authority of Birmingham, for instance, was found to have 1,058 of them. An academic report alarmed the health-conscious by stating that people who live near fast food outlets have a greater likelihood of being overweight or obese.

According to Cambridge University:

Research has revealed areas inundated with fast food outlets may be particularly unhealthy for poor residents… Poorly educated people who live in areas saturated with fast food shops eat around four kilos — 8.8 lbs — more unhealthy takeaway food each year than their more highly educated peers.

Various groups attempted to raise public consciousness and political awareness regarding the proximity of takeaway outlets to schools, meeting with not much success. Public Health England also spread the word about sugar reduction in processed foods. The goal is to reduce children’s sugar consumption by 20%, by the year 2020.

Chief Nutritionist Dr. Alison Tedstone wrote:

Most won’t know, but in recent years we’ve halved the salt in baked beans and there’s 40 per cent less of it in bread. Hardly anyone noticed the difference and the last I checked beans on toast was still pretty popular.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “To Tackle Childhood Obesity We Need to Address Marketing to Children,” HuffingtonPost.co.uk, 06/02/16
Source: “WHO Europe Report Warns Over Dangerous Digital Advertising Pushing Children To Eat Unhealthy Foods,” TechNewsObserver.com, 11/06/16
Source: “England’s fast food MAPPED: Outlets could be fuelling dangerous obesity epidemic,” Express.co.uk, 10/21/16
Source: “Public Health England: you probably won’t notice as we reduce sugar in food,” Spectator.co.uk, 11/01/16
Photo via Visualhunt

If Mama Ain’t Happy, Ain’t Nobody Happy

puy-notre-dame

If “Mama” is the microbiome, the comparison is easy to make. When things are not going well in the digestive tract, where trillions of organisms make their home and partake of various relationships with their host, the rest of the body will not fare well.

A claim has been made that red wine contains polyphenols, which help beneficent gut bacteria to flourish. But as we have seen, the alcohol itself is hostile to bacteria. Probably it is wise to acquire friendly bacteria by other means.

On some topics, the state of knowledge is on firmer footing. For instance, there is agreement among most students of the microbiome that wheat and industrial seed oils are good for bad bacteria, or bad for good ones, or both.

Allergies are widely understood to be the result of dysbiosis, or disruption of the microbiome. This is an eminently logical position, as 80% of the body’s immune cells hang out in the gut. To grant entry to substances that tamper with the crucial balance is to invite permeability of the intestine, which nobody wants. Once the foreign molecules escape into the bloodstream, the entire confused system wages war on itself.

Paradoxes abound

Bacteria of the genus Clostridia help maintain the intestine’s integrity and contain the harmful molecules on their own side of the border. Can these critters be lab-cultivated and bottled as medicine? This is one of the million questions that scientists in this field face.

But — and in these early stages of getting to know the microbiome, it seems like there is always a “but” — as Chris Kresser writes:

Children with allergies tended to have increased abundance of Staphylococcus, Clostridium, and Escherichia species, while numbers of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria are significantly reduced compared to healthy children.

Microbiome science is full of as-yet-indecipherable mysteries. For instance, in the gut, health is associated with greater diversity of organisms. In the lungs and air passages, health is associated with reduced diversity. Yet the two very different locales share a similarity: Both asthma and obesity are associated with antibiotics introduced at a very young age; and with C-sections; and with formula feeding.

It all has to do histamine intolerance, and guess where histamine comes from? Gut microbes. Lactobacillus is an important and generally helpful bug which nevertheless produces histamine whose excess can be problematic. To avoid an overgrowth of histamine-producing microbes, it appears that one must avoid aged cheeses, citrus fruits, fish, shellfish, avocados, spinach, cocoa, and leftover meat.

Researchers at Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science made a major advance by observing that artificial sweeteners perform “profound changes” on the microbiome to raise blood-sugar levels. In mice, this opens the way to glucose intolerance, diabetes, and obesity.

Jason Best reports that a small group of human subjects who normally never used artificial sweeteners ingested them for a week:

Half began to develop glucose intolerance after just four days, and further analysis showed these participants possessed the kind of gut bacteria that appeared to cause glucose intolerance when exposed to artificial sweeteners.

Aspartame, sucralose and saccharin apparently mess up the gut bacteria worse than actual sugar. Over 6,000 processed food products contain artificial sweeteners, and we would do well to remember the words of Dr. Billi Gordon:

Most processed foods are drugs, not food.

Bonus audio track: Tracy Byrd’s “When Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Doing Dry January? Your gut bacteria will be grateful,” OptibacProbiotics.co.uk, 01/05/16
Source: “Got Allergies? Your Microbes Could Be Responsible,” ChrisKresser.com, 04/28/16
Source: “Drinking Diet Soda and Not Losing Weight? Blame Your Gut Bacteria,” Takepart.com, 09/18/14
Source: “Much More Than a Gut Feeling,” PsychologyToday.com, 07/22/14
Image by: Spencer Means

Ain’t Nobody Happy

angry-cartoon-character

The title of this post refers back to “If Momma Ain’t Happy.” The concept is well-grounded in American folklore. Many musicians either cover someone else’s song or write their own version. For instance, there is “If Mama Ain’t Happy (Ain’t Nobody Happy)” by Blind Rhymin’ Cornbread and the G-Men.

It is not too fanciful to compare the microbiome to Momma, and the rest of the body and mind to the other members of a well-functioning household. This theme is building up to ideas about how keeping the microbiome happy is something that Dr. Pretlow’s W8Loss2Go smartphone app can help with. But first, we explore a few more of the insults that guarantee the microbiome’s unhappiness.

Why do we even care?

Why do we have to worry about whether our gut bugs are happy? When given the wrong kind of sustenance, the digestive system, and mainly, the trillions of inhabitants of the large intestine, will take revenge.

We have learned that some bacteria play more than one role, and can be “good” or “bad” depending on what else is going on. This brief excerpt suggests how confusing the research can be, and emphasizes the fact that variables can make a big difference:

It has been suggested that Prevotella is a beneficial bacteria as it is associated with a plant-rich diet, however it is also linked to chronic inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis and mucosal and systemic T-cell activation in untreated human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) infection… It is therefore relevant to consider context as an important factor when assessing the effects of Prevotella on host health.

There are things we should not ingest either because “good” bacteria will be harmed, or “bad” bacteria will like the substance too much and use it to do us wrong. As a very general rule, good bugs like complex carbohydrates, and bad bugs like simple carbohydrates. Pathogenic bacteria adore simple carbohydrates, and so do toxic yeasts.

Some specifics

A pathogenic bacterium known as Klebsiella spp. likes starch, and may be implicated in ankylosing spondylitis, a form of arthritis. The problem with eating meat is that a lot of it will probably arrive in the colon partially digested, and the resident microbes get busy cranking out ammonia, nitrosamines, and hydrogen sulfide.

Here is what David R. Montgomery and Anne Bikle have to say about protein putrefaction:

Eating lots of fat stimulates the liver to produce bile and deliver it to the small intestine… It acts like a detergent and breaks fats into smaller molecules so they can be absorbed. Almost all of the bile used in the small intestine gets transported back to the liver after fats are sufficiently broken down… About 5 percent of bile secretions keep moving down the digestive tract and land in the colon.

Bacteroidetes like fats, that much is clear. For mice, a high-fat diet appears to impair the integrity of the intestinal mucosal barrier, which seems like an interesting fact. Put that together with an article title implying that bacteroidetes are good for the gut, and it is easy to see why researchers are constantly saying that more studies are needed. As Dr. Billi Gordon puts it:

[…] the more research we do, the more we learn about the extensive effects of the gut bacteria on virtually all realms of human existence.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source:”The latest advances regarding the link between Prevotella genus, diet and its impact on host health,” GutMicrobiotaForHealth,com, 02/11/16
Source: “What Your Microbiome Wants for Dinner,” Nautil.us, 12/10/15
Source: “The Interplay of the Gut Microbiome, Bile Acids, and Volatile Organic Compounds,” NIH.gov, 03/03/15
Source: “Much More Than a Gut Feeling,” PsychologyToday.com, 07/22/14
Photo credit: keith ellwood via Visualhunt/CC BY

If Momma Ain’t Happy

mad-woman

“If Momma ain’t happy, nobody have a good time” is the first line of a song by Outta d’ Blues, and the same is true of the microbiome and the rest of the body. The microbiome is worth a good deal of attention because this organ is in charge of breaking down the nutritional elements that come in and distributing them as it sees fit.

On a deeper level, there is evidence that the gut bacteria exert considerable power over what, when, and how we eat. In other words, we labor under the illusion of choice. It is suspected that even what is often seen as addictive behavior (such as compulsive overeating) should be attributed to the perverted cravings of the bugs that covertly run the show.

When a healthful balance is in effect, the interests of the microbiome and the human host are aligned. When the various populations of bacteria are out of balance, bad things happen. What is bad for “us” pretty much turns out to be bad for the microbiome, and vice versa.

The notable example is the overuse of antibiotics, which causes incalculable damage by giving deadly bacteria the opportunity to develop resistance, and leads to the loss of human lives that might otherwise have been saved. As we have seen, the arrival of antibiotics amongst the friendly gut bugs causes devastation that may take years to repair.

The microbiota are harmed by alcohol, which can also be said of numerous bodily systems, and of the human mind itself. Even a small amount of alcohol can degrade the habitat of the microbiota by increasing intestinal permeability.

Courtesy of Onnit.com, here is a list of other substances that damage the microbiome:

— pain killers
— steroids
— contraceptives
— sleeping pills
— heartburn medication
— environmental toxins

It should be noted that environmental toxins are of two kinds. They may be byproducts of manufacturing, transportation, agriculture, and other human endeavors. They may also be poisons that we willingly and voluntarily subject ourselves to, such as food additives, pesticides, beauty products, air fresheners, and a multitude of other consumer goods.

Even substances that were previously considered innocent are indicted. Apparently, gluten increases intestinal permeability in everyone, not just people who have a known sensitivity or allergy. Also:

Intestinal parasites, microbial infestations, or fungal overgrowth — this is much more common than you might think. 80-90% of our population is believed to have some kind of unwanted GI intruder…

The microbiome (and consequently the rest of the body) is affected by more than substances. It suffers from the effects of extreme climate conditions, short-term stress, long-term stress, old age, overexertion, and surgery. The important thing to remember, as predicted by another line of the song, is, “If Momma ain’t happy, there’ll be hell to pay.”

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “If Momma Ain’t Happy,” YouTube.com, 11/06/15
Source: “How to Optimize Your Gut Health,” Onnit.com, 06/09/17
Photo credit: Steve Baker via Visualhunt/CC BY-ND

The Wars Within

chess-board

The microbiome, now recognized by many authorities as an actual organ, seems to stick its tiny fingers into just about everything. The aggregation of creatures in the human gut is suspected of influencing most, it not all, of the body’s metabolic processes. Coincidentally, metabolism has a lot to do with obesity.

In the universe of health and healing, the care and feeding of the microbiome might be the next big thing. Humans don’t know a whole lot about what goes on in that fantastically complicated kingdom, but, so far, it seems a good general principle to keep the bugs happy. They not only live where our food is digested, they digest it, and apparently have a lot to say about whether it is converted to energy or fat.

It is a good idea to prevent things from going wrong in that realm, because any malfunction could manifest as obesity (and its concurrent diseases like diabetes). The bugs don’t mean to be unkind, but if we assault them with substances that are not good for them, we will inevitably feel the results. Our friendly bugs wish we would not attack them with antibiotics, which are specifically designed to kill bacteria, which is what they are.

Unfortunately, antibiotics are grossly overprescribed, and even if this were not so, we soak up plenty of antibiotics from food, water, cleaning products, etc. When large populations of microbiota are killed off, this leaves the survivors unable to defend their territory properly, as Julie Daniluk explains:

Like warring factions on Earth, yeast and bacteria battle for space in your body. Bacteria emit antifungal chemicals, and yeasts counterattack with antibacterial force. These creatures share a fluctuating and opposed relationship throughout your body, and, particularly in your gut… If you’re healthy, neither microorganism gains sole reign, so it’s essential for your health that they’re maintained in balance.

Another life form eager to perform a hostile takeover is toxic yeast. One expert believes this can be prevented by ingesting, during a course of antibiotics and for two weeks after, a benign relative of bread yeast, saccharomyces boulardii, which apparently fills up the yeast “slots” so candida can’t move in during the vulnerable period.

Likewise, devastation of the microbiome opens the door to opportunistic, selfish, and even deadly varieties of bacteria. Unlike some other organs, when the microbiome is wounded, it does not need surgical replacement. What it needs is replenishment with a diverse population of bacteria of the right kinds and, more importantly, in the right proportions.

This science is in its infancy, and since we don’t know the exact mix, all we can do is supply the microbiome with precursors that have been shown to be useful.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Meals That Heal Inflammation,” JulieCaniluk.com, 2013
Source: “9 Weird Things Killing Your Gut,” RodaleWellness.com, 04/08/14
Photo via Visualhunt

Revenge of the Microbiome

colorful-glass-bottles

If given the chance, the bugs that live inside us are mostly helpful. Like any other tenant, they know (on some level) that it is not in their best interest to burn down the house. But they do have their priorities.

If we send too much of the wrong stuff down the chute they do not greet its arrival with gratitude. For instance, the microbiota are much better off without alcohol.

If we kill them with antibiotics, the result can be ugly. After an extinction-level event, like a course of prescribed antibiotics, we had best go out and get bugs that don’t mind paying a little rent to occupy us. Probiotic supplements are said to replace the devastated populations, thus keeping the pathogenic organisms at bay. Prebiotics are said to supply the preferred raw materials the bugs need to do their magic.

Trouble lurks

Even when we are conscious, avoiding needless damage to the microbiome is not easy. A fresh news item comes from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention which, like so many other health-related governmental entities, faces significant budget cuts. They keep track of the reports from poison centers. Listen to this:

Researchers calculated that just over 70,000 accidental exposures to hand sanitizers among kids younger than 12 had occurred from 2011 to 2014. The vast majority of these involved youngsters under the age of five who ingested hand sanitizer.

Most of the germ-killer brands are alcohol-based, in which case the formula has to be at least 60% alcohol or it’s useless. The alternative chief ingredient is triclosan, an anti-fungal and anti-bacterial substance also found in pesticides:

[…] the compound has been widely touted as an agent that causes the formation of super bugs or antibiotic resistant bacteria. Triclosan […] is capable of quickly being absorbed into the skin and entering the blood stream. Once there, it is known to cause various side effects like cancer, allergies, hormonal and neurological ill effects and muscle weakness.

So, imagine what it does to the friendly gut bugs that are just trying to co-exist with us. Even when kids just use it properly — on their hands — it has been proven that “a child’s immunity is seriously affected.”

The hand sanitizer might contain benzalkonium chloride, whose “main function is to dissolve the outer covering of the bacterial cells.” That goes for dangerous invading bacteria, and also for our beneficial gut flora. The smell of the cleaning compound will be provided by phthalates, or “fakegrances,” which can do plenty of harm when applied topically, and even more if ingested. Some authorities consider phthalates the most potentially dangerous ingredient found in household and beauty potions.

According to the CDC report on hand sanitizer as beverage, “only a few get seriously hurt.” Vomiting is the second most popular reaction, and a small percentage of kids who drink the stuff suffer from abdominal pain.

But what about the microbiome? For how many of these poisoned kids were baseline counts of their microbial populations on record, for a before-and-after comparison? How many are followed up half a year later to see if their bodily functions have changed in some unaccountable way?

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Kids Apparently Love To Drink Hand Sanitizer,” Vocativ.com, 03/03/17
Source: “8 reasons you will stop using hand sanitisers regularly,” TheHealthSite.com, 04/27/15
Photo via Visualhunt

What’s Up With Brown Fat?

pet-scan

The first astonishing thing researchers learned about brown fat, a while back, was that lean people have more of it than overweight and obese people. A short informative paragraph from MedicalNewsToday.com gives the basics:

White adipocytes (white fat cells) have a single lipid droplet, brown adipocytes contain many small lipid droplets, as well as a very high number of iron-containing mitochondria. Brown fat gets its dark red to tan color from its high iron content. Brown fat has more capillaries than white fat, because of its higher oxygen consumption. Brown fat also has many unmyelinated nerves, providing sympathetic stimulation to the fat cells.

As scientists focused on the substance, it gave up its secrets slowly. Also known as BAT (brown adipose tissue) it seemed to have a lot to do with the burning of calories, and the first thought was to try and take advantage of this feature by chemically enhancing it. Some drugs would stimulate its activity, but without affecting the subject’s obese condition. Worse yet, the drug might jumpstart brown fat’s activity, but would bring along undesirable side effects.

We have seen that cold, either in the surrounding climate or directly applied to the body, can stimulate white fat’s decision to brownify, or become beige fat, which aids weight loss. As it turns out, brown fat is also susceptible to more than one type of influence. Last year, the American Physiological Society announced that, according to lab rodent research, increased blood flow causes brown fat to burn more calories.

When chemical action is able to exert an influence, it is said to have recruited the brown fat. In other words, to have persuaded it to do the required job of turning white fat into so-called beige fat; to stop storing energy and use it up instead.

As ScienceDaily.com expressed it:

If we have a compound that increases energy expenditure by recruiting new brown fat and activating brown fat thermogenesis, then it might work synergistically with conventional anti-obesity medications.

Headed by Shingo Kajimura, Ph.D., a research team from the University of California, San Francisco, managed to, for the first time, isolate beige fat. They also found new associated genetic markers.

The newest, hot-off-the-presses word about BAT comes from a study published by the Journal of Nuclear Medicine, which is appropriate because the data were gathered via positron emission tomography. Because such a scan can visualize metabolic activity in the human body, brown fat was first discovered by this means.

In this new Technical University of Munich study, nearly 3,000 PET scans were performed on 1644 subjects. The first surprise these scientists uncovered is that brown fat is more plentiful than it first appeared to be. We might have three times as much of it as was previously believed.

The second discovery causes much excitement:

The researchers showed for the first time that brown fat activity is affected by a variable known as creatinine clearance, which is related to renal function… [O]ne hypothesis is that there may be signaling substances that affect both brown fat and the kidneys.

The significance of this finding is that it gives new hope for the ability to develop pharmaceuticals that activate that brown fat. As Dr. Tobias Fromme phrased it, “the outlook for the efficacy of drugs in brown adipose tissue can be adjusted upwards.” This could make an unprecedented difference in the lives and health of patients suffering from diabetes and seemingly intractable obesity.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “What is Brown Fat?,” MedicalNewsToday.com, 09/15/14
Source: “Turning on blood flow turns on fat-burning brown fat in mice,” ScienceDaily.com, 03/01/16
Source: “‘Beige’ fat-burning cells in humans identified,” ScienceDaily.com, 04/01/15
Source: “Humans have three times more brown body fat,” ScienceDaily.com, 03/01/17
Photo credit: Thirteen Of Clubs via Visualhunt/CC BY-SA

The Life and Times of Brown Fat

ice-cave

For many years, brown adipose tissue was thought to be the exclusive property of “babies, young children, and other small mammals,” and its purpose was believed to be warmth, to protect the little critters and promote their survival.

In 2009, brown fat was discovered to exist in adults. Aaron Cypress, M.D., lead author of the relevant study, expressed hope that learning more about it could lead to the development of drugs that would stimulate brown fat to perform more efficiently, burn more calories, and alleviate obesity.

For Health magazine, Anne Harding described adults with brown fat:

They were younger and leaner. People who were older, those who were obese, and those using heart drugs called beta blockers were less likely to have brown fat. Dr. Cypress and his team also found that people whose scans were done in the winter had the most brown fat, while those scanned in the summer had the least…

Despite this, Dr. Cypress expressed doubt that hanging out in the cold would be an effective way to fight obesity. In the same year, Kathleen Doheny brought WebMD.com readers up to date:

Brown fat is now thought to be more like muscle than like white fat. When activated, brown fat burns white fat. Although leaner adults have more brown fat than heavier people, even their brown fat cells are greatly outnumbered by white fat cells.

Doheny learned from Dr. Cypress that a 150-pound human, for instance, might have 20 or 30 total pounds of fat, but only two or maybe three ounces are brown fat. However, that small amount, if correctly addressed, is capable of putting out enough energy to burn a pound per week off the body.

A couple of years later, Dr, Cypress spoke with International Business Times about the fact that brown fat plays a key role in pediatric metabolism and rhetorically asked what he called the billion-dollar question: Do children have more brown fat because they are thin, or are they thin because they have more brown fat?

By 2013, thanks to researchers at the University of Gothenburg, the word was out that brown fat tissue is associated with a reduced type 2 diabetes risk. This raised the stakes. Imagine if science could figure out how to both prevent a serious metabolic disease, and help people fit into their favorite jeans.

Then, things got even weirder with the discovery of beige fat, which is basically white fat (residing in the belly and thighs) that has been nudged by the brown fat into immolating itself. What can make this happen? Exposure to cold. But, as the Endocrine Society has found and reported, obese people by definition have systemic inflammation, and inflammation can obstruct the efforts of brown fat to change white fat into beige fat.

This connects to a recent Childhood Obesity News post about fat freezing, which mentioned that the application of extreme cold seems to work for some patients, on very small stubborn pockets of body fat, but is definitely not the answer for the overweight or obese individual.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Discovery of Cold-Activated Brown Fat May Lead to New Obesity Treatments,” Health.com, 04/08/09
Source: “The Truth About Fat,” WebMD.com, 07/13/09
Source: “Brown Fat Found in Thin Children Could be the New Antidote to Obesity: Study,” IBTimes.com, 08/14/11
Source: “Newly-discovered human fat cell opens up new opportunities for future treatment of obesity,” ScienceDaily.com, 05/02/13
Source: “Cold exposure prompts body to convert white fat to calorie-burning beige fat,” ScienceDaily.com, 10/09/14
Photo via Visualhunt

Childhood Obesity News | OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say | Dr. Robert A. Pretlow
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