Monthly Archives: November 2006

Fructose: Evidence for Trouble with Your Liver

Fructose:  Evidence for Trouble with Your Liver

Competency # 11 Sugar and Fructose

Reference: American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases Annual Meeting  Oct 26, 2006

Reported in:  Scientific American, Science News Nov 2006

Supersize me!  The movie already gave us this clue.  In the movie, the premise was that upon every visit to McDonald’s, the lead character had to take whatever was offered and if a size upgrade was offered, that had to be accepted.  Eating at McDonalds three times a day for a month almost killed Morgan Spurlock.  His liver became fatty and his liver function test results went through the roof. Not good.

Now, the American Association for the Study of Liver Disease (AASLD) annual meeting confirmed that this phenomenon was not just due to random chance.  Mice fed a diet of sweetened water made sweet from either pure glucose, fructose, sucrose or saccharin gained weight in a predictable way.  The fructose mice got a condition called fatty liver or steatosis.  Just like in the movie, “Supersize Me.”  The researchers concluded that the mice with the fatty fructose liver had increased oxidative stress as the mechanism for their damaged liver.

In America we have had an absolute increase in liver disease, and we have had trouble figuring out exactly where it came from.  We have accumulating evidence that reactive oxygen molecules cause trouble to many cells.  The mechanisms are beginning to be delineated.  Our mitochondria (the miniature power plants in our cells that manufacture energy for the rest of the cell) are damaged by oxidative stress.  Increasing calories sets off that same response of oxidative stress and mitochondrial damage too.  Our biology makes eating sugar way too tempting.  We just can’t resist it because it just tastes so so good.  Now, the evidence may be enough to start pointing a finger.

Fructose in fruit seems to be fine.  Fructose is part of table sugar, or sucrose, too.  There, it also seems to not be as harmful.  But coming in the form of HFCS (high fructose corn syrup), fructose gets concentrated past the 50/50 mark and seems to cause trouble.  Manufacturers know it’s cheaper by about a penny a can to make soda with HFCS rather than sucrose.  Fructose is cheap and corn, the substrate from which it’s made, is abundant.  Food processing companies like fructose because it’s also more stable and weighs less.  You get more bang for the buck.

So does your liver.

WWW.  What will Work for Me?  It’s time to call fructose a nutritional problem.  In the context of fruit it seems to be ok.  There it comes wrapped in fiber, which helps us absorb it slowly.  But this is enough evidence for me to now add fructose to my list of why it’s worthwhile reading labels.  And friends don’t let friends eat fructose.  (Can you imagine going to McDonalds with me?  I would be impossible.)


Tea: Another Candidate for Weight Loss Help

Tea:  Another Candidate for Weight Loss Help

Competency # 20  Cuisines of the Long Lived

Reference: Zhong, L Urne, J Am J Clin Nutri 2006:84:551-5  (Minneapolis VA Hospital)

Tea has been touted to have all sorts of health benefits.  The British had to travel all over the world to find out that Indians and Chinese had been happily drinking tea for centuries.  They brought it to America where we promptly dumped it in Boston Harbor.  Now, when we track down where those allegations about tea and weight control come from, we only find a mouse study where the mice don’t get fat on a high fat diet when tea is added to their diet.  And there is one human study that has looked at tea and weight gain, and found it to be helpful in weight loss.  Not much solid research.

This study shows us that tea may be very useful in achieving weight loss.  The very high tech study used radioactive carbon tracers to show that tea does something very interesting.  It causes your small bowel to NOT absorb 25% of the carbohydrates you eat in.  Those carbs then get down to your colon.  Were it not for the fact that the bacteria in your colon partially digest those carbs, and you reabsorb some of them back, the authors speculate that adding tea to an average diet would result in a 35 lb weight loss a year.   Unfortunately, we are learning that the bacteria in your colon are a very important part of your total nutritional environment.  Your colonic bacteria process foods they receive and make it possible for you to use that food.   So, the carbs you don’t absorb in your small bowel do get partially absorbed lower down.   The weight loss calculation is just a dream.  But a new mechanism is being elucidated by this study.  Now none of us will lose any weight if we add tons of sugar and whole milk to our tea.

What we learn from this study is that tea does slow down the RATE at which you absorb carbohydrates.  It lowers the “glycemic index” of the food you eat.  A slower absorption ends up being beneficial for you because you don’t secrete insulin and store your carbs as fat.  That is speculation and wasn’t proved by this study.  But it follows in logic and sure makes sense.  And, as opposed to last week with wine, you don’t have to drink hundreds of bottles.  The study was designed around consumption of the equivalent of about 5 cups of tea a day.

WWW: What will work for me?  I like tea.  It has less caffeine than coffee and doesn’t get me as jittery.  This effect of tea is another of its many alleged health benefits.  And this has some hard science.  So, I might just add some civilization to my routine and have a nice afternoon tea.  Or, as our trip to New York last month showed, I can stop in at the Ritz and have afternoon English Tea Time for $ 47 a person.

Live to 100? What’s the Animal Evidence?

Live to 100? What’s the Animal Evidence?

Competency # 20  Culture: Lifestyles of the Long-Lived

Reference: Nature:  Nov 2006

The New York Times just reported this week a huge article about living longer with calorie- restricted diets.  The evidence is accumulating in multiple mammal models that a 30% reduction in calories results in 30-40% increased lifespan.  Rhesus monkeys and mice are two models of animals in which this has been proven pretty well.  I’ve been told that I look close enough to a rhesus monkey that there may be some overlap.

On a more serious note, this information builds on other research.  A Dr. Kenyon, at University of California in San Francisco made a mutation in roundworms of an insulin receptor called daf-2.  This mutation leads to the round worms living 6 times longer.   Those little worms with that mutation can’t react to insulin.  Their cells can’t take up glucose, because they can’t react to insulin.  Without glucose, they think they are starving and go into slow down mode.  And then they live longer, 6 times longer.

I reported to you in a column a couple of months back about “the common soil” hypothesis.  That’s really the cutting edge of nutrition research right now.   In that we are speculating that the processes for metabolism and inflammation are really the same.  As we slow down metabolism, we slow down inflammation.  And then we live longer.  Because those processes are so intertwined by evolution, the only way to manipulate them is to understand that interplay.  That explains why as we get heavier, our insulin levels rise, our inflammation rises, our cellular processes speed up and we get all the illnesses of inflammation.  Heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s become our fate.

Have you depressed yet?  Well, the answer then is the next idea.  Same New York Times had an article from Nature magazine this week about red wine and mice living longer when they got a special concentrate of ingredients from red wine.  A compound in red wine called resveratrol, when concentrated, seems to make mice live a lot longer.  They could eat like pigs and didn’t gain weight.   In fact, they lived as long as the mice fed much healthier diets.  The good news is that it takes the equivalent of 750 bottles of wine a day to have that effect.  So, drink up!

WWW:  What will work for me.  I’m not going on a 30% less calorie diet just yet.  The human evidence is very powerful though that we should not be overweight.  We don’t have real human evidence that being super skinny helps.  But the pieces of the puzzle are falling together.  There is evidence that a glass of red wine a day is helpful. (Just one glass)  We have more to learn.


Keeping Your Brain Humming with Curry

Keeping Your Brain Humming with Curry

Competency # 5  The Way to Eat

Reference: American Journal of Epidemiology, Nov 1, 2006: Curry Consumption and Cognitive Function in the Elderly

Why is it that South Asians have 22% of the rate of Alzheimer’s we have in America?  This observation has intrigued researchers for years. In America, we have an epidemic of Alzheimer’s with increasing risk as we age.  Not everyone in the world can look forward with the same dread that we Americans do to a life of gradually diminishing cognitive function.

We do know that Alzheimer’s is strongly correlated with a variety of measures that may or may not be primary.  Lack of exercise may be a secondary effect of a brain that doesn’t want to get out in unfamiliar surroundings.  The flip side of that observation is that those who exercise as little as 15 minutes twice a week have a markedly lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s.

We also know that Alzheimer’s correlates with inflammatory markers in the blood. Our current diet seems to be “rusting us out” from the inside with chronic inflammation.  That seems to be set off by oxygen in its free radical form.   Antioxidants are foods that help gobble up those free roaming oxygen molecules that seem to set off the cascade.

That’s were curry comes in.  The yellow color in curry is the spice turmeric.  The active antioxidant in turmeric is called curcumin.   Curcumin is one of the most potent antioxidants around.  Andrew Weil has called on us to take it as one of two supplements on his recommended list.  (His other was ginger: related to turmeric)

This article from Singapore by Drs. Ng and Chiam measured the curry consumption of Singapore elderly.  The more curry they ate, the better they did on cognitive functioning testing.  There have been tons of papers about how curcumin cuts down on plaque and inflammation in experimental Alzheimer’s models.  This is the first that takes the idea to a clinical and epidemiological setting.  We now have a pretty good study suggesting that our brains are amenable to being helped by the food we eat.  We don’t have to be passive victims and await for Alzheimer’s to come to us.  Of course, this doesn’t show that curcumin will reverse Alzheimer’s, but a life-time habit of eating turmeric from time to time may not be a bad idea.

WWW: What Will Work for Me?  This is a great little concept.  Instead of a Friday night fish fry, I may just have to go to one of Milwaukee’s close to 15 Indian restaurants.  I’ve looked for curcumin supplements at health food stores: close to $ 40 for 120 pills.  For $ 5 you could buy a pound of turmeric and put it in gelatin capsules and get the same effect for 2 years.  Rather than do that, I’m going to keep to the alternative, a whole mix of brightly colored fruits and vegetables every day.  And an occasional curry dinner out.