13 October 2012

Factors not being properly considered as causes of obesity (Part 1)

In my previous post I mentioned some factoids that I've gleaned from years of searching for answers as to why I am obese. Uninformed individuals would simply say (or silently think), "It's because you eat too much. Duh!" Or the other go-to explanation is, "Well, you gotta get up and move, move, MOVE you lazy lump of lard!" Those uninformed individuals also probably assume that everyone dealing with extra adipose tissue (body fat) is that way because of the choice that fat individual makes every day to eat too much and move too little.

I am not going to make excuses for every obese person because I don't know everyone's individual circumstances. I think there are indeed some obese individuals who are that way because they consume too many daily calories on a regular basis. Notice I said "some". I do not fall into that category.

I am not going to say the hackneyed phrase, "I have a glandular problem" and then watch the eye-rolling ensue. I won't blame it all on genetics either. And, surprisingly, I won't play the "I don't have a choice" card. But you'll probably be surprised at what I will say.

I can most definitively say that in my own experience, my obesity was and is not caused by eating too much and moving too little. In fact, I have discovered that my obesity is a result of several key factors that I have yet to see scientists fully explore in their research.

I will address each of these factors in a multi-part series here on my blog. If it seems that my language gets a little too scientific in places, hang with me because I will always come up with some cool analogy or word picture to make it all click.

Factor 1--Consumption of trans fats (aka hydrogenated oils)
I was raised on margarine. A lot of kids my age were. That's what responsible American moms fed their kids in the 1960s and 1970s, because they were told it was the "healthy" alternative to butter. Butter was so absent in my childhood and adolescence that when I became an adult I had to develop a taste for butter in order to like it. I was also raised on skim milk and can't stand the taste of whole milk... but I digress.

When the big hubbub about trans fats started a few years ago, I wanted to know what it was all about. To simplify things (because I don't want to go into a big explanation that you can read on wikipedia) I found out that trans fats (aka hydrogenated oils) are unsaturated fats that have hydrogen atoms added to them through a process called hydrogenation. This is done so the fat will remain a solid at warmer room temperatures (just think of Crisco and you'll get the picture). It's also done to prevent an unsaturated fat from going rancid as quickly as it would left not hydrogenated. The process increases the shelf life (again think of Crisco).

"Okay... what's wrong with that?" I asked myself.

I searched and searched for an answer. Finally, I found one that gave me the scientific explanation for which I was looking. Here's the short quote I found that made it all click for me:
Why trans-fats are bad for health 
Trans-fats are destructive to health because the body misreads them. Trans-fats have the same chemical signature as omega-3s and omega-6s, so the body uses them for the same purposes. But they are structurally straight rather than bent, so the part of the cell membrane that needs to be porous becomes tight and rigid instead. This causes a variety of health problems—including insulin resistance, which can lead to type 2 diabetes.   [from SupplementQuality.com]
A-ha! The body doesn't know what to do with a trans fat when it encounters it during the digestive process. Thanks to a great chemistry professor in college, when I think of the digestive process I imagine my body's digestive tract looks a lot like a sorting center with all the food that's been broken down going along a conveyor belt. Little workers stand along the conveyor belt. Each worker is tasked with looking for a different shaped puzzle piece that will fit into a corresponding slot in a cell that only a certain shape will fit into. When a worker sees the right shaped piece, they pull it and put it in a cell where the piece fits.

I know it's ridiculous, but just go with me here...

The crew that's in charge of finding omega-3s and omega-6s is standing there at my conveyor belt all those years I ate margarine. They are encountering little trans fats that look an awful lot like the omegas they're assigned to look for. Every time they encounter a trans fats they take it and slot it into a cell where an omega belongs. But it's the wrong puzzle piece!  It's a piece that doesn't even belong in my body! So the cell that a trans fat gets incorrectly slotted into, over time, can no longer absorb insulin because it's spongy absorbant membrane has been filled with tight and rigid trans fats that don't have the wonderful porous surface an omega would have if it filled the same spot.

I hope you see where I'm going with this.

Overeating or not overeating has no relevance in this scenario. It's all about what I ate not how much I ate.  And since I was a typical American child born in the 60's, I was raised on foods that contained hydrogenated oils. That's just the way it was. It was the food of the future. It was everywhere and in every thing.

Now multiply my own scenario by how many people were born in the United States between say 1960 and 1975. Imagine all of those people being fed the same diet riddled with trans fats. They aren't overeating. They are just eating what mom gives them to eat because mom is doing what responsible modern moms were being told was good for their growing children.

How many people ended up walking around with insulin resistant cells? And insulin resistance is a condition that can evolve into Type-2 diabetes. Diabetics that are Type-2 because of insulin resistance still have a healthy pancreas that's producing enough of the insulin hormone to properly remove sugars (blood glucose) from the bloodstream. But the cells are not able to take in glucose, amino acids and fatty acids if trans fats have made the cell membranes non-absorbant. So sugars aren't removed from the bloodstream. This leads to high blood sugar which can become toxic and lead to neurological damage if left unchecked over the long-term.

I propose that the consumption of trans fats during the time period aforementioned is a main factor in the rise of Type-2 diabetes, insulin resistance and the other endocrine system related maladies found in the United States in individuals between the ages of 35-50. I also propose that this rise in insulin resistance has a direct correlation to the increasing number of individuals in that same age group that struggle with obesity despite normal daily caloric intake and activity.

Insulin resistance can cause the following signs and symptoms:

  • Fatigue
  • Brain fogginess and inability to focus
  • High blood sugar
  • Intestinal bloating – most intestinal gas is produced from carbohydrates in the diet, mostly those that humans cannot digest and absorb
  • Sleepiness, especially after meals
  • Weight gain, fat storage, difficulty losing weight
  • Increased blood triglyceride levels
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased pro-inflammatory cytokines associated with cardiovascular disease
  • Acanthosis nigricans
  • Increased hunger

Hmm... there are several things on that list that obesity is usually blamed for.

So to break it down to the point of bordering on the ridiculous... eating margarine (or Crisco or any hydrogenated oil) causes insulin resistance. And from above list (from good ole' wikipedia) it appears that insulin resistance causes obesity.

That would explain why I can reduce my daily caloric intake drastically over a long period of time (believe me, I've done it) and still not lose an ounce of weight.

What I can't figure out is why this connection and science never gets properly communicated to the masses.

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