Your Gut & Weight Loss Connection

Have you heard all the buzz lately about the role that your gut microbiome has on your weight? There’s an ever-growing body of research around this with plenty of evidence for the association between gut bacteria and obesity in both infants and adults. In fact, the microbial changes in your gut can be considered a factor involved in obesity development as modifications to the bacteria in the digestive tract can reshape the metabolic profile. So, if that has you thinking about popping bottles of probiotics or even a fecal transplant to lose that extra baggage, read on…

Awesome bacteria

We have many hundreds of different species of bacteria in our gut and while some are harmful and cause illness, most are necessary for human health. They produce vitamins (like vitamin K) and can help your body fight off invaders. They determine how the foods you eat are digested and can promote satiety. So, having a lot of varied, beneficial bacteria is clearly good for you. This study conducted on human twin subjects showed that the obese twin had lower bacterial diversity compared to the non-obese twin.

The bacteria in your gut can even impact how fats from foods are absorbed and stored in the body. I envision these bacteria running around my gut doing aerobics to burn off the dietary fat I consume so it’s not stored in my thighs.

Sharing awesome bacteria

I am definitely not advocating sharing any fecal matter with anybody (unless you absolutely need a transplant) but this research is part of a growing body of evidence that your gut CAN shape your weight. A fecal microbiota transplant, also known as a stool transplant, is the process of transferring fecal bacteria and other microbes from a healthy individual into another individual. FMT is an effective treatment for C. difficile infection. This study showed that the sharing of thin mice fecal matter prevented the development of increased body mass and obesity-related markers in obese mice mates.

So, how do we cultivate awesome bacteria? As Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”

  • Fiber

One of the reasons why the whole foods-based approach to eating is recommended is due to its high fiber content. So, it should come as no surprise that studies are showing that people eating a high fiber diet have lower weight. This is not just due to the fact that fiber lowers insulin levels and promotes satiety but also the role that the gut bacteria has in digesting that fiber. This review shows how fermentation of dietary fiber by gut microbiota leads to the production of short-chain fatty acids (butyrate, propionate and acetate) which suppresses inflammation, carcinogenesis and maintains a healthy balance of the digestive tract.

Remember, processed food = no good fiber (cardboard has fiber but your gut won’t process it)

Whole food = good fiber

Eating a diet rich in high-fiber vegetables and fruits will keep the bacteria in your GI tract busy and happy and help you achieve a thin-person gut microbiome. 

If you feel like you need some help as no one has a perfect diet, you can try supplementing with probiotics. There are numerous studies done on various strains of probiotics and its impact on weight loss. Here are a couple for you to check out:

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24299712/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25473159/

Strains containing Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus have the most evidence for assisting with weight loss – here are ones that have been independently tested for strength and quality:

Lactobacillus:

Bifidobacterium:

  • Flavonoids

Did you know that your gut likes to digest antioxidants commonly found in plants called flavonoids? And that studies have shown that flavonoids can prevent weight gain? Flavonoids are a class of compounds (with six different subtypes) that are rich in antioxidant activity to help ward off inflammation, rid toxins and keep you svelte.

Here is a list of foods rich in flavonoids:
  • Fruits – apples, all berries, peaches, grapefruit, lemons, limes, red and purple grapes
  • Vegetables – broccoli, kale, onions, tomatoes, lettuce, scallions, celery, red peppers
  • Herbs/tea – chamomile, parsley, peppermint, white/green/oolong/black tea
  • And don’t forget dark chocolate!

Magic Pills for Weight Loss?

If you are like many Americans that are always on a ‘diet’ or hoping to lose the muffin-top, you may have tried many strategies and ‘potions’ that are on the market today. The weight loss market is a HUGE (no pun intended) industry and rife with all kinds of get-thin-quick scams and beautiful before and after photos and videos of successful losers. Don’t fall for the hype – you didn’t gain the weight overnight so why would it disappear as quickly? There are also a lot of weight loss supplements with proven claims of weight/fat loss – most are modest and usually funded by the supplement manufacturers.

Cutting carbs and processed foods, eating whole foods which have low sugar and high fiber (clean veggies, fruit and protein), good sleep, adequate exercise and a healthy mind are still the keys to a successful weight loss effort.

If all this sounds overwhelming, Iet’s focus on what we put into our mouths. In this blog, I’ll share some evidence-based ways to boost your weight loss regimen with key ingredients that are available in foods.

 

Berberine

As a pre-diabetic, berberine is part of my daily arsenal in the fight against rising blood sugar and insulin levels. This is technically not a food (I bet it doesn’t taste good) as berberine is an extract found in roots of plants like goldenseal (also called orangeroot or yellow puccoon, a perennial herb in the buttercup family). It has been shown to be as effective as metformin (a diabetes drug) in reducing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. And it has also been shown to lower total and LDL cholesterol. In this systematic review of studies conducted on the efficacy of berberine, its impact on decreasing lipid and glucose levels and modulating gut bacteria (it can eliminate H. pylori) demonstrated its use in obesity treatment and prevention.

Here are several to try that have been independently tested:

Green Tea (EGCG)

Green tea contains a class of catechins (called EGCG) which is the primary antioxidant and has been shown to reduce body weight in obese subjects by increasing energy expenditure and fat oxidation. This study indicates EGCG’s mechanism of action is by increasing the activity of norepinephrine, a hormone that helps you burn fat.

There are many green tea extracts on the market but I prefer to consume it in whole form – it’s delicious and you derive the same benefit. Here are several brands to try – look for organic if possible and check if it’s been tested for pesticides and contamination:

 

Fiber

Did you know that consumption of dietary fiber is a key predictor of weight loss? This study done on 345 overweight participants showed that fiber intake was the most influential factor in promoting weight loss and dietary adherence.

It’s important to note that both soluble and insoluble fiber are essential:

  • Soluble fiber dissolves in water and forms a gel-like material as it passes through your digestive tract so it reduces your body’s ability to absorb fat. It also feeds the healthy bacteria in your gut to improve digestion while lowering inflammation. Good sources include: apples, beans, carrots, and oats. I personally like a form of fiber called inulin which is also considered a prebiotic. It’s available in powder form and I have it in my morning shake. This one come from the agave plant:

  • Insoluble fiber keeps the bowels moving, prevents constipation and can reduce your risk of hemorrhoids and other colorectal conditions. Good sources include: berries, nuts, vegetables (including cauliflower, cabbage, green beans, potatoes), and wheat bran.

Psyllium contains both soluble (80%) and insoluble (20%) fiber and can be used to supplement if you think you’re getting insufficient quantities from your whole foods diet. Here are two that have been independently tested to be free of lead, cadmium and other contaminants:

Glucomannan

Glucomannan is also a form of fiber and found in the roots of the elephant yam – it’s also known as konjac root. It becomes gel-like and absorbs water in your gut to promote a feeling of satiety. This randomized, controlled study conducted on 176 subjects demonstrated that glucomannan fiber added to a healthy diet promoted up to 10 pounds of weight loss over a five week period.

I actually don’t mind the zero taste of konjac root which is sold as shirataki – it comes in noodle and rice forms. It is a bit weird in texture (some describe it as rubbery) so I use the rice to add to soups and mix the noodles with regular spaghetti. Here are several to try:

Shirataki/konjac root is considered low carb, low calorie, gluten-free, Paleo and ketogenic – so if you’re interested in doing more with this miracle food, check out the recipes below:

https://miraclenoodle.com/blogs/recipes

 

Sulforaphane

Did you know that activating a protein called Nrf2 (sounds like nerf ball) in your body will not only increase fat burning but also turn on cells that generate antioxidants and assist with detoxification? And guess what – sulforaphane is a powerful Nrf2 activator. What is sulforaphane? It’s the active compound in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts and cabbage that has anti-inflammatory, detoxifying and brain enhancing benefits. And the best part is that you can get them all through the foods you eat.

Broccoli sprouts are considered to have 25X more sulforaphanes than regular broccoli. If you want to supercharge your diet with broccoli sprouts, you can get them at your local store (in small containers) or if you are ambitious, grow your own.

For the green thumbs out there, here are options and instructions to grow your own

https://harpersnurseries.com/how-to-grow-broccoli-sprouts/

If you want to stick to regular broccoli, try steaming or lightly cooking them as it will increase the amount of sulforaphanes your body absorbs by up to 300 percent. And remember to buy fresh broccoli as frozen ones have little to no sulforaphanes left due to processing.

What To Do To Promote Healthy Weight Loss

In a previous blog on weight loss, I covered the importance of tamping down inflammation so your body loses its resistance to getting rid of that unwanted belly fat. In this blog, I’m highlighting some evidence-based tips on what to do to help you get off the rollercoaster ride of weight loss/weight gain.

Intermittent Fasting

There are no shortage of fad diets and recommendations on losing weight. And all of it looks like the plan for success on ‘paper’. But as you know, different diets work for different folks so most of it is trial and error (I’m speaking from years of experience!) Regardless of which eating plan you’re on to lose weight, intermittent fasting  (IF) is something one can do on ANY diet.  It’s simple and saves you time and money (who doesn’t want that?) So, what is intermittent fasting (IF)? It’s where you eat your meals within a short eating window (around 8-10 hours) and fast for the rest of the day. For example, if you have breakfast at 10am and finish dinner by 7pm and repeat the same schedule the next day, you’ll have fasted for 15 hours. Why is this so great?

  • When you fast, your glycogen stores and insulin levels will drop, which then forces your body to tap into the fat stores for energy.
  • Reducing insulin levels will decrease your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
  • It eliminates the late-night snacking habit which has been associated with weight gain and metabolic dysfunction.

This systematic review of 27 IF trials showed weight loss of 1-13% of body weight without adverse events and has shown promise for the treatment of obesity.

There are some caveats to intermittent fasting – it will not be suitable for those who are pregnant, have eating disorders or athletes with frequent need for calories. So, make sure to check in with your clinician prior to starting IF. Also, it’s been shown that periodically breaking the fasting window with regular eating is a good habit if you would like to sustain this for the long term. For example, if you like to IF during the week, take a break on the weekend with a longer eating period.

Check out my earlier blog on Fasting as a Therapeutic Option for Weight Loss.

Sleep

Did you know that research has shown that sleep deprivation decreases metabolic rate and raises BMI in healthy adults? And since we are a sleep-deprived society with nearly a third of US adults getting less shut-eye than recommended, it’s no wonder we have an obesity epidemic in this country. According to this study, the pathways linking sleep deprivation to weight gain are: increased food intake, decreased energy expenditure, and changes in level of appetite-regulating hormones to reduce leptin (which signals satiety) and elevate ghrelin (which signals hunger).

So, if you want to boost weight loss, aim for a minimum of seven hours of sleep to keep your metabolic rate functioning at its peak.

Strength Training

Did you know that inactive adults lose 3-8% of muscle mass every decade which results in a lower metabolic rate and higher fat storage? It’s important to keep our muscle mass as we age so that we can keep our metabolic rate up to prevent fat accumulation (in all the wrong places). Since muscle is metabolically more active than fat, having more means it burns more calories.

According to this study, 10 weeks of strength training can increase resting metabolic rate by 7% and also assist in the prevention and management of type 2 diabetes by decreasing visceral fat, reducing HbA1c, and improving insulin sensitivity.

So, if you only have 30 minutes to workout, pick a strength training exercise that will also get your heart pumping. Here’s a 20-minute total body strength workout to try:

What to incorporate into your diet

Whether you’re doing a Mediterranean, low carb, vegan/vegetarian or Paleo diet, here are some foods you can incorporate to your eating plan to keep the metabolic rate humming.

Caffeine

If you are a fan of coffee, raise your mug to toast the wonders of caffeine in promoting weight loss:

  • Not only does it taste good, but this systematic review of 13 randomized clinical trials showed that caffeine intake was effective in reducing weight, BMI and fat mass.  
  • The caffeine in coffee stimulates the nervous system to stimulate lipolysis (fat burning) and energy expenditure.
  • Do you know why sports drinks are often loaded with caffeine? Because it’s been shown to reduce fatigue AND increase exercise performance by up to 12%. 

Make sure you don’t imbibe too much or too close to bedtime as it may interfere with your shut-eye (thereby defeating the purpose of using caffeine as a weight-loss promoter).

Capsaicin

Could these spicy compounds found in chili peppers be the answer to obesity? Evidence suggests that the capsaicinoids (compound in chili peppers) offset the impact of calorie restriction by increasing energy expenditure and fat oxidation, while preventing the increase in hunger and decrease in satiety. These effects remove the resistance to fat loss during a weight loss program and facilitate the maintenance of the new ‘setpoint’ after weight loss has been achieved. So sprinkle that hot sauce liberally onto your foods!

Green Tea

Green tea contains some caffeine (not as much as coffee) but the real powerhouse in this drink are the catechin polyphenols (antioxidants) known as epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) which has been shown to boost metabolism. Indeed, research has shown that EGCG extract increases fat oxidation and 24-hour energy expenditure due to its thermogenic properties.

Here are several brands to try – look for organic if possible and check if it’s been tested for pesticides and contamination:

Protein

The satiating power of protein has been well established in numerous research studies. This study showed that an increase of 15-30% of protein with a constant carbohydrate intake produced a sustained increase in leptin sensitivity (to suppress appetite) resulting in significant weight loss. You can get protein from a variety of sources regardless of your diet. If you are vegan/vegetarian, try the following seven foods for maximum protein:

  • Edamame and lentils (18 grams/cup)
  • Pinto beans and chickpeas (15 grams/cup)
  • Mung beans (14 grams/cup)
  • Fava beans (13 grams/cup)
  • Lima beans (12 grams/cup)

Water

Did you know that drinking water can increase your metabolic rate and help you eat less?

  • Studies done on both lean and overweight subjects showed that water consumption half an hour prior to mealtime reduced their calorie intake during the meal.
  • In this study conducted on overweight children, drinking cold water increased resting energy expenditure by up to 25%. 

So make sure you are getting plenty of CLEAN water in your diet. Even with tap water, it is ideal to filter prior to drinking. Here are some options:

  • Countertop: You want the largest pitcher so you are not constantly filling it.

  • Whole house: If you want clean water throughout the house, you may want to invest in a whole house filtration system. The tap water where I live is not that clean so this is what I put in which is good for 600,000 gallons and easy to maintain with simple filter changes every 3-6 months.

  • If you want to remove just about everything for drinking, you can invest in a reverse-osmosis system which you can install under your kitchen sink. Here is what I have.

Promoting Weight Loss by Demoting Inflammation

If you are like many Americans that struggle to lose excess weight, there’s comfort in knowing that you are not alone and all the odds are stacked against you. As our hormones decline with age, our food choices, the toxic environment and the sleep-deprived world we live in tell the cells in our body to hold on to the fat for dear life. In this series of blogs on weight, I’ll cover some evidence-based ways on what NOT TO DO and DO to boost weight loss without counting every calorie we eat and every step we take.

I have personally tried just about every diet in the book and realized after many years that it’s not a one-diet-fits-all approach and that some diets will make you feel better where others will not. Because we live in a world full of gourmands and almost infinite food choices, it’s become even more complicated to know what works and what doesn’t. For example, I don’t do well with wheat and dairy but it took me many years of eating the Western diet to figure that out. You probably heard the advice – it’s NOT what you eat but it’s what you DON’T eat that matters.

Inflammation and Weight

Did you know that inflammation in the body can prevent you from losing weight? Chronic inflammation contributes to insulin resistance and obesity regardless of how much you eat. Obesity is also an inflammatory condition that traps you in the cycle of fat gain and resistant weight loss creating a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation.

But enough of the bad news. There are ways to promote weight loss without starting a new fad diet or becoming a super athlete. 

Here are some of the inflammatory foods you should consider eliminating from the diet to amp up your body’s fat burning potential:  

Artificial Sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners like Equal, Sweet-n-Low, and NutraSweet contain saccharin or aspartame and are commonly used in foods and beverages to make them sugar-free. If you think reaching for a diet soda is a good idea because it has zero sugar, did you know that consumption of diet soda is also strongly associated with obesity? Not to mention that some people can develop a sensitivity to these artificial sweeteners creating inflammation and joint pain, headaches, skin rashes and swelling. Just say NO to artificial sweeteners. How about trying stevia or allulose instead?

Here are a few to consider:

Dairy
An estimated 30-50 million Americans are lactose intolerant (where your body lacks the enzyme lactase to break down the lactose sugar). This means that those people should avoid dairy products like milk, cream, cheese, and whey. When you eat what your body cannot handle, stomach discomfort, bloating, cramping, gas, diarrhea/constipation is the inflammatory response. Popping a Lactaid pill to have that slice of pizza or scoop of ice cream is not the answer. If you want to reduce inflammation, listen to your body and avoid products it doesn’t like. Of course, it’s easier said than done. I love ice cream and pizza and will indulge in them infrequently and only when I’ve been following a clean diet and my body feels optimal. But when I’m trying to lose weight, dairy is OUT.

Excess Alcohol
Did you know that drinking too much alcohol not only damages your liver but can permanently change your gut microbiota contributing to alcohol-induced oxidative stress, intestinal permeability to bacteria and other diseases? This study demonstrated the well-established link that excess alcohol can have on the composition of gut microbiota.

Food Allergies
You may be genetically programmed to tolerate less foods than your sibling/parent so it’s important to know how YOU respond to foods. Inability to tolerate the foods you eat will generate chronic inflammation in the body and make it difficult to lose weight. Common allergenic foods include corn, dairy, eggs, nuts, wheat and soy. Consider working with a nutritionist to try an elimination diet to see if any of these foods impact you. Or you can try it at home by eliminating most of the common allergenic foods. Have you heard of the Whole 30 program? Check it out – you may want to try it to see how much weight you lose after 30 days of eating clean. 

Foods containing sugar and processed carbohydrates
Sugar is in almost everything and it’s almost impossible to avoid when you’re eating out. Did you know that sugar (in various forms) triggers the release of advanced glycation end products (AGEs) which increases oxidative stress and inflammation and damages mitochondrial, skeletal, muscle and brain function? This study suggests the need to limit added sugar to reduce inflammation and prevent the development of metabolic and related diseases. Also, enriched bread, cereals, crackers, pastries, cakes and cookies have low nutrient density and fiber content but high glucose spiking potential that lead to an inflammatory state and insulin resistance. As good as it tastes going down, the advance glycation end products (AGEs) generated from eating these foods is your body’s way of telling you to STOP.

Fried Food
French fries, doughnuts, chips, tortillas, and fried chicken are staples of the Western diet. The vegetable oils used to fry these foods are high in omega-6 fatty acids which creates an imbalance with the essential omega-3 fatty acids, leading to inflammatory and autoimmune conditions. To add insult to injury, foods cooked in high temperatures generate a compound called acrylamide which is anticipated to have human carcinogenic effects. Here’s a recipe for Air Fryer French Fries – if you don’t own an air-fryer, you can oven-fry them instead.

Gluten
Gluten is a general name for proteins found in wheat, rye, spelt, and barley, and acts like a glue to help maintain its shape and provide a chewy texture. Gluten is predominant in wheat products like bread, baked goods, pasta, pizza dough and cereals but can also be found in soups, sauces and salad dressings. If you have sensitivity to gluten, your body will see it as a foreign pathogen triggering an inflammatory response. This study shows how the consumption of wheat and cereal grains can contribute to the manifestation of chronic inflammation and autoimmune diseases by promoting intestinal permeability and a pro-inflammatory immune response.

Processed Meats
If you eat a low-carb diet with animal/sea protein, stay away from deli meat, hot dogs, smoked, cured and other processed foods. These foods stimulate the creation of advanced glycation end products (AGEs) which in turn generates inflammation in the body. AGEs are implicated in the progression of many diseases including diabetes and atherosclerosis.

Preservatives, Artificial Colors and Flavor Enhancers
These additives designed to increase shelf life, make food look tempting and enhance flavor are unnatural substances thereby promoting inflammation in the body. Here are some common preservatives to watch out for:

  • BHA/BHT
  • Nitrites (nitrates and nitrosamines)
  • Sulfites/sulfur dioxide
  • Sodium benzoate, potassium benzoate, benzene

Many of the artificial colors have been banned by the FDA but there are still some in the market as it’s being reviewed. Check labels carefully and consider shopping at chains like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods where they won’t stock any foods with artificial coloring.

If you are a fan of Chinese food like me, you will notice some restaurants still add MSG (monosodium glutamate) to enhance the flavoring of the food. That’s why that Kung Pao chicken tastes so good! In this study, researchers used MSG to induce obesity. And this study showed that MSG promotes liver inflammation. So next time you go for some Chinese food, make sure it’s MSG free!

Trans Fats
Known as partially-hydrogenated oils, trans fats are inexpensive and highly stable with a desirable taste and texture. Some restaurants and fast food chains still use trans fat for frying foods as it can be used multiple times without changing out the oil. Trans fats are also found in cookies, cakes, crackers, and packaged snack foods. And remember, foods can be labeled as “trans-fat free” if they contain less than 0.5g per serving. So read the ingredient list carefully and if it says ‘partially-hydrogenated oils’, it has trans fats. It is evident that consumption of trans fatty acids is associated with higher levels of inflammatory markers leading to conditions like cardiovascular disease and atherosclerosis.

Preventing Heart Disease the Functional Medicine Way

I listened to a fascinating series of podcasts called the Longevity Roadmap offered by Dr. Mark Hyman and his Ultrawellness Center. In one episode, a group of specialists provided a short summary on the causes of cardiovascular disease, how to identify the root cause, adequate testing and ways to protect and support the heart using functional medicine approaches. Here are the highlights:

  • The endothelial system lines the inside of every blood vessel in the body and the one cell thick layer called the endothelium is found in the inner walls of our arteries. The proper function of the endothelial system is intimately tied to our health – it delivers oxygen and removes waste. It needs to be able to relax to allow blood to get to all the different tissues in the body. If it doesn’t relax, blood pressure will go up and inflammation of the system leads to cardiovascular disease (CVD). Oxidative stress can damage the endothelial layer and abdominal visceral fat is an inflammatory trigger for damage. For example, in men, this can cause higher erectile dysfunction. To improve endothelial function, foods rich in anthocyanins like blueberries should be consumed. It has been shown that two cups of blueberries over four weeks helped drop systolic blood pressure as much as regular meditation practice.

  • The misconception is that CVD is about cholesterol – it’s actually about inflammation and they explain why cholesterol has gotten a bad rap.
    • Cholesterol is not water soluble so it needs to be carried around by lipoproteins which include low-density lipoproteins (LDL which carries cholesterol from the liver to parts of the body) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL which carries cholesterol from peripheral parts of the body back to the liver for disposal). 
    • Cholesterol has an affinity for inflammation so if the endothelial lining of the blood vessel wall is inflamed, that creates an opening in the protective lining. The LDL cholesterol then attaches to the inflamed blood vessel and gets underneath the lining and begins to accumulate, eventually turning into plaque. This plaque will restrict blood flow, eventually leading to ischemic heart disease. And when the plaque cracks, it causes the blood clot to fill up the remaining space in the blood vessel leading to a heart attack.

  • What causes inflammation?
    • Processed refined foods with sugar, salt and fake fat and vegetable oils all become inflammatory when consumed. 
    • Leaky gut and leaky mouth can cause inflammation in the brain and cause heart disease so the oral and gut microbiome should be examined. There are tests now available to examine the status of both microbiomes.

  • CVD is not a statin deficiency disease. It’s inflammation, oxidative stress, insulin resistance, hormonal imbalance, toxins, bad diet, lack of exercise and nutritional deficiency that lead to high cholesterol and CVD. Up to 90% of all CVD can be prevented with lifestyle measures like proper diet, exercise, no smoking, reduced stress and sleep optimization.

  • Statins have a role in CVD but for primary prevention, it’s not optimal. They can have side effects including destruction of mitochondria which is critical for energy function. If you require a statin, it’s important to take CoQ10 (an antioxidant nutrient) as statins block CoQ10 which is vital for antioxidant and mitochondrial functions.

  • CVD is the leading cause of death in the US and two-thirds of it is related to our diet and lifestyle. According to Dr. Hyman, the central feature of all age-related disease is insulin resistance. And since we consume around 150 pounds of sugar and 133 pounds of flour per person every year in the US, it makes up 60% of our calories which causes insulin resistance. Only 12% of the US population are metabolically healthy versus the 88% who are unhealthy including 75% of those that are overweight. Even 20-40% of those that are normal weight are also metabolically unhealthy – and these ‘skinny’ fat people are at equal risk for heart disease.

  • The biggest risk factors for those getting very ill or dying from COVID-19 are being overweight with high blood pressure, glucose, insulin resistance and high cholesterol.

  • By decreasing insulin resistance, you can make the small dense LDL particles bigger and fluffier which makes it less athrogenic and plaque inducing. If your LCL cholesterol number is high, you can ask your physician to run an NMR lipid profile test to look at particle size and quantity. The NMR lipid profile determines the actual molecular structure of lipoproteins in your bloodstream and is a more important marker of heart disease than just HDL, LDL or total cholesterol. For LDL, you want a low particle number and a big fluffy size. For HDL, you want them to be big as they collect cholesterol from the body and take it to the liver to be disposed of. So big HDL is like having big dump trucks. You also want to know if you are one of 250 people who have familial hypercholesterolemia, a genetic variation that prevents the body from getting rid of LDL easily, as this condition significantly increases your risk of heart disease. 

  • Some dietary ways to improve cholesterol include:
    • Plant-based foods and proteins like legumes, nuts and seeds. For example, an ounce of nuts 5X a week can improve cholesterol and lower inflammation. Look for organic raw nuts and keep them in the freezer to prevent the good nut oils from oxidizing.
    • B3 (niacin) vitamin can have a positive impact on cholesterol and has been shown to lower triglycerides, lower LDL and raise HDL. Make sure to work with a provider as this vitamin causes uncomfortable hot flushes.
    • Fish oil has been shown to lower triglycerides, LDL and raise HDL. In a study, eating 1 gram of fish oil per day decreased heart risk if you ate less than 1.5 servings of oily fish per week. If you eat more servings of fish, you may not need to supplement. Wild caught salmon, sardines, anchovies and mackerel are good choices.
    • Flaxseeds are also recommended for their omega 3 and fiber content. You can add two tablespoons to your morning shake.  

  • Insulin resistance is the number one cause of CVD and happens when our body has to produce a lot more insulin to get the food into our cells. Even though insulin levels are high, the body becomes resistant and the food and nutrients don’t get into the cells. This results in weight gain around the belly which is the inflammatory visceral fat leading to CVD, stroke, dementia and even cancer. It’s critical to keep insulin levels normal – even though the standard Quest Diagnostics measure considers insulin NORMAL if less than 19.6, it’s worth bearing in mind that this average is based on the entire US population, most of whom are overweight.

  • Here are functional medicine parameters to indicate inflammation and metabolic syndrome which are markers for heart disease:
    • Optimal fasting insulin is less than 5. If you have insulin in the 7-12 range, you are pre-diabetic or have metabolic syndrome.
    • Greater than 0.8 waist to hip ratio for women or 0.9 for men is also a sign of insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome. 
    • High blood pressure is also a clue.
    • If HDL is too low – less than 50 for women, 40 for men and if triglycerides are too high (>150), it’s a signal.
    • Glucose of >100 is a sign of pre-diabetes and if higher than 125, signaling type 2 diabetes.
    • High C-reactive protein (higher than 1mg/l) and homocysteine numbers (higher than 7 micromol/L) are also markers of inflammation.

  • If you have a poor diet, sleep habits and your stress and nutrient levels are off, you should focus on these – there are those with a genetic profile that won’t respond to these parameters but for most of us, it will prevent CVD.

  • It’s important to remember that it’s not a “one size fits all” approach and functional medicine science is personalized to your health. Working on getting the right data with proper testing along with food and diet, exercise, stress management techniques and proper sleep with appropriate supplementations should be of priority.   

There was a very large European study done that showed that following a protocol of no smoking, exercising 3.5 hours a week, healthy eating and maintaining a healthy weight prevented 93% of diabetes, 81% of heart disease, 50% of strokes and 36% of all cancers.  No medicine in the world can do this today! Lifestyle changes and addressing root causes is important and can reverse CVD with miraculous results.

Dr Hyman’s Longevity Roadmap 8-part series is offered here.

Why older adults should practice calisthenics

Cristian Bianchi has been a physical trainer for more than five years. He founded one of the first gyms specialized in calisthenics in Guatemala City, with the objective of offering people an opportunity to forge healthy lifestyles.

He learned about this training method during one of his trips to Europe. It consists of using only the body’s weight during exercise. The goal is to gain control of body mass, without the need for resistance or additional loads.

In 2015, the American College of Sports Medicine (ASCM) indicated that calisthenics is the leading sport in the world. In addition, it said it helps reduce the number of individuals who die from lack of physical activity, which, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), amounts to approximately 3.2 million each year.

For Bianchi, this training is key to reducing that global figure and is far from excluding people because of their age. In 2021 he serves about 120 students in his gym, three of which are senior citizens.

Today he explains five reasons why older people, regardless of their injuries or conditions, should also practice calisthenics.

Maintains body mobility

To help his pupils, Bianchi follows the Best Progress Method (BPM), which establishes demanding routines according to the abilities of the person. The instructor says that older adults often do basic, assisted exercises, such as push-ups, squats, planks, or chin-ups.

According to Bianchi, the first reason that should motivate them to practice calisthenics is that it allows them to maintain body mobility. Through constant exercise, they can get into the habit of staying active. Thus, their muscles are less likely to atrophy and become completely sedentary.

“Usually, conditions don’t let grandparents move around as much. With calisthenics we prevent their muscles from atrophying because they never stop straining,” he says.

Gives more independence

When designing his routines, one of Bianchi’s priorities is to make sure that older adults understand what they will use the movements for in their daily lives. “For example, squats allow them to later get up from a chair. That way they have control over their body and do not always need help,” she says.

In the instructor’s opinion, the second reason derives from that teaching: calisthenics give a sense of independence to those who are older. Exercises expand their possibilities of acting by themselves every day.

In addition, the trainer emphasizes that calisthenics promote mental health, since it improves self-esteem and allows people to feel that they are still capable of achieving their goals.

“When we are old, we may perceive ourselves as less capable, but calisthenics help us maintain the certainty that we can still do things,” he states.

Helps to recover a correct posture

According to Bianchi, the body gets used to living as the usual stimuli demand. He mentions, for example, that people who spend their days in front of the computer can develop spine, back, neck and general posture problems.

“That’s why we hear older people say that their back hurts. They lead a life with bad stimuli,” he explains.

For him, calisthenics are a source of appropriate stimuli that allow the body to be stretched, moved in all directions and to recover a proper posture. In his opinion, this benefit is even more relevant during the COVID-19 pandemic, which demands us to stay in our homes and use digital devices more often.

“In the pandemic many stopped moving as they did before. That is why it’s important to build those healthy habits throughout life,” he considers.

Encourages closer relationships

A 2016 study by Harvard University in the United States says that one of the keys to achieving happiness is to build deep relationships. Bianchi says that calisthenics, in addition to improving physical condition and appearance, helps cultivate bonds between older adults and family and friends.

“It improves the quality of life for everyone. It is not the same to have a grandparent who can travel or walk, as it is to have one who can barely move. If there are more activities that people can do together, the relationship is likely to grow,” he indicates.

Helps to lead by example

One of the concerns of the 21st century is the high exposure of children and adolescents to screens. Research reveals that the amount of time is close to seven hours a day. For Bianchi, older adults should also practice calisthenics to inspire young people to prioritize health and stop focusing so much on the digital world.

“We need to show young people that it has an inclusive approach. When people tell me they cannot practice it, I show them videos of some grandparents training with their grandchildren. And people get engaged and question why they should not practice it if grandparents can,” he says.

Metabolic Dysfunction and How It Can Cause Diabetes and Chronic Diseases

I listened to another fascinating (albeit long) podcast on the Broken Brain series on how out-of-control blood sugar can cause belly fat, brain fog and chronic disease. Dr. Casey Means was the guest and she is a Stanford-trained doctor and associate editor of the International Journal of Disease Reversal and Prevention. Her mission is to reverse the epidemic of preventable chronic disease by empowering individuals with personalized tools (i.e. continuous glucose monitors – CGM) that promote sustainable dietary and lifestyle choices. As a pre-diabetic myself, I have been using some of these tools to monitor how my body responds to my diet and activities of daily living. I was quite shocked at what I learned from a month’s use of a CGM and if this blog speaks to you, it may be something you may want to discuss with your doctor.


Here are the highlights from the podcast:

  • We make energy from converting sugar and fat and this metabolic process is a core fundamental pathway of every cell in the human body. At optimal function, we have good memory, physical health, skin, etc. However, over time when we eat a lot of carbs and sugar and junk food, our cells get numb to the constant insulin release and this forces our body to release even more insulin to get the glucose into our cells. This leads to what is known as ‘insulin resistance’ and metabolic dysfunction eventually causing diseases like Type 2 diabetes.

  • Dr. Means emphasizes that many chronic conditions like Alzheimer’s, fatigue, depression, polycystic ovarian syndrome, high blood pressure or heart disease are all related to metabolic health.

  • We are eating 100X more sugar per person than we did 150 years ago. In the US in the 1850s, Americans ate about 2 pounds of sugar per year vs. 200+ pounds per year we consume today. Our bodies are not designed to process all this sugar so it stores it as fat. In addition, chronic stress, lack of sleep and sedentary lifestyle also translate into mitochondrial cells not functioning well. Today, 88% of Americans are not metabolically healthy and we need to change our behaviors and choices to control this epidemic.

  • If you ask people if they eat healthily, many will say yes (including me) but we don’t know how our body responds to these healthy foods unless we can measure and track it. For example, they did a study with a group of people by giving them oatmeal – considered a healthy food. The glucose levels for some of those that ate oatmeal approached diabetic levels while for others, it didn’t. Everyone responds differently so we need to measure and track individually and not just follow some guideline telling us what’s a healthy food vs. not.

  • Continuous glucose spiking throughout the day generates inflammation and glycation (which promotes aging). The huge insulin surge that accompanies the glucose spike means the glucose will soon crash, drain you of energy and also stop you from burning fat. Every time you eat, your insulin levels go up. So if you eat 6X a day which is recommended by some fitness coaches, you are causing glucose spikes 6X a day which elevate insulin levels and puts a block on any fat burning as you will be using the glucose instead. Over time, this leads to the development of visceral organ and belly fat.

  • Fasting is good for metabolic health because insulin will remain low so your body will use the stored glucose and then burn body fat. We have become metabolically rigid by keeping insulin high all the time. Our ancestors went through periods of feast and famine with ease because they were metabolically flexible. That’s how our bodies are designed and we need to train our body to keep our glucose and insulin down.

  • Dr. Means also advocates that if we are fasting, we need to stop eating early. Eating carbs late at night is associated with insomnia and messes with our melatonin release. Also, our glucose levels will bounce around all night which keeps our body temperature elevated. We fall into DEEP sleep when our body temperature drops. If we have to eat later in the day, try to go for a walk before or after the meal.

  • Sleep is very important for metabolic flexibility. One night of poor sleep can promote insulin resistance. In a study conducted on young men, 4 nights of poor sleep (less than 5 hours) showed markers of pre-insulin resistance.

  • We need to choose foods that don’t spike our glucose levels. This doesn’t mean we need to eat a ketogenic or a low carbohydrate diet. We just need to know what combination of carbs works for our body. A banana can spike glucose for some people and not for others. A study conducted in the Journal of Cell showed that a group given the exact same diet responded differently: that’s because genetics, microbiome composition, baseline insulin sensitivity, visceral fat, exercise, and sleep all differ from person to person. A good choice for you isn’t a good choice for others. I felt vindicated in listening to this – I kept telling friends/family that I can’t just have a bowl of veggie bean soup for lunch without feeling super hungry shortly thereafter. Well, my CGM gave me the truth – my glucose shot up with a lunchtime meal of a bowl of bean soup.

  • A single blood prick or glucose measurement is not sufficient as it’s only a single point in time measurement. However, a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) is highly beneficial because it provides us with instantaneous feedback throughout the day on how our body responds which empowers us to make decisions. Dr. Means suggests a CGM for a month to get a sense of what works for your body and then do it again in six months. I did mine for a month and was amazed at how combining certain foods did/did not impact glucose and when and how I ate them made such a difference. It also allowed me to choose foods and combinations to avoid glucose crashes with subsequent hunger pangs, cravings. For example, I found out that after a healthy meal of scallops and a large salad, I was able to enjoy a double scoop of ice cream for dessert with only a moderate increase in my glucose level.
  • Dr. Means also suggests we eat lots of veggies and include those that are higher carbs like carrots and sweet potatoes but do it judiciously and train your body to use and process these carbs. If you completely exclude carbs from your diet, your body cannot be trained to process them – that’s why people that come off a strict ketogenic diet often gain back their weight.

  • Note on COVID: Covid absolutely discriminates against people with metabolic dysfunction and as we soon discovered, there is increased risk of mortality for those with diabetes, heart disease and obesity. We need to have significant public health investment towards rapidly improving metabolic health if we want long-term, positive outcomes with Covid.

  • What are the mechanisms for Covid?
    • High blood pressure impairs our immune function and also immune cells are stunted and cannot move properly when glucose is in the body.
    • People with diabetes have an upregulation of the ACE2 receptor and this is how the virus gets into the cells.
    • Lung fluid has more sugar in people with diabetes and that makes viral replication easier.
    • Inflammation is high in people with diabetes, obesity and heart disease and this upregulates the cytokines. And it’s this immune response to Covid that kills people.  If your cytokines are already elevated, when the virus is added, it is a compounded effect that makes the response more deadly and exaggerated.

  • In conclusion, we desperately need disease reversal programs AND coaching programs to manage metabolic health.

If you’d like to listen to the full podcast, click here:

Podcast: How Out of Control Blood Sugar Can Cause Belly Fat, Brain Fog, and Chronic Disease

If you’d like to try using a CGM (Continuous Glucose Monitoring) device, please consult your physician.

Things You Can Do To Reduce Your Cancer Risk: Part 2

In my previous blog, I described some of the foods and strategies you could try to support an anti-cancer approach to daily living. Here, I will highlight some other foundational pillars to reduce your overall cancer risk.

Sleep

  • Sleep is critical to our health and well-being; with 40% of American adults reporting lack of sleep, insomnia and/or sleep apnea, it has become an epidemic.  
  • Research has shown that insufficient sleep (less than 7-8 hours per night) reduces natural killer cell activity and cellular immune response in the body.
  • It’s not just about quantity of sleep, though, as your quality of sleep is equally important. A recent study indicated sleep apnea combined with snoring could contribute to an increased risk of cancer for both men and women.  
  • Circadian rhythms impact our sleep and health. Circadian rhythms influence our body’s sleep-wake cycle, as well as hormone release, digestion, body temperature, and other important bodily functions. They influence our immune system as well as processes of DNA repair that are involved in preventing cancer.  
  • Check out my blog for tips on sleep: https://community.wholistics.health/sleep-better-and-create-your-sleep-sanctuary/
  • Sign up for our chatbot program and these sleeps tips will be delivered directly to your mobile phone: https://community.wholistics.health/breast-cancer-survivor-chatbot-program/

Breathe

Proper breathing is crucial for optimal health yet most of us aren’t getting it right.

  • Proper breathing does more than simply provide our body with oxygen. The benefits of proper breathing include stress reduction, relaxation, emotional well-being, improved sleep and attention. Many of us, including me, aren’t doing this correctly!
  • We need controlled, slow and deep breathing to engage our parasympathetic nervous system to produce the rest and relaxation in our bodies. In contrast, when we are stressed or anxious, our breathing becomes fast and shallow as our sympathetic nervous system is engaged.
  • The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is our “fight or flight” response and it’s needed to respond to dangerous situations (like reacting to a dangerous road condition while driving or being chased by a vicious dog). However, prolonged activation of SNS through chronic stress and anxiety can lead to a host of conditions (high blood pressure, depressed immune function, inflammation, cardiovascular disease, etc.). It has also been shown that SNS may have a negative impact on tumor progression
  • It’s important to train our body to promote the proper parasympathetic response. This can be achieved through breathing exercises, meditation, yoga, and qigong to restore our body and promote healing and repair. A good one to try is the 4-7-8 breathing technique pioneered by Harvard-trained Dr Andrew Weil. It is described as a ‘natural tranquiliser for the nervous system’ helping to quickly reduce tension and allowing the body to relax.

Mind

  • Research has shown the impact of psychosocial factors on our health and also on cancer development and progression. Epidemiological studies also indicate that stress, anxiety, depression and lack of social support could serve as risk factors for cancer. 
  • The benefits of mindfulness, positive thinking, optimism and support networks on health include:
    • Improved immune function, health and longevity
    • Lower rates of anxiety, depression and better psychological well-being
  • Practice mindfulness:  Mindfulness is a form of meditation that is a great way to gain control of our busy and stressed-out mind. This technique can help reduce the feeling of being out of control and ruminating on negative and busy thoughts. Here’s an introduction to getting started:  https://community.wholistics.health/introduction-to-mindfulness-part-1-3-steps-to-getting-started/
  • Think glass half full: Optimism is a predictor of more favorable health outcomes. Studies have shown the association between dispositional optimism and physical health.
  • Spend time with positive people and avoid/deflect the toxic ones. The people we surround ourselves with has an impact on our overall well-being. Remember the common denominator – if you’re around happy, positive people, chances are you will be more positive and vice versa. Benefits linked to positivity include increased longevity, lower levels of stress, and a higher happiness scale. 
  • Get social: Social environment is an important determinant in health and well-being. Research has shown that lack of social support might serve as risk factors for cancer development and progression. Specifically, the social environment contributes to the vast differences in prognosis among breast cancer survivors and can influence physiological processes responsible for malignant cell growth. 

Move

  • Studies have shown that physical activity is linked to reduced risk and improved survival rates for certain types of cancer, most notably breast and colon cancers.
  • Exercise has many anti-cancer benefits: It can lower levels of hormones such as estrogen and other growth factors associated with cancer, improve insulin sensitivity, reduce inflammation, improve immune function, and support a healthy body weight.
  • You don’t need to go to the gym to sweat it out. The important thing is to pick an activity that you’ll stick to. If you’re like me and  have tried over the years to do activities that didn’t fit my lifestyle but felt that it was the ‘right’ thing to do (i.e. going to the pool at 6AM because my friend told me to just get up and do it), it won’t be sustainable!
  • Do you know about forest bathing? It’s very popular in Asian countries, particularly Japan, and it’s basically spending time in the woods, forest, or park and getting close to nature. There’s research that indicates that forest bathing is a promising therapeutic method to promote physical and mental relaxation. So take a hike in the woods this weekend!

You can now get tips like this delivered directly to your mobile phone by signing up for our FREE chatbot program. You will receive tips on SLEEP, MIND, BODY and DIET to help you in your journey to health and well-being as a cancer survivor.

More Superfoods to Help Fight Diabetes

If you have diabetes or prediabetes, your doctor will likely recommend that you see a dietitian to help you develop a healthy-eating plan. The plan helps you control your blood sugar (glucose), manage your weight and control heart disease risk factors, such as high blood pressure and high blood fats. In fact, a diabetes diet is arguably the best eating plan for almost everyone, as it’s naturally rich in nutrients, low in fat and calories, and includes lots of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

Here are five more everyday superfoods that are extraordinary for controlling glucose, insulin and staving off/managing Types 2 diabetes. And even if you don’t have diabetes, you should look to incorporate these key elements in your daily diet for a healthy lifestyle.

Beans

Beans are a superfood packed with protein, complex carbohydrates and fiber to keep you satiated while stabilizing blood sugar levels and minimize cravings. They are nutritious, versatile and inexpensive – hard to say no unless you really don’t like them.

Beans and other legumes, with their low glycemic index and high fiber, have been shown to regulate blood glucose and insulin levels. This recent study showed that the addition of a bean powder modulated the glycemic response of a high carb wheat-based flatbread.  

Glycoproteins, known as lectins are present in beans and it can be a digestive irritant so when consuming beans, it’s best to pressure cook them. I enjoy many types of beans (black, red, navy, lima, pinto, kidney, garbanzo, soy, white) and since I don’t cook my own, I only buy brands that have been properly soaked and cooked in BPA-free containers. Here are a couple to try:

Berries

I previously blogged about blueberries as being one of the top 7 superfoods for brain health.  Blueberries and other berries (cranberries, gooseberries, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, cherries) are great for diabetes as well because they are fruits low in the glycemic index and are packed with vitamins, fiber and antioxidants. The powerful flavonoids in these superfoods have been shown to reduce type 2 diabetes risk by improving insulin sensitivity and modifying gastrointestinal hormones and perceived appetite

Did you know that a cup of strawberries contains over 100 mg of vitamin C which is more than a cup of orange juice? We all need extra vitamin C to keep our immune system strong especially during this time!

Remember to buy organic, especially strawberries and cherries as they tend to be laden with pesticides (check out my blog on the Shopper’s Guide to the Dirty Dozen)

Green and Cruciferous Vegetables

Leafy green vegetables are nutrient dense with bioavailable vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants and phytonutrients. They are very low glycemic with lots of fiber which makes them slower to digest. Leafy greens are also packed with magnesium and amino acids which lower blood sugar and control insulin. So, in addition to their importance for brain health and their anti-cancer benefits, they are great for managing diabetes. This study done on vegetable juice shows the antioxidant potential to prevent development of diabetic complications.

Cruciferous vegetables (arugula, bok choy, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, radish, turnips) have the limelight as they are low in calories and rich in folate, vitamins C, E, and K, and fiber. Fiber is an important nutrient to incorporate – it helps with digestion and also keeps you full longer, reducing those hunger cravings which make you reach for the snack cupboard! Cruciferous vegetables help to lower inflammation and reduce the risk of insulin resistance and diabetes. Researchers showed that the antioxidant in broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables reduced production of free radicals by 73%. The active compound, sulforaphane triggers a reaction activating detoxifying enzymes which protect the body’s circulatory system from oxidative stress. 

It’s a good idea to aim for at least three servings a day of green and cruciferous vegetables – in addition to salads and cooked greens, one of the easiest ways to guarantee that you get these daily servings is to incorporate them into a shake. I add 1-2 cups of raw baby kale, spinach, or lettuce greens in my morning shake – it’s much easier to digest and doesn’t require a lot of chewing.   

Healthy Fats

Grass Fed Butter:

Saturated fats like butter have gotten a bad rap in the past, but now with emerging research, butter is popular again. It’s the dangerous combination of fats, sugars and carbohydrates that contribute to metabolic and other chronic conditions. Butter’s natural fats get converted into fuel and help our bodies absorb nutrients, minerals, and fat-soluble vitamins like A,D,E,K and minerals. It provides our body with essential fatty acids for heart health, stable blood sugar, hormone balance, healthy skin and energy. 

Grass fed butter has a higher proportion of healthy, unsaturated fats and conjugated linolenic acid (CLA) than regular butter and is a good source of vitamin A, beta-carotene and vitamin K2. 

Remember to avoid or minimize processed vegetable oils like canola, corn, soybean, sunflower, soybean and safflower oils. And never touch fake oils like margarine.

I like to add a dollop of grass fed butter into my cauliflower soup to intensify the richness of flavor. Enjoy in moderation.

Here are two options (unsalted and salted):

Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is a medium chain triglyceride (MCT) and because it is shorter than the fatty acids in animal fats, it is more readily digested and converted into energy by our mitochondria. Coconut oil has become a superfood and become very popular – and with this, more research has been conducted on its effect on our metabolic syndrome. Coconut oil has been shown to assist weight loss by reducing body fat and increasing satiety. And this superfood is being used by athletes to reduce lactate acid buildup and burn more fat for energy.

Coconut oil is also one of the best cooking oils as it is more thermally stable than olive oil. I use coconut oil to fry up eggs, veggies and meats. Since MCT oil is a liquid, I also use this to enhance my salad dressings. Here are some that have been independently tested for MCT content, contamination and rancidity:

Dr. Jason Fung: Fasting as a Therapeutic Option for Weight Loss

Dr. Jason Fung is a nephrologist and expert in the use of intermittent fasting and low carbohydrate diets for the treatment of Type 2 diabetes. I’ve listened to over half a dozen of his webcasts and have always been impressed by his professionalism, as well as his evidence-based non-drug approach to treating diabetes. This presentation, delivered at the CrossFit Health Conference in 2018, shares how he has shifted his medical practices with alternative treatment methods as the traditional medical recommendation of drugs and dialysis did not produce the desired outcomes for his patients. His presentation objectives included:

  1. Understanding why long-term weight loss is so difficult;
  2. Introducing the concept of therapeutic fasting; and
  3. Highlighting some myths and misunderstandings associated with the fasting process.

  • The modern eating pattern as Dr. Fung categorized it emerged in 1977 with the development of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (the US Food Pyramid). This changed the eating frequency from three meals a day to eating six or more times a day, increasing the median eating period to 14 hours and 45 minutes. In that example, I would start eating at 8am and not finish until 10:45 pm (which is after I’m in bed!) This frequent eating keeps insulin levels high all the time and over long durations, insulin will tell the body to store food energy as fat. Not coincidentally, the incidence of obesity and Type 2 diabetes have reached epidemic proportions and unfortunately, most of the treatments have been drug interventions. 
  • The common approach of ‘eat less, move more’ has not shown to have a long-term success rate according to a new study in The New England Journal of Medicine. The first problem is slowing metabolism – if you cut calories, metabolic rate also drops. The second problem is hunger – ghrelin is the hunger hormone that will tell the body to constantly eat to make up for the decrease in calories.
  • Intermittent fasting, on the other hand, allows insulin levels to drop, which puts us in burning mode rather than storing mode. Simply put, when insulin goes up, you store fat; when insulin goes down, you burn fat.
  • With fasting, ghrelin spikes initially but it goes back to baseline after the period has passed. The body will then take the food energy needed from your body fat. For multiple-day fasts, for instance, ghrelin goes up and down but the hunger disappears over time and then ghrelin actually dips to an even lower level, further curbing hunger.  
  • Studies have also shown that women have a much bigger spike in ghrelin but over time, they also reap more weight loss benefit from fasting.
  • In order to lose weight, you need to control the metabolic rate and control hunger. With fasting, your hunger hormone is actually lowered and metabolism stays stable. With chronic calorie restriction and frequent eating, your hunger hormone will increase and metabolism will decrease.
  • Several studies in the Obesity journal showed that you will not burn muscle from fasting but in fact, lean mass is maintained. Your body is intelligent and knows to burn body fat in a fasted state first – it doesn’t burn protein first.
  • Fasting is less about the type of diet – of course, eating well matters. Stay away from foods that circumvent the satiety mechanism like refined grains, sugars and processed junk. If you stick to eat whole foods within the time period, your body will tell you when you’ve become satiated. You don’t need to count calories – listen to your body. 
  • There is not a large amount of data yet on fasting and brain function but it is shown to improve cognitive function. In the bestselling book ‘Unbroken’, the author writes about the prisoners of war who have astonishing mental clarity due to starvation (i.e., reading a book for memory, learning a new language in three weeks).
  • This mental clarity is one of the reasons why intermittent fasting has taken off in Silicon Valley. In the hyper-competitive world of start-ups, the players in the business are all fasting to get an edge. Fasting heightens the senses and you feel better and sharper as it increases noradrenaline and sympathetic tone.
  • More studies need to be conducted on how fasting can prevent Alzheimer’s – the theory is that fasting initiates autophagy of the protein plaques that clogs the Alzheimer brain and also improves mitochondrial health through mitochondrial biogenesis and turnover.
  • One of the questions from the audience was around the benefit of carb loading, restriction (carb cycling) – Fung wasn’t sure that it worked but his guidance was to focus on not stimulating insulin and to not worry about counting the macro nutrients. 
  • Fung explains that diabetes is a nutritional disease but no one is promoting it because there is no money in it.  So in his treatment of patients, he is giving you the power to take back your own health, because “you’re not gonna get it from anywhere else”. 

You can check out his full presentation on YouTube: