Monthly Archives: February 2015
New Genes Mean the Future of Obesity Treatment Could Get Personal

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Scientists have uncovered a trove of new genetic targets that could lead to better treatments for obesity.

It took the genomes of nearly 340,000 people and more than 400 researchers in two dozen countries, but we now have the most comprehensive picture so far of the genetic contributors to obesity.

“I think we have so many more opportunities now to learn about the biology of obesity through genetic contributions to these traits,” says Karen Mohlke, professor of genetics at University of North Carolina and the senior author of the report focusing on body fat distribution.

Those genetic clues may yield new weight-management treatments that are both more powerful and more personalized. “What the data supports is the fact that there are a lot of different causes of obesity,” says Dr. Elizabeth Speliotes, assistant professor of internal medicine and computational medicine and bioinformatics at the University of Michigan and senior author of the paper on body mass index. “If you’re hoping for one cause of obesity, that’s not reality. What causes you to be obese is probably slightly different from what causes me to be obese.”

Currently, however, all obesity is treated pretty much the same way. With the new knowledge gleaned from the genetics of what’s driving different types of obesity, that may change.

In the study involving factors contributing to BMI, Speliotes and her team discovered 97 genetic regions, or loci that account for nearly 3% of the variation among people on BMI. Of those, 56 are entirely new. Many of the regions are in areas that code for nervous system functions, or brain systems. Some aren’t so surprising—they confirm previous studies that have implicated genetic regulators of areas that control appetite, for example—but others were more unexpected. They involved regions responsible for learning, memory and even emotional regulation, hinting that some of weight and obesity may be tied to the addiction and reward pathways that help to reinforce behaviors like eating with feelings of pleasure and satisfaction. “There were definitely a lot more loci involving the brain than I would have guessed,” says Dr. Joel Hirschhorn, director of the center for basic and translational obesity research at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School and one of the co-authors. “That makes obesity much more of a neurobehavioral disorder than just the fact that your fat cells are more efficient or less efficient.”

They also uncovered some truly head-scratching connections between some genetic variants that contributed to higher BMI andlower risk of diabetes, heart disease and triglyceride levels. That suggests that there may be some protective genetic factors that counteract the effects of higher BMI, and exploiting these may be an entirely new way of treating obesity.

The group that zeroed in on the genetic factors directing how body fat is distributed had similar findings. Mohlke and her colleagues looked at the waist-hip ratio and found 49 areas in the genome that varied among the participants, 33 of which were entirely new. Most of the variants involved logical processes such as the formation of HDL and LDL cholesterol, triglycerides and processing of insulin.

What was interesting, however, was the fact that many of these exerted much more power on women than on men, suggesting the need to recognize gender-based differences as a critical factor in future obesity therapies.

The findings, all of the authors stress, are just the beginning of a deeper understanding of what is driving obesity in its many forms, and how best to intervene with more personalized and potentially more effective treatments. Genes, they say, only play a part in obesity, but these studies are the first step toward a better appreciation of how genes are involved in behaviors that influence what and how much we eat. “We don’t know how much impact each of these genetic loci are going to have on whether people will need different treatments,” says Hirschhorn. “But these papers provide the tools to start answering that question. It’s possible that if we know a lot more about how somebody came to be obese, then we will know more about what to do about it.”

 

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Cooking unlocks calories in fat-rich foods

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The evolutionary pressures on our early ancestors helped to shape the biology in our bodies today. Early man gained survival advantage by extracting the most calories from the smallest amount of food. This partly explains our craving for fatty foods – which have twice the calorie density of protein-rich and starchy foods.

But our lives today are comparatively sedentary compared with our early ancestors, and fatty, calorie-rich foods are not scarce but easily available, conferring what might alternatively be described – in view of the obesity epidemic – as a survival disadvantage.

Now, a new study from Harvard University, published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, finds that cooking – a unique human practice – can free even more calories from fat-rich foods.

First author Emily Groopman – now an MD-PhD candidate at Columbia University in New York, NY – explains why they did the study:

“It’s been very well established that cooking starch- and protein-rich foods does increase the available calories you can get out of them. But when I began looking at the literature, no one had really examined the third major macronutrient, which is fat.”

Groopman and colleagues found that mice fed on a diet of cooked fat-rich food, weighed on average significantly more than mice fed on the same amount of fat-rich food that had not been cooked.

To discover this, they fed 20 mice over several weeks four different diets based on peanuts: raw and whole, raw and blended, roasted and whole, and roasted and blended.

By keeping track of each mouse’s weight, food intake and exercise, the researchers were able to deduce the mice derived more energy from cooked peanuts than raw ones.

Groopman says they found that the “mice experienced similar changes in body weight, although they ate more of the raw peanuts.”

“That meant they were able to extract more calories from the same amount of food if the peanuts were roasted than if they were raw,” she explains.

Cooking frees up fat locked inside cells and makes fat more digestible

Also, when the team analyzed the mice’s feces, they found evidence that fat had been digested more when peanuts were cooked.

One reason for this was evident when they examined the cells of the peanuts. When they were cooked, the cell walls were changed in a way that released more of the fats trapped inside the cells.

Peanuts are on average 50% fat, says Groopman, but much of this is inaccessible when we digest raw peanuts because they have very tough cell walls. Also, the fat is stored inside structures called oil bodies that are coated with proteins – called oleosins – that hinder digestion.

The study shows that as well as breaking down cell walls, cooking appears to alter the oleosins. Groopman explains:

“When the nuts are raw, the oil bodies are fully covered by the proteins. But after cooking, what we find is that there are just fragments of oleosins on the surface, which we hypothesize makes it far easier to get at the lipids.”

The study is interesting not only because it reveals the important role of cooking in helping humans get more out of their food, but also because it offers information that could be useful today – for example, cooking might be a way to adjust the calorie content of processed food to fit the energy needs of the consumer.

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The 5 Best Moves for Weight Loss

Do this all-over strength workout 2–3 times per week, leaving at least a day’s rest in between.

Each move is a “compound” exercise, meaning it targets multiple muscle groups, so you get a really big bang for your strength-training buck! Rest for 30–60 seconds after each set.


The 5 Best Moves for Weight Loss by vitatious

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Study finds, Strenuous jogging may do more harm than good

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No pain, no gain” is often the phrase used when it comes to exercise. But in relation to jogging, this may not be the case. In a new study, researchers found people who engage in strenuous jogging have the same mortality risk as sedentary non-joggers, while light joggers are likely to live the longest.

Dr. Peter Schnohr, of the Frederiksberg Hospital in Copenhagen, Denmark, and colleagues publish their findings in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Numerous studies have associated physical activity with reduced mortality, with some suggesting that just small amounts of exercise can do the job. A recent study reported by Medical News Today, for example, claims that a daily 20-minute brisk walk could reduce the risk of early death by 16-30%.

The link between lower levels of exercise and reduced mortality is supported with this latest study, which suggests light jogging is most beneficial for lowering the risk of premature death.

To reach their findings, Dr. Schnohr and colleagues analyzed 5,048 healthy individuals who were a part of the Copenhagen City Heart Study. Of these, 1,098 were joggers and 3,950 were sedentary non-joggers.

Over 12 years of follow-up, the researchers tracked participants’ frequency of jogging, the number of hours they spent jogging and their jogging pace.

Jogging more than a few times a week at a strenuous pace ‘may be harmful’
During the study, there were 28 deaths among joggers and 128 among non-joggers. The team notes that overall, the joggers were younger, had a lower prevalence of diabetes and smoking, and had lower blood pressure and body mass index (BMI).

The researchers found that participants who jogged for 1-2.4 hours a week over no more than 3 days had the lowest mortality, and lower mortality rates were identified among those who jogged at a slow or moderate pace. The highest mortality rates were found in both the fast-paced joggers and sedentary non-joggers.

Commenting on the findings, Dr. Schnohr says:

“The U-shaped association between jogging and mortality suggests there may be an upper limit for exercise dosing that is optimal for health benefits. If your goal is to decrease risk of death and improve life expectancy, jogging a few times a week at a moderate pace is a good strategy. Anything more is not just unnecessary, it may be harmful.”

The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans state that adults should engage in either 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 1.25 hours of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity every week.

Dr. Schnohr notes that light jogging in this study represents vigorous exercise, while strenuous jogging represents very vigorous exercise. “When performed for decades, this activity level could pose health risks, especially to the cardiovascular system,” he adds.

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CDC: most commercial foods for infants, toddlers contain too much salt, sugar

A new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds the majority of pre-packaged meals and snacks for toddlers in the US contain high levels of salt or sugar, which researchers say could be putting children’s health at risk.

Pre-packaged toddler meals analyzed in this study contained sodium at levels almost 1.5 times higher than the recommendations set by the Institute of Medicine.
Study leader Mary Cogswell, of the Division of Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and her team used a 2012 US nutrient database to analyze the sodium and sugar content of 1,074 commercial foods for infants and toddlers.

Within their analysis, they included pre-packaged dinners – such as macaroni cheese and mini hot dogs – snacks, fruits, vegetables, dry cereals, juices and desserts.

Their findings, published in the journal Pediatrics, revealed that 72% of the pre-packaged toddler meals assessed were high in sodium, containing an average of 361 milligrams (mg) per serving.

According to recommendations set by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), toddlers should consume no more than 210 mg of sodium per food serving, meaning that the pre-packaged toddler meals analyzed in this study contained sodium at levels almost 1.5 times higher.

IOM recommendations for school foods also state that children should consume no more than 35% of calories from sugar in each food portion.

However, the researchers found that dry fruit-based snacks included in the study contained an average of 60 g of sugar per portion, meaning around 66% of calories were coming from sugar. Sugar made up an average of 47% of calories among mixed grains and fruit and accounted for more than 35% of calories in dairy-based desserts.

At least one added sugar – including glucose, high-fructose corn syrup and dextrose – was found in around 32% of pre-packaged infant and toddler meals, as well as the majority of dry-based fruit snacks, cereal/breakfast bars and pastries, desserts and fruit juices.

While around 7 out of 10 meals for toddlers contained too much sodium, the researchers found most foods for infants were low in sodium – only two of the 657 infant foods contained sodium at levels higher than 140 mg per serving.

High salt and sugar levels in commercial infant, toddler foods ‘a potential concern’
It is estimated that 79% of children aged 1-3 years in the US consume sodium at levels higher than the recommended 1,500 mg per day, which can increase the risk of high blood pressure – a risk factor for heart attack and stroke. Approximately 1 in 6 children in the US have high blood pressure.

In addition, a 2009 study from the American Heart Association found that the average child aged 1-3 years consumes around 12 teaspoons of sugar each day, while recommendations from the organization state that children this age should consume no more than 3-4 teaspoons of sugar each day.

As well as high blood pressure, excess sugar and salt intake can increase the risk of obesity. In the US, more than a third of children and adolescents are obese.

As such, Cogswell and her team say the high sodium or sugar content of infant and toddler foods assessed in their study are worrying:

“Commercial toddler foods and infant or toddler snacks, desserts and juice drinks are of potential concern due to sodium or sugar content. Pediatricians should advise parents to look carefully at labels when selecting commercial toddler foods and to limit salty snacks, sweet desserts and juice drinks.”

The researchers add that excess intake of foods high in sugar and salt early in life may cause children to develop a preference for such foods later in life, increasing their risk of obesity and related diseases. Limiting the intake of these foods for infants and toddlers, however, may reduce this risk.


How Much Should I Weigh For My Age & Height?

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One of the most common questions we receive in our email inbox is “how much should I weigh for my age and height?” In this article, we will explain the most common ways in which this can be worked out.
To determine how much you should weigh (your ideal body weight) several factors should be considered, including age, muscle-fat ratio, height, sex, and bone density.

Some health professionals suggest that calculating your Body Mass Index (BMI) is the best way to decide whether your body weight is ideal. Others say that BMI is faulty as it does not account for muscle mass and that waist-hip ratio is better.

One person’s ideal body weight may be completely different from another’s. If you compare yourself to family and friends you risk either aiming too high if you are surrounded by obese or overweight people, or too low if everyone around you works as fashion models.

Even comparing yourself with people outside your immediate surroundings may not work.

The levels of overweight and obesity in one country, such as the USA or UK, are much higher than in The Netherlands. So a Dutch person may aim for a lower ideal weight than an American if all he did was to compare himself to other people.

Is Body Mass Index (BMI) a good measure of your weight?
Your BMI is your weight in relation to your height.

BMI metric units: Your weight (kilograms) divided by the square of your height (meters)
e.g. Weight 80 kilograms. Height 1.8 meters.
1.82 meters = 3.24
80 divided by 3.24 = BMI 24.69.
Imperial units: Your weight (pounds) times 703, divided by the square of your height in inches.
e.g. Weight 190 pounds. Height 6 ft (72 inches)
722 = 5184
190 x 703 divided by 5184 = BMI 25.76
Health authorities worldwide mostly agree that:

People with a BMI of less than 18.5 are underweight.
A BMI of between 18.5 and 25 is ideal.
Somebody with a BMI between 25 and 30 is classed as overweight.
A person with a BMI over 30 is obese.
In some countries health authorities say the lower limit for BMI is 20, anything below it is underweight.

What is the problem with BMI?

BMI is a very simple measurement which does not take into account the person’s waist, chest or hip measurements. An Olympic 100 meters sprint champion may have a BMI higher than a couch potato of the same height. The couch potato may have a big belly, not much muscle and a lot of body fat on his hips, upper thighs, in his blood and other parts of his body. While the athlete will have a smaller waist, much less body fat, and most likely enjoy better health. According to a purely BMI criteria, the couch potato is healthier.

BMI does not take into account bone density (bone mass). A person with severe osteoporosis (very low bone density) may have a lower BMI than somebody else of the same height who is healthy, but the person with osteoporosis will have a larger waist, more body fat and weak bones.

Many experts criticize BMI as not generally useful in evaluation of health. It is at best a rough ballpark basic standard that may indicate population variations, but should not be used for individuals in health care.

Put simply: experts say that BMI underestimates the amount of body fat in overweight/obese people and overestimates it in lean or muscular people.

More information on BMI, together with imperial and metric BMI calculators, is available here.

Nick Trefethen, a Professor of Numerical Analysis at Oxford University’s Mathematical Institute, has created what he believes to be a better, more accurate and relevant formula than the BMI one for deciding whether people are carrying too much fat. Humans do not grow equally in all three dimensions, he explains – the existing BMI formula presumes we do.

Waist-Hip Ratio (WHR)
A waist-hip measurement is the ratio of the circumference of your waist to that of your hips. You measure the smallest circumference of your waist, usually just above your belly button, and divide that total by the circumference of your hip at its widest part.

If a woman’s waist is 28 inches and her hips are 36 inches, her WHR is 28 divided by 36 = 0.77. Below is a breakdown of WHR linked to risk of cardiovascular health problems.

Male WHR
Less than 0.9 – low risk of cardiovascular health problems
0.9 to 0.99 – moderate risk of cardiovascular health problems
1 or over – high risk of cardiovascular problems
Female WHR
Less than 0.8 – low risk of cardiovascular health problems
0.8 to 0.89 – moderate risk of cardiovascular health problems
0.9 or over – high risk of cardiovascular problems
The WHR of a person is a much better indicator of whether their body weight is ideal and what their risks of developing serious health conditions are, compared to BMI. Various studies have shown that people with apple-shaped bodies – who have larger WHRs – have higher health risks compared to people with pear-shaped bodies – who have lower WHRs. An apple-shaped person will have more fat accumulating on the waist, while a pear-shaped person has the fat accumulating on the hips.

A woman with a WHR of less than 0.8 is generally healthier and more fertile than females with higher WHRs. They are less likely to develop diabetes, most cancers, or cardiovascular disorders. Similarly, men with a WHR no more than 9 are generally healthier and more fertile than men with higher WHRs, and less likely to develop serious conditions or diseases.

Studies indicate that if WHR were to replace BMI as a predictor of heart attack worldwide, figures would include many more people.

What is the problem with WHR?

WHR does not accurately measure a person’s total body fat percentage, or their muscle-to-fat ratio. However, it is a better predictor of ideal weight and health risks than BMI.

Waist-to-Height Ratio
Dr Margaret Ashwell, who used to be science director of the British Nutrition Foundation, and team have found that waist-to-height ratio is better at predicting future heart disease and diabetes risk than BMI.

Dr. Ashwell presented their findings at the 19th Congress on Obesity in Lyon, France, on 12th May, 2012.

Dr. Ashwell said, in an interview with The Daily Telegraph, a leading UK newspaper:

“Keeping your waist circumference to less than half your height can help increase life expectancy for every person in the world.”

Therefore:

A man 6ft (72 inches, 183 cm) tall, should keep his waist measurement below 36 inches (91 cm)
A woman 5ft 4 inches, i.e. 64 inches (163 cm) tall, should keep her waist measurement below 32 inches (81 cm)
Dr. Ashwell says waist-to-height ratio (WHtR) should be used as a screening tool.

The team found that after analyzing several studies involving approximately 300,000 people, they concluded that WHtR is better at predicting heart attacks, stroked, diabetes, and hypertension risk compared to BMI.

Ashwell explains that BMI does not take into account fat distribution around the body. The accumulation of abdominal fat (visceral fat) may be harmful for the heart, kidneys and liver, while fat build-up around the hips and bottom is less hazardous to health.

The researchers added that WHtR is much simpler for people to work out:

“Keep your waist circumference to less than half your height”

What is Body Fat Percentage?
Your body fat percentage is the weight of your fat divided by your total weight. The result indicates your essential fat as well as storage fat.

Essential fat – this is the amount of fat we need to survive. Women require a higher percentage than men. Essential fat is 2%-5% in men, and 10%-13% in women.
Storage fat – this consists of fat accumulation in adipose tissue, some of which protects our internal organs in the chest and abdomen.
Total body fat percentage – this is essential fat plus storage fat.
The American Council on Exercise recommends the following percentages:

Essential fat
Women 10-12%
Men 2-4%
Total fat
Athletes
Men 6-13%
Women 14-20%
Non-athletes classed as fit
Men 14-17%%
Women 21-24
Acceptable
Men 18-25%
Women 25-31%
Overweight
Men 26-37%
Women 32-41%
Obese
Men 38% or more
Women 42% or more
Many experts say that calculating people’s body fat percentage is the best way to gauge their fitness level because it is the only measurement that includes the body’s true composition. Any male whose body fat percentage is over 25% or female over 31% is either overweight or possibly obese.

Body fat percentage would not make the couch potato seem fitter than the 100 meter Olympic champion – as was the case with BMI.

There are various ways of calculating a person’s body fat percentage. None of them can give a 100% accurate figure, but the estimates are accepted as fairly close. Examples include near-infrared interactance, dual energy X-ray absorptiometry, and bioelectrical impedance analysis.

Many gyms and doctor’s practices have devices that can tell you what your body fat percentage is.

Conclusion about your ideal weight
This article has briefly explained four ways to help you find out whether your weight is ideal, and what your target should be if it is not. You can work out your BMI (body mass index), WHR (waist-hip ratio), WHtR (waist-height ratio) or Body Fat Percentage.

BMI, WHR and WHtR can be done easily in your home. WHR and WHtR are more accurate than BMI. However, BMI is a useful indicator if you are an “average” person – not an Olympic athlete or a dedicated weight trainer.

If you embark on a weight loss regime that includes exercise and diet, bear in mind that the exercise will probably increase your muscle mass, which may increase your weight, even though your waist may shrink. Muscle weighs more than fat.

It might be better to aim for target waist, hips and chest measurements. A Waist-hip ratio goal is also possible. If you feel really dedicated, check your Body Fat Percentage; if you are not happy with the reading, discuss a realistic target with a nutritionist, sports scientist, or personal trainer and go for it!

 

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