Thursday, March 25, 2010

Obesity & Heredity, Part 3: Why Are Thin People Not Fat?

Below is an intriguing BBC documentary, called "Why Are Thin People Not Fat?"  In this film, ten thin people who have no history of obesity overeat whatever foods they want for several weeks and the results are evaluated at the end of the experiment.  One especially interesting facet of the documentary is the fact that the Asian participant gains the least weight of all the participants and also appears to have the most elevated metabolism.  Could it be that his genes are more pure -- i.e. less degeneration in his family -- than the others?  Watch and decide for yourself!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Obesity & Heredity, Part 2: You Are What Your Parents Ate

Stephan Guyenet at Whole Health Source wrote a brilliant blog series a few months back, called “The Body Fat Setpoint,” in which he describes the mechanisms behind an individual's ability to maintain a  very specific weight.  No matter how much a person overeats and how much weight is gained, his or her body is simply primed to be at this “setpoint” and will “defend” it diligently through natural fat regulation mechanisms.  Stephan references a study where:

They overfed lean and modestly overweight volunteers 50% more calories than they naturally consume … After 6 weeks of massive overfeeding, both lean and overweight subjects gained an average of 10 lb (4.6 kg) of fat mass and 6.6 lb (3 kg) of lean mass...  Following overfeeding, subjects were allowed to eat however much they wanted for 6 weeks. Both lean and overweight volunteers promptly lost 6.2 of the 10 lb they had gained in fat mass (61% of fat gained), and 1.5 of the 6.6 lb they had gained in lean mass (23%).  

To me, the most interesting aspect regarding human overfeeding studies like this is that, once the overfeeding period has ended, the participants return to their original weight without dieting.  As Stephan indicates, this means that our bodies have the inherent ability to maintain our “normal weight.”  Refer to the post I wrote on tribal fattening practices and the fact that the fattened women who refuse to overeat their real foods diet return to a healthy weight in short order.  Normal weight, however, appears to be different for every individual. For example, when a person has a normal weight – a setpoint – that, by all standards, can be seen as obese, we are left with the question of just why in the heck this is happening.  Why does the body insist on remaining in such a biologically abnormal state?

Many scientists and researchers claim that leptin – a hormone which regulates appetite – plays a key role in obesity, as many people who are overweight exhibit low levels of the hormone.  Much research has been conducted on the validity of this theory and it is now recognized that leptin resistance – in which the body can no longer can recognize when it has had enough food – is what enables a person to eat more than they need, thus leading to obesity and keeping that person obese.  And, surprise, surprise: artificial fructose is a prime culprit in leptin resistance because fructose doesn't stimulate leptin (or insulin for that matter).  No stimulation, no appetite regulation.

Skinny Jeans & Skinny Genes

Okay, so leptin appears to play a role in weight maintenance.  That's all fine and good, but why can some people eat and drink whatever they want -- including artificial fructose -- without affecting their body composition while some people become obese?  This is where I believe heredity comes into play.  Depending on what stage of degeneration a person is in – first, second, or third generation of processed food consumption, let's say, and/or what a person's mother ate while pregnant with him/her – obesity can be more or less of a potential complication.

In my case, for example, my mother wasn't overweight when I was in the woom and neither of my parents are overweight now.  This is despite consuming a lot of high-fructose corn syrup and omega-6 vegetable oils for much of their lives.  I was raised on this typical industrial diet and never experienced issues of overweight as a child, and I have no issues now.  At age 18, I altered my diet and cut out processed foods, which is how I eat now, eight years later.  But my older brother, now age 29, has continued to eat our childhood foods without gaining significant weight.  Other health problems aside, my family has no weight issues.  Is there something about us genetically that is behind all of this?  I think it's a strong possibility.  And maybe this is because, like Don Gorske, we may have a closer-to-pure hereditity.  We are not yet degenerated to the point where the disease of obesity has set in.

In contrast, I know of a few childhood friends (two brothers) who now appear to be on the receiving end of metabolic discord through familial degeneration.  In their twenties now, they are both experiencing weight problems.  They also drink a lot of beer and don't seem to have the best diet in the world.  Observing their parents, the mother has been overweight for at least half of her life (including several years before becoming pregnant) and the father has always been slim, despite drinking a lot of beer and not having the best diet in the world just like his sons.  Why is dad slim while having very similar dietary habits to his overweight sons?  Are his genetics more pure and less degenerated – less overall processed food consumption – than the mother's genes, which appear to have a hereditary predisposition to being overweight?  This may be the case, and it would explain the weight issues of the two sons, as they would inherit half of their mother's genes.        

Several studies have been done evaluating the role heredity may play in obesity.  The most compelling subset of these studies are those that include data from adopted children, their adoptive parents, and their biological parents.  Here's an abstract from one of these of these studies, called “Genetic contributions to human fatness: an adoption study:”

A strong relationship was found between the degree of fatness of biologic mothers and that of their adult offspring who had been separated from their mothers at birth and adopted during the first year of life. This relationship persisted even after age, height, and possible confounding environmental factors were controlled. There was little evidence for either selective placement on the basis of parental fatness or gene-environment interaction. There was no relationship between the degree of fatness of adoptive parents and that of the adoptees.

It's interesting that the weight of the child was directly affected by the weight of the biological mother and is not affected by the environment of the adoptive home.  This supports my theory on the two sons who I described above.  There is, however, one glaring confounding factor in all of this talk about obesity and heredity, and that is the increasing consumption of high-fructose corn syrup in the last 30 years.  This amazingly effective human fattener was not significant in the industrialized diet until 1980, when Coca-Cola officially began adding this biochemically engineered sweetener to its popular soft drink.  This also happens to be the time when obesity levels really began to take off.  Check out the graph below from the paper, “High-fructose corn syrup in beverages may play a role in the epidemic of obesity:”

So does that mean that heredity may not be as important as diet in the development of obesity?  Not necessarily.  I believe the two go hand-in-hand and, as I said earlier, it's possible that it is heredity and the diet of the mother which determines susceptibility to the effects of HFCS or other processed foods.

So what lesson have we learned here?  Well, there's still a lot of questions, but I think we can safely say that some people have more difficulty with weight than others, and that reason may not necessarily be connected to dietary choices in all cases.  Rather, there are several lifetimes of degeneration that may be influencing each individuals propensity to gain – and keep on – the fat.

For solutions to inherited susceptibility to obesity, I refer you back to Stephan, who I think provides some good advice.  As far as my recommendations, the best change anyone can make in their diet to make a difference in health, and perhaps body composition, is to simply eliminate the four nasties: artificial fructose, gluten, trans fats, and vegetable oils.  Eat real food.  And please, please, please raise your children on real foods so they don't have the same health difficulties that many of us adults have!  

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Obesity & Heredity, Part 1: Don Gorske

For better or for worse, we inherit much of the body composition tendencies of our parents.  This can be argued as merely adopting their food habits, which directly affects our health, and I believe that's a big part of why our bodies are the way they are.  However, there are most certainly genetic predispositions to certain body shapes and sizes, as well.  Often times, I focus on diet as the #1 instigator of health and disease, but when it comes to issues of overweight and obesity I often find myself wondering just how much genetics can play a role in whether a person is thin or fat, muscular or lanky, apple or pear-shaped.  Many of us know folks who can eat whatever the heck they want without any apparent health effects or significant body composition changes.  

Case in point, Don Gorske, the infamous McDonald's enthusiast who has eaten 24,000 Big Macs since 1972.  Despite this indulgence -- and the sodas that come with it -- Gorske appears to be in good health.  (I say “appears” because he is not overweight and has good cholesterol numbers; not so sure about his teeth, triglycerides, HDL:LDL ratio, VLDL levels or other markers of health.)  He has a full head of dark hair, walks every day, and also has a positive outlook on life.  Arguably, these are signs of good health.  How can this be?  Isn't fast food one of the prime suspects in modern disease?  Could this mean that fast food is off the hook?  Well, before you go out gorging on McDonald's because of one man's seeming success on such fare, read on.

Mr. 180, Matt Stone, recently blogged about Gorske, pinpointing dietary, philosophical, and hereditary  reasons as to why this man's physical health seems to be unaffected by the foods he eats.  Of all the reasons listed by Matt, I believe heredity to be the most important factor.  For one thing, as Matt says in his post, Gorske grew up “ cow country and didn't start eating fast food until age 18 ...”  Developmentally speaking, this Big Mac-lover had a head start in good health -- especially if we consider that he only started eating fast food after his body and metabolic tendencies were well-established.  And while it's interesting to observe Gorske's apparent well-being and question the assumption that fast food is detrimental to our health, the picture would not be complete without full consideration of his unique heredity.  Perhaps he is the fortunate heir of health not-far-removed from that of our ancestors.  What of his genetics, his childhood health, his parents' and their parents' health?

Unfortunately, I don't have access to this information, but I would hazard a guess that his parents were closer to a traditional diet than not for most of their lives, and that they were maybe the first or second generation of degeneration.  In contrast, many of us have parents or grandparents who were well on their way to degeneration during their life time and this directly affected our health -- epigenetics influenced strongly by diet. (See section below, “Degeneration in the Cafeteria.”)  Maybe some of us, like Gorske, are able to avoid some of the dramatic metabolic changes seen today -- namely obesity -- simply because our parents and grandparents hadn't quite reached that particular stage of degeneration.  Obesity, if we think about the very low historic levels and the high levels of today, appears to be a stage of degeneration that comes after maybe three generations of poor food habits.  It also appears to be in direct connection with the consumption of the modern franken-foods -- artificial fructose, trans fats, white flour, vegetable oils.    

Whatever the case may be, it's evident that obesity is an abnormal human state brought about by heredity, which is influenced by dietary changes.  What's interesting, however, is that some people -- like Don Gorske-- due to perhaps a closer-to pure heredity, are able to escape the effects of poor food habits during their lifetime.  How their children might fare is another question.    

You know what would be an awesome experiment?  Taking a bunch of thin people who appear to do just fine on junk-food, like Gorske, and feeding them lots and lots of food and seeing how quickly they gain weight, how their metabolism reacts, and whether or not they return to their normal weight when the experiment is over.  Maybe this would provide answers as to why thin people are thin.  That post is up next.


SIDEBAR: Degeneration in the Cafeteria

Imagine a line at a cafeteria with a limited amount of food.  There's (1) the traditional foods of our ancestors: raw dairy, grass-fed meats, fish, fresh grains, fruits and vegetables; there's (2) a mixed-diet of these traditional foods with some processed foods (mainly sugar and white flour); then there's (3) the factory-raised meats, white flour, artificial fructose, and rancid vegetable oil-laden diet of today.  First in line, our great grandparents, enjoyed a diet primarily of traditional foods and experienced good health.  Second in line, their children (our grandparents) approached the front of the line and much of the traditional foods had already been eaten by their parents, so they began eating some white flour and sugar with some ill health effects, notably lowered immunity and dental disease.  Third in line, these childrens' children (our parents) arrived at  the food and they were left with more white flour and sugar than traditional foods; they developed physical deformities from nutritional deficiencies and might have developed some issues with weight and diabetes as well as other degenerative diseases, depending on their parents' food choices.  That brings us to the last ones in line (the 20 and 30-somethings of today) who are left with the most processed of all processed foods: high-fructose corn syrup, rancid vegetable oil, trans fats, and the like.  These poor folks not only have a poor diet, but may inherit the traits of their parents 100-fold, possibly becoming obese and diabetic at an early age, in addition to a slew of health problems that come along with being at the end of a long line of degeneration.  Below is a (purely theoretical) visual representation of this. 

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Adult Palate Expansion, Part 2: A Brief Chat with Theodore Belfor, DDS

As a follow-up to my last post on palate expansion in adults, I decided to give Dr. Theodore Belfor a call to find out more about his Homeoblock palate-widening appliance, as well his background and interest in the subject of craniofacial changes.  What followed was a brief, yet fascinating chat that delved into many subjects.  Here's a bulleted summary our conversation.

  • The cost of the Homeoblock procedure: anywhere from $2600-6000, depending on your own personal facial structure, which can be evaluated at Dr. Belfor's clinic in New York through a catscan and 3d image analysis.  He tries to keep the cost of the Homeblock close to the popular teeth-straightening product, Invisalign 
  • Human de-volution: Dr. Belfor acknowledges that human beings have rapidly devolved in a very short amount of time -- i.e. the last 100 years.  While Darwin's theory of evolution recognizes changes in species over millenia, our rapid de-evolution is an indication that something we are doing externally is influences our physical deformities.  He suggests diet and pollution as main causes.  
  • Epigenetics: (This is the changing of genes through influences other than DNA -- i.e. facial deformities)  Dr. Belfor believes this is going to be the most important field in science in the 21st century as people come to realize that many of us are not expressing our genes fully and that we must find out why and do something about it.
  • Sudden infant death syndrome: Recently, Dr. Belfor spoke with a doctor in Australia who connects craniofacial deformities with sudden infant death syndrome.  With a lacking craniofacial development, the 9th (Glossopharyngeal) nerve in the head, which controls swallowing, gag reflex, and speech, could very well play a role in SIDs in that arterial blood flow to it may be be restricted, which could lead to a lack of signaling to baroreceptors, Belfor says.  Baroreceptors signal the central nervous system to regulate blood pressure levels and with their malfunction could lead to possible cardiac arrest.  (Hopefully I'm getting all of this right.)
  • Weston A. Price, DDS: Dr. Belfor is familiar with Nutrition and Physical Degeneration and says that Price's research is the basis for the realization of our physical deformities and, thus, influences any dental work (including his) that seeks to restore the facial structure of the human genetic blueprint.
Unfortunately, Dr. Belfor had to leave the conversation somewhat abruptly because he had patients to tend to, but I'm extremely grateful that he was willing to speak and share what he did for the ten minutes we were on the phone.  It seemed that if he was not busy, he would have talked to me for much longer, as he definitely has a passion for what he does and seems to enjoy very much sharing that passion with others -- even if they are some random blogger/independent health researcher like myself.  What a great guy!  If I was in the New York area, I would not hesitate to go in for a craniofacial evaluation.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Adult Palate Expansion

I am deformed.  I look nothing like my ancestors.  As a child, I had braces.  I was a frequent mouth breather.  At age 16, I said bye to my wisdom teeth.  I have only 24 teeth left.  My dental palate is not broad and sweeping; my jaw isn't square; my nasal passage isn't wide.  I'm a human being raised on a processed food diet, and this is the result.  When I first read Weston A. Price's book, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, it was hard to find out that I'm not developmentally optimal.  I thought, "Well, crud, there's yet another thing that's wrong with me that can't be fixed."  I began comparing photos of myself as a child with some of the photos from Price's book.  Here's me next to a traditional Swiss gal:

See the lack of resemblance?  Check out the overall roundness of the Swiss girl compared to my more narrowed facial structure.  Compare my nasal passage to hers.  Cheek bones?  Jaw?  And, wow, how about them teeth!  This isn't due to genetics, as many of you know.  It's all about nutrition during the developmental years, as Price discovered.  Damn you, margarine, sugar, and white flour!

The other day I was thinking about how it might feel the have the facial features characteristic of the healthy cultures in Weston Price's studies as opposed to the narrow palate, brace-straightened teeth, weak jaw, narrowed nasal passage, and lackluster cheek bones that characterize my own facial structure.  If I were all of the sudden blessed with an optimal facial structure and all the teeth the good Lord intended me to have, would I breath easier?  Speak better?  Smile more fully and more often?  Have less tension in my jaws?  Feel a heightened sense of well-being?  While it's interesting -- if not somewhat depressing -- to imagine such a possibility, I never thought once that this would ever be achievable.  I guess you can say that's why I've come to terms with my deformed self.  I can't change it, can I?  What other choice do I have besides acceptance of my not-so-optimal lot in life?  Sigh.

I was impressed by a study about two twins recently referenced in Wise Traditions, the Weston A. Price Foundation journal.  One twin received palatal expansion, while the other did not.  Here's a photo that shows the dramatic difference in the two -- not just in their teeth, but their overall facial structure:

Impressive, eh?  It's readily apparent that dental appliances can make a huge difference towards regaining the facial structure of our ancestors.  But I'm far beyond the developmental time period during which such devices can help me attain a facial appearance closer to that of the human genetic blueprint, right?  These things only work for the growing child or teenager.  At age 18, the bone plates are fused, and there's no budging them.  Once you're an adult, there's no room for any adjustments, right?  Well, I began to wonder: Is there such a thing as adult palatal expansion?  And, if so, would it make any difference health-wise if I were to apply such technology to my own head?  Let's just find out.  (Google, you are my friend.)

The first website I came across, called Facial Development, is absolutely fascinating.  It's authored by Theodore R. Belfor, DDS, who has a clinic in New York state that actually specializes in expanding adult palates using a dental appliance called a Homeoblock.  From his website:

The Homeoblock™ appliance is a revolutionary patented oral device that is much like a retainer in looks, but the results go way beyond teeth straightening...The Homeoblock™ appliance works with the body, so that physiological changes occur naturally; developing the bones of the face and resulting in the strengthening of facial muscles. These changes occur due in large part to each person’s genetic potential  Often, facial development does not reach its potential due to the food we eat, polluted air and poor dental care to name a few.

Wow.  A dentist who acknowledges that facial development is influenced by diet?  I wonder if he knows about Dr. Price.  Browsing the website further, I came upon a paper that Dr. Belfor wrote called, "Facial Changes as a Result of Palatal Expansion in Adult Patients Using the Homeoblock Appliance."  Check out this before and after 3d image taken of one of his patients who used a Homeoblock:

Look closely and notice the differences in the cheek bones, chin, and lips.  Pretty incredible.  So not only does palatal widening make for straighter teeth, it also induces significant changes in the overall facial structure -- even in adults.  Dr. Belfor markets his work as a way of creating a more youthful appearance in addition to straightening teeth.  An interesting effect of palatal widening is reduced wrinkles.  But he's also very enthusiastic about other changes that occur with the procedure (emphasis mine):

 I am experiencing the most incredible excitement on a daily basis. I routinely expand adult underdeveloped maxilla and mandible taking the teeth along for the ride. There are many different goals, as many as there are different patients. However, the result is always the same; more prominent cheekbones, wide smiles, and strong jaws!"  

Prominent cheek bones?  Wide smiles?  Strong jaws?  Is this guy Weston Price incarnate?  So, wait a minute, how can any of this actually work if the bones are fused by age 18, as is commonly believed?  Well, let's let Dr. Belfor answer that one:

Bone is essentially plastic in nature. Tension and intermittent pressure persuade the bones to redefine at any age. In fact, our typical patient is between 30 and 60 years old. In the upper dental arch nature has provided a suture line front to back between the two bones that form the palate. This allows for an easy widening process and as the palate expands, the cheekbones as well, creating more prominence.

Okay, so maybe there's a chance for a "deformie" like me to experience optimal facial structure after all!  I would like a second opinion, though.  I  mean, isn't there a possibility of teeth relapsing or other complications happening?  Let's see what one scientific study had to say about adult palatal widening procedures and the risks involved, in this case using an implement called a Haas expander:

Rapid maxillary expansion (RME) in the adult is thought to be an unreliable procedure with several adverse side effects and, consequently, surgically assisted RME is considered the preferred procedure...Rapid maxillary expansion using a Haas expander was examined in 47 adults and 47 children...The results indicate that nonsurgical RME in adults is a clinically successful and safe method for correcting transverse maxillary

arch deficiency.

This study had a follow-up time of an average 5.9 years, and the patients' teeth remained in place.  Here's a dramatic before-and-after image from the study showing one case of palatal expansion, a 30-year-old female:

Now that's just amazing.  30-years-old and there's still room for correction of the dental arch.  I wonder, though, are there any health benefits to having the palate expanded and the resultant craniofacial changes that take place?  Dr. Belfor, what do you think?

Orthopedic jaw development, particularly arch expansion, allows for improved sinus drainage and widens airflow passages. This can result in snoring reduction and lessened symptoms of sleep apnea...Voice enhancement. Improved facial balance and skin tone. Arresting and reversing the premature aging of the face. 

 Sounds to me like it would be worth it.  Only one problem, I have no idea how much the procedure actually costs.  I'm sending an e-mail to Dr. Belfor to find out.  Also, I'm going to ask him if he's influenced at all by Weston A. Price, as he seems right there with the 1930s dentist philosophically.  If anybody out there has more information on the procedure, please leave your comments.

Here's one more link with an article and video on adult palate expansion: "Skull Stretching."

See "Popular Posts" to the right for all of my updates on palate expansion.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Primitive Nutrition Talk: Health Stories (Continued)

Here's some more footage from part one of the Wintercount discussion.  Here I continue my health story and recount fond memories of my experiences with zero-carbohydrate diets, digestive problems, and giardia.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Primitive Nutrition Talk: Health Stories

Here's the first of a series of videos from my discussion/presentation on Primitive Nutrition, which took place at the Wintercount Rendezvous 2010.  In this video are a few of the diet experiences shared by folks that sat in on the talk, as well as my own health story.  I'll be publishing more videos of this presentation in the coming weeks, covering many nutrition and health topics from an evolutionary and anthropological perspective, as well as diving into the work of Weston A. Price.

By the way, if anybody knows how to sync video and audio, I'd greatly appreciate some advice, as you can see that the second half of the video is a few seconds off.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Wintercount Rendezvous 2010

After going shirtless and stocking up my vitamin D reserves in the Sonoran Desert at the Wintercount Rendezvous, I'm back to blogging and am pretty excited to share some of the experiences I've had over the last few weeks.  I bought a digital video camera just before attending the gathering in order to document some of my Primitive Nutrition classes, as well as an interview or two.  Now I'm learning how to edit the footage and soon will have some of these videos to share here on my blog.  For now, I thought I'd provide a glimpse into what I've been up to lately -- particularly for all you curious folks out there who might be asking yourselves, "Just what in the heck in this 'Wintercount' thing this guy mentions so often?"  Enjoy!