[By Roanne Weisman; Boston May 20, 2016] By now, you have probably heard about the “Biggest Losers” from the reality TV show: They all regained their original weight and, in some cases, even more. The media reporting on this result would have us believe that there is no escape from our genetic destiny. Once we have arrived at obesity, we are genetically trapped in metabolisms that, in the words of the New York Times article, “were intensifying their effort to pull the [Biggest Loser] contestants back to their original weight.” Ultimately, This article advises us to give up on ourselves. Why? Because “science” has said so. What kind of science is that? Or, perhaps more importantly, what kind of science reporting tells us that we have no control over our own bodies? The answer to both questions is “irresponsible.”
Tag Archives: diabetes
There is more to diabetes than elevated blood sugars; fat metabolism plays an important role as well. Since there has been quite a bit of discussion on this blog about Type II diabetes, especially in relation to being overweight, I have asked integrative physician Alexa Fleckenstein M.D. to explain the approach she has used successfully with her patients. Here is her response:
Conventional medicine manages diabetes – but it doesn’t cure it The conventional view of diabetes mellitus is as a disease of too much sugar in the blood. The medications designed to help the disease consequently lower blood sugar levels – by different mechanisms.
More recent research seems to imply that diabetes is more than elevated blood sugars – fat metabolism seems heavily involved too. But from the patient’s perspective, it looks like diabetes is a disease of too much appetite: Diabetics are hungry all the time. Ten percent of Type II diabetes patients are not overweight – but ninety percent are. Diabetes could be called a disease of abdominal fat leading to abominable consequences. Its poetic name honey-sweet (urine) flow certainly does not evoke the horrible consequences of this disease: amputations of limbs, blindness, kidney failure and dialysis, impotence, cancer, depression – to name a few.
But even in the light of these abominable consequences patients don’t stop eating. Diabetes is a billion dollar business for physicians and the pharma industry – no wonder a cure has not been found yet. And the patients “just won’t listen” to dietary advice. Why do they keep eating? Sebastian Kneipp (1821-1897) used to say “Large dinners fill coffins” – yet Sebastian Kneipp himself was overweight and could not refrain from eating his beloved dumplings, clearly unable to heed his own advice.
I am always struck by how much diabetics suffer when I talk to them. They seem to suffer from a profound fatigue – and eating seems to help. At least for a short while. They eat for energy. People have to make a living, take care of a family – and they are in a race to eat so they can function.
It turns out that diabetes affects the mitochondria, the energy factory of the cells – and diabetes reduces the energy output of the mitochondria. It is as if diabetics stack wood around the mitochondrial stove until that stove – buried under fuel that can’t be used – is unable to function any longer. Paradoxically, all the food hinders proper metabolism, and each too-large meal leaves the patient weaker and sliding further down the precipice to diabetic diseases. All that stoked wood is a fire hazard: Any moment the little energy factory can blow up into a catastrophic illness like heart attack, stroke or infection.
The low energy of diabetics affects their physical as well as their mental abilities. Exhausted as they are, diabetics scramble to make it through their daily activities – they just can’t face going to the gym as well . Of course, exercise would use up some of the stacked fuel and reduce the fire hazard – but they can’t bring themselves to move. Period.
Diabetics have the odds stacked against them even beyond poor mitochondrial function. I can think of several other mechanisms that would explain why diabetics overeat: Studies have shown that overweight people have different bowel bacteria than slim people, which means that the bacteria are craving their food. I liken it to a computer virus: The bacteria send their cravings to the patient’s brain and, obediently, the patient grabs for another piece of unhealthy junk. Furthermore, the abdominal fat is of a different quality than fat of other body parts: Abdominal fat sends out hormonal messages to the brain – again asking for more food since the fat cells need to be fed in order to grow.
Another strike against overweight people is that the more you eat, the hungrier you get. In times of scarcity such a mechanism that helped people survive. In lean times, one was less hungry; in times of gluttony (say, a mammoth needed to be devoured) people had more appetite. Nowadays, when lean times never occur, the overweight just suffer from incredible hunger pangs – which are largely not acknowledged by the medical community but are chalked up to “lacking willpower.”
Then there are food cravings induced by food allergies. We do not really know why this is so, but there is no doubt in my mind that you crave exactly the food you should not eat because it makes you sick. People usually don’t crave carrots and apples – they crave cheese and Twinkies and chicken wings.
And the above are just the innate reasons why overweight people cannot stop eating. Now consider the reasons which stem from our modern food production: New molecules are so alien to our bodies (either by themselves or in unnatural combinations) that more people than ever are experiencing food allergies – and food cravings. High fructose corn syrup and overly processed milk proteins lead the list, but artificial colors, artificial dyes, preservatives and altogether newly designed molecules are not far behind.
And the food industry uses to its advantages the ingredients people have a hard time saying “No!” Fat, sugar, salt make any food more yummy, regardless of its real nutritional value – which is usually nil.
In conclusion, diabetes is a genetic disease so with the above odds keeping up the damaging weight, diabetics have only one chance: To force “unnatural” changes on themselves, against their inclination. For the time being, medicine is no help – the pill that takes away those too large appetites has not yet been invented. So, this needs to be done: Feel your belly right now. If it is bulging at all, you are overweight. Then take your strenuous path: Get off the chair, away from the computer or TV, and start moving. And every time you want to eat, “need” to eat, grab your fat and convince yourself that you won’t starve if you don’t eat this moment. Keep to a schedule (three big meals or five small – but never a bite after dinner because the night is repair time for the body) and find a friend to walk with you – or kayak or swim or dance! This is your only chance for good health.
That’s at least how much this country could save in health care costs and worker productivity if people lived healthier lives and if the health care system helped them do it.
A recent national study announced in a press release by the Milkin Institute reported that 40 million cases of seven chronic diseases — cancers, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension (high blood pressure), stroke, mental disorders and pulmonary (lung) conditions — could be prevented in the year 2023. How? By re-orienting the focus of health care resources more toward prevention and early detection of disease, rather than focusing primarily on treatment. In other words, let’s head off disease before it happens, rather than waiting until we get sick.
The study concluded that this would reduce anticipated treatment expenses associated with the seven diseases and improve productivity by $1.1 trillion that year. The report notes that the most important factor is obesity, which if rates declined could lead to $60 billion less in treatment costs and $254 billion in increased productivity. We know from other sources that the obesity epidemic in this country is already leading to an alarming increase in Type II diabetes — not only in adults, but in children as well.
To reduce the human and economic cost of disease, the Milken Institute calls for:
• More incentives to promote prevention and early intervention, and
• A renewed national commitment to achieve a “healthy body weight.”
“By investing in good health, we can add billions of dollars in economic growth in the coming decades,” said Ross DeVol, Director of Health Economics and Regional Economics at the Milken Institute and principal author of the report. “The good news is that with moderate improvements in prevention and early intervention such as reducing the rate of obesity, the savings to the economy would be enormous.”
We have been hearing from our doctors for years that that by choosing more nutritious food, exercising regularly and reducing the stress in our lives, we can take significant steps toward improving our health as well as preventing disease, suffering and premature death. Now, policy think tanks, government agencies and insurers are telling us that we can save money as well.
So what is stopping us?