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 This study showed that children reducing sugar consumption (but not fruits), and without reducing calories, after 10 days improved all sorts of metabolic health markers: blood pressure, LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, liver function, fasting blood glucose, and insulin levels. As one of the researchers said: "I have never seen results as striking or significant in our human studies; after only nine days of fructose (sugar) restriction, the results are dramatic and consistent from subject to subject." Once again, not all calories are the same.

On average, the obese children in this study had been getting about 27 percent of their daily calories from sugar, and during the study period it was lowered to about 10 percent of daily calories. By comparison, the average American takes in about 15 percent, though children typically consume much more than this in part because they have the highest intake of sugar-sweetened beverages. In February of this year, the federal government’s Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recommended that Americans limit their intake of added sugars to no more than 10 percent of daily calories. From Medical Xpress:

Obese children's health rapidly improves with sugar reduction unrelated to calories

Reducing consumption of added sugar, even without reducing calories or losing weight, has the power to reverse a cluster of chronic metabolic diseases, including high cholesterol and blood pressure, in children in as little as 10 days, according to a study by researchers at UC San Francisco and Touro University California.

"This study definitively shows that sugar is metabolically harmful not because of its calories or its effects on weight; rather sugar is metabolically harmful because it's sugar," said lead author Robert Lustig, MD, MSL, pediatric endocrinologist at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital San Francisco. "This internally controlled intervention study is a solid indication that sugar contributes to metabolic syndrome, and is the strongest evidence to date that the negative effects of sugar are not because of calories or obesity."

Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions—increased blood pressure, high blood glucose level, excess body fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol levels—that occur together and increase risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Other diseases associated with metabolic syndrome, such as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and type 2 diabetes, now occur in children—disorders previously unknown in the pediatric population.

In the study, 43 children between the ages of 9 and 18 who were obese and had at least one other chronic metabolic disorder, such as hypertension, high triglyceride levels or a marker of fatty liver, were given nine days of food, including all snacks and beverages, that restricted sugar but substituted starch to maintain the same fat, protein, carbohydrate, and calorie levels as their previously reported home diets.....The study menu restricted added sugar (while allowing fruit), but substituted it by adding other carbohydrates such as bagels, cereal and pasta so that the children still consumed the same number of calories from carbohydrate as before, but total dietary sugar was reduced from 28 to 10 percent, and fructose from 12 to 4 percent of total calories, respectively. The food choices were designed to be "kid food" - turkey hot dogs, potato chips, and pizza all purchased at local supermarkets, instead of high sugar cereals, pastries, and sweetened yogurt.

Children were given a scale and told to weigh themselves everyday, with the goal of weight stability, not weight loss. When weight loss did occur (a decrease of an average of 1 percent over the 10-day period but without change in body fat), they were given more of the low-sugar foods."When we took the sugar out, the kids started responding to their satiety cues," said Schwarz. "They told us it felt like so much more food, even though they were consuming the same number of calories as before, just with significantly less sugar. Some said we were overwhelming them with food."

After just 9 days on the sugar-restricted diet, virtually every aspect of the participants' metabolic health improved, without change in weight. Diastolic blood pressure decreased by 5mm, triglycerides by 33 points, LDL-cholesterol (known as the "bad" cholesterol) by 10 points, and liver function tests improved. Fasting blood glucose went down by 5 points, and insulin levels were cut by one-third. "All of the surrogate measures of metabolic health got better, just by substituting starch for sugar in their processed food—all without changing calories or weight or exercise," said Lustig. "This study demonstrates that 'a calorie is not a calorie.' Where those calories come from determines where in the body they go. Sugar calories are the worst, because they turn to fat in the liver, driving insulin resistance, and driving risk for diabetes, heart, and liver disease."

 This research suggests that emulsifiers (which are added to most processed foods to aid texture and extend shelf life) can alter the gut microbiota (the community of microbes that live in our gut) in such a way as to cause intestinal inflammation. Even though the study was done on mice, it is thought it also applies to humans. From Medical Daily:

You Are What You Eat: Food Additive Emulsifier Inflames Mouse Gut And Causes Obesity

Processed foods have changed the way we eat. Food can sit longer on shelves, but what does that mean for the stomach? In a new study published in the journal Nature, researchers from Georgia State University investigated how the widely used processed food additive emulsifiers played a role in the gut.

Emulsifiers are added to most processed foods in order to extend shelf life and add texture to the foods. The research team decided to feed mice a couple of the most common emulsifiers on the market — polysorbate 80 and carboxymethylcelluloseat doses comparable to a human’s consumption of processed foods. They watched the emulsifier change the mice’s gut microbiota, which is an individual’s personal 100 trillion bacteria inside the intestinal tract. Not only did this increase their chance of developing obesity-related disorders, but also inflammatory bowel disease. It’s no coincidence both conditions have been increasing since the 1950s.

"The dramatic increase in these diseases has occurred despite consistent human genetics, suggesting a pivotal role for an environmental factor," the study’s coauthor Benoit Chassaing, a researcher from GSU’s Institute for Biomedical Sciences, said in a press release. "Food interacts intimately with the microbiota, so we considered what modern additions to the food supply might possibly make gut bacteria more pro-inflammatory."

The emulsifiers, which are groups of oil-and water-friendly molecules, help to hold food together. Mayonnaise without emulsifiers, for example, will separate from an oily top layer to a thicker white layer that rests on the bottom of the jar. Once the emulsifiers were digested by the mice, their blood-glucose levels went awry, inflamed their intestinal mucus layer, which left them with weight gain, specifically concentrated in the abdomen. The bacterial changed triggered chronic colitis from causing intestinal inflammation and metabolic syndrome, which includes obesity, hyperglycemia, and insulin resistance.

Ultimately, microbiologists say you are what you eat. If your diet is smeared with margarine, mayonnaise, creamy sauces, candy, ice cream, and most other packaged and processed baked goods, you and your gut may be at risk.

"We do not disagree with the commonly held assumption that over-eating is a central cause of obesity and metabolic syndrome," the study’s coauthor Andrew T. Gewirtz, a researcher from GSU’s Institute for Biomedical Sciences, said in a press release. "Rather, our findings reinforce the concept suggested by earlier work that low-grade inflammation resulting from an altered microbiota can be an underlying cause of excess eating."

More research on the benefits of exercise. From Medical Xpress:

An hour of moderate exercise a day may decrease heart failure risk

In a new study reported in the American Heart Association journal Circulation: Heart Failure, researchers say more than an hour of moderate or half an hour of vigorous exercise per day may lower your risk of heart failure by 46 percent. Heart failure is a common, disabling disease that accounts for about 2 percent of total healthcare costs in industrialized countries. Risk of death within five years of diagnosis is 30 percent to 50 percent, researchers said.

Swedish researchers studied 39,805 people 20-90 years old who didn't have heart failure when the study began in 1997. Researchers assessed their total- and leisure time activity at the beginning of the study and followed them to see how this was related to their subsequent risk of developing heart failure. They found that the more active a person, the lower their risk for heart failure. 

From Medical Xpress:

Workers who exercise lower health risks, cost less

Get moving: just 20 minutes of exercise a day dramatically lowers the risk of diabetes and heart disease, even for employees with a high risk of developing those conditions.

A University of Michigan study looked at the impact of exercise on 4,345 employees in a financial services company that had just started a workplace wellness program. Roughly 30 percent of employees were high risk and suffering from metabolic syndrome, a dangerous cluster of risk factors associated with diabetes and heart disease. Overall, about 34 percent of U.S. adults have metabolic syndrome.

The study found that when the high-risk employees accumulated the government-recommended 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week, their health care costs and productivity equaled that of healthy employees who didn't exercise enough, said Alyssa Schultz, a researcher at the Health Management Research Center in the U-M School of Kinesiology.

"It was a real surprise, the level of protection physical activity gave to people with metabolic syndrome," Schultz said. 

Research done in mice, but may apply to humans. From Science Daily:

How physical exercise protects the brain from stress-induced depression

Physical exercise has many beneficial effects on human health, including the protection from stress-induced depression. However, until now the mechanisms that mediate this protective effect have been unknown. In a new study in mice, researchers show that exercise training induces changes in skeletal muscle that can purge the blood of a substance that accumulates during stress, and is harmful to the brain.

"In neurobiological terms, we actually still don't know what depression is. Our study represents another piece in the puzzle, since we provide an explanation for the protective biochemical changes induced by physical exercise that prevent the brain from being damaged during stress," says Mia Lindskog, researcher at the Department of Neuroscience at Karolinska Institutet.

 

I mentioned these studies earlier in July, but this write-up (from Sept. 17, 2014) gives the reader some new information. From Gut Microbiota Watch:

Studies uncover 500 “hidden” microbes in the gut

Over the last few years, scientists have found that the microbes hosted in the digestive tract (the gut microbiota or gut flora) perform key functions for health. Digestion, immunity and even mental health are extremely dependent on tasks carried out by the gut bacteria.

Now, two studies have found that the human gut hosts five hundred species of microbes – and seven million microbial genes – that were unknown until now. The proportion of the gut flora that had been hidden until now may hold essential information on the origin of a range of diseases (IBD and metabolic syndrome, among others), as well as the clues on how to cure them.

The two studies were published in Nature Biotechnology in July, and come from the efforts of the MetaHIT(METAgenomics of the Human Intestinal Tract) project, a European consortium working to explore the composition of human gut microbiota.

The first of the two studies focuses on expanding the catalogue of genes that belong to microbes of the gut flora....As a result, the catalogue has increased to 10 million genes. The next step for the scientists is to find what these genes do, in order to have a better understanding of the functions performed by the microbiota.

The second of the two studies pursues an even more ambitious goal: identifying new organisms in the microbiota, rather than identifying new genes....By applying this method, the authors have found 500 species whose existence in the microbiota was previously unknown.

Interestingly, some of the subjects analysed in the study had very few of these new species. By checking who these individuals were, the authors found that they all had Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, or metabolic syndrome with an inflammatory component. These findings suggest that there is a correlation between suffering from these diseases and having less diversity in these unknown species. “These species, unknown until now, will possibly make the difference between healthy and unhealthy people”, said Guarner.

This information may open the door to new strategies aimed at recovering the presence of these species through nutritional intervention. In particular, providing patients with probiotics or prebiotics,  that may help to balance their microbiota.

From the Feb. 6, 2014 Science Daily:

Whole diet approach to lower cardiovascular risk has more evidence than low-fat diets

A study published in The American Journal of Medicine reveals that a whole diet approach, which focuses on increased intake of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and fish, has more evidence for reducing cardiovascular risk than strategies that focus exclusively on reduced dietary fat.

This new study explains that while strictly low-fat diets have the ability to lower cholesterol, they are not as conclusive in reducing cardiac deaths. By analyzing major diet and heart disease studies conducted over the last several decades, investigators found that participants directed to adopt a whole diet approach instead of limiting fat intake had a greater reduction in cardiovascular death and non-fatal myocardial infarction.

"Nearly all clinical trials in the 1960s, 70s and 80s compared usual diets to those characterized by low total fat, low saturated fat, low dietary cholesterol, and increased polyunsaturated fats," says study co-author James E. Dalen, MD, MPH, Weil Foundation, and University of Arizona College of Medicine. "These diets did reduce cholesterol levels. However they did not reduce the incidence of myocardial infarction or coronary heart disease deaths."

Carefully analyzing studies and trials from 1957 to the present, investigators found that the whole diet approach, and specifically Mediterranean-style diets, are effective in preventing heart disease, even though they may not lower total serum or LDL cholesterol. The Mediterranean-style diet is low in animal products and saturated fat, and encourages intake of monounsaturated fats found in nuts and olive oil. In particular, the diet emphasizes consumption of vegetables, fruit, legumes, whole grains, and fish.

"The potency of combining individual cardioprotective foods is substantial -- and perhaps even stronger than many of the medications and procedures that have been the focus of modern cardiology," explains co-author Stephen Devries, MD, FACC.

More evidence in support of Mediterranean style diet. From the Feb. 4, 2014 Science Daily:

Mediterranean diet linked with lower risk of heart disease among young U.S. workers

Among a large group of Midwestern firefighters, greater adherence to Mediterranean-style diet was associated with lower risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD), according to a new study led by researchers from Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) and Cambridge Health Alliance (CHA). The study is the first to assess the effects of Mediterranean-style diet among a group of young, working U.S. adults.

The researchers analyzed medical and lifestyle data, including dietary habits, from an existing cohort of 780 male firefighters in the Midwest. They developed a modified Mediterranean diet score (mMDS) to assess the participants' dietary patterns.

The firefighter group with greatest adherence to Mediterranean-style diet showed a 35% decreased risk in metabolic syndrome, a condition with risk factors that include a large waistline, high triglyceride level, low HDL ("good") cholesterol level, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar. The group with the highest mMDS also had a 43% lower risk of weight gain compared with the lowest mMDS group. Additionally, greater adherence to a Mediterranean-style diet was significantly associated with higher HDL cholesterol and lower LDL ("bad") cholesterol. Consistent with previous investigations, obese participants in the firefighter study reported a higher intake of both fast foods and sugary drinks.