Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Seeing the Obvious


To me, this iconic image of sugar, courtesy of the NY Times, reminds me of the look of Sin City, the cliche-ridden but awesome Frank Miller comic book series turned into 21st century film noir with style and flair but, as par for the course, this blurb is not about Sin City but rather about sugar, the sweet killer that yours truly, and millions of others, are hooked on (though I'm getting better, honest) with consequences too dire to ignore. The telling part of Is Sugar Toxic? centers on metabolic differentials when eating sugar residing as a natural component of food (potato, bread etc.) versus eating it as additive (soda, candy, cereal) and why it matters to human health.

"The phrase Lustig uses when he describes this concept is “isocaloric but not isometabolic.” This means we can eat 100 calories of glucose (from a potato or bread or other starch) or 100 calories of sugar (half glucose and half fructose), and they will be metabolized differently and have a different effect on the body. The calories are the same, but the metabolic consequences are quite different.


The fructose component of sugar and H.F.C.S. (High Fructose Corn Syrup) is metabolized primarily by the liver, while the glucose from sugar and starches is metabolized by every cell in the body. Consuming sugar (fructose and glucose) means more work for the liver than if you consumed the same number of calories of starch (glucose). And if you take that sugar in liquid form — soda or fruit juices — the fructose and glucose will hit the liver more quickly than if you consume them, say, in an apple (or several apples, to get what researchers would call the equivalent dose of sugar). The speed with which the liver has to do its work will also affect how it metabolizes the fructose and glucose.


In animals, or at least in laboratory rats and mice, it’s clear that if the fructose hits the liver in sufficient quantity and with sufficient speed, the liver will convert much of it to fat. This apparently induces a condition known as insulin resistance, which is now considered the fundamental problem in obesity, and the underlying defect in heart disease and in the type of diabetes, type 2, that is common to obese and overweight individuals. It might also be the underlying defect in many cancers.


If what happens in laboratory rodents also happens in humans, and if we are eating enough sugar to make it happen, then we are in trouble."


When looking at the impact of sugar on the human condition from the perspective of people who have recently gone the McDonald's route, the transformation of healthy lifestyle to that of Super Size Me is rather striking to say the least.



"The second observation was that malignant cancer, like diabetes, was a relatively rare disease in populations that didn’t eat Western diets, and in some of these populations it appeared to be virtually nonexistent. In the 1950s, malignant cancer among the Inuit, for instance, was still deemed sufficiently rare that physicians working in northern Canada would publish case reports in medical journals when they did diagnose a case.

In 1984, Canadian physicians published an analysis of 30 years of cancer incidence among Inuit in the western and central Arctic. While there had been a “striking increase in the incidence of cancers of modern societies” including lung and cervical cancer, they reported, there were still “conspicuous deficits” in breast-cancer rates. They could not find a single case in an Inuit patient before 1966; they could find only two cases between 1967 and 1980. Since then, as their diet became more like ours, breast cancer incidence has steadily increased among the Inuit, although it’s still significantly lower than it is in other North American ethnic groups. Diabetes rates in the Inuit have also gone from vanishingly low in the mid-20th century to high today."






No doubt, the vagaries of crappy food and slothfulness is taking a toll on America the Huge. Another gem from the Magazine Heath Issue of the NY Times titled Is Sitting a Lethal Activity?, a provocative piece involving magic underware, body motion and cardiac arrest. It's a good read for sure. 





"His initial question — which he first posed in a 1999 study — was simple: Why do some people who consume the same amount of food as others gain more weight? After assessing how much food each of his subjects needed to maintain their current weight, Dr. Levine then began to ply them with an extra 1,000 calories per day. Sure enough, some of his subjects packed on the pounds, while others gained little to no weight.


“We measured everything, thinking we were going to find some magic metabolic factor that would explain why some people didn’t gain weight,” explains Dr. Michael Jensen, a Mayo Clinic researcher who collaborated with Dr. Levine on the studies. But that wasn’t the case. Then six years later, with the help of the motion-tracking underwear, they discovered the answer. “The people who didn’t gain weight were unconsciously moving around more,” Dr. Jensen says. They hadn’t started exercising more — that was prohibited by the study. Their bodies simply responded naturally by making more little movements than they had before the overfeeding began, like taking the stairs, trotting down the hall to the office water cooler, bustling about with chores at home or simply fidgeting. On average, the subjects who gained weight sat two hours more per day than those who hadn’t."

On a personal note, extensive walking, eating less sugar and fidgiting during the Winter From Hell kept the weight off for the first time in 20+ years so, from this very lax adherence to good health, the info presented here sounds pretty good to me. :)
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