27 March 2010

What I read and what I thought about it [[ed. note: title changed from "Read It," which I think was a lousy choice]]

Over lunch today, I had the pleasure of reading the 13 March 2010 issue of NewScientist [[Note: mag. title edited 29 Mar.]]. Two articles, both, ironically, about eating, merited underlining and annotation: Andy Coghlan's "Food, not flab, is the real killer" (p. 8-9) and Ewan Callaway's "Grrr… what's 'Step away from the bone' in dog?" (p. 14).

"Food, not flab, is the real killer," highlights new research1 findings that being overweight or even obese might not be as big a health risk as most people think. In fact, having some extra fat on you might be to your benefit. Fat cells, it seems, were designed to protect us.

According to the study, fat cells are kind of like the air bags of the immune system – absorbing the impact of excess fat and sugar (and other food-borne toxins associated with overeating or a junk-food diet) that would otherwise flow unimpeded about our circulatory system. It's this free flotsam and jetsam that signals danger, danger! to the body. Once this stuff hits the organs, "metabolic syndrome" (it is believed) follows. The organs begin to fail, bringing on diseases we regularly blame on obesity: diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease, and the like.

If fat absorbs these toxins, how come obese people tend to end up with metabolic syndrome more often than "thin" people? First, let's fine-tune this assumption. Coghlan cites statistics from a 2008 study2 in Archives of Internal Medicine that found 33% of obese people and 50% of those considered overweight to have "healthy metabolic profiles," while 25% of so-called "lean" people showed "signs of metabolic syndrome."

The idea is that these "lean" folks just don't have enough fat cells to cushion them from the assault of bad food. On the other end of the spectrum, according to Coghlan's article, fat cells can only do so much. Pushed to the extreme, they collapse under the pressure. Toxins nicely packed away in these cells by our trusty immune system overflow and overwhelm.

Why did this article spark my interest? Well, first, it speaks to something I've been thinking about for some time. I've learned that I'm pretty sensitive to what I call "normal-but-toxic" food ingredients; namely, gluten and sugar. I gave up gluten (more or less – I confess a weakness for pancakes) a couple of years ago and lost a bunch of weight plus some unpleasant digestive problems.

In January 2009, after noticing that every time I had a Coke or a Hershey's bar I got really crabby with my boyfriend (more so than usual), confused, and dim-witted (more so than usual), I had my glucose tolerance checked. One hour after drinking a bottle of horribly sweet yellow water, my blood sugar level went down. It's supposed to go up. Over the next two hours, my blood sugar dropped 11 more points, and I lost all my cookies (so to speak). Doc said, "Hypoglycemia."

My point is – Back in 1996, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, what I believe to be the result of an overactive immune system (not, like all those TV ads are saying, "overactive nerves"). If the immune system reacts to food toxins as in the studies noted above, perhaps, for me, those toxins include sugar and gluten. Instead of developing "metabolic syndrome," however, my body attacked itself on another level. Like I said, my health improved after I cut out gluten. And that's nothing compared to what happened once I reduced my sugar load: The fibromyalgia symptoms abated. I'm running 5K races, experiencing the joy of working out for the first time in years, and getting ready to do a half-marathon in June.

I'm not a scientist, just an editor. I hope that I'm making sense here. What makes sense to me is that food triggers an immune response. I'm looking forward to seeing more articles along these lines.

Oh, and the other article?

Researchers3 tried to separate a dog from its bone by playing recordings of three types of growls elicited from 20 unsuspecting dogs to 36 other unsuspecting dogs. Turns out, "dogs' growls seem to have distinct meanings," and, according to Alexandra Horowitz (quoted in Callaway's print piece, though it's not clear how she's related to the study), growling is actually "used intentionally." Hello? Just in case you're not sure about this, you can listen to the growls at www.newscientist.com/article/dn18617.

1Unger, R., and Scherer, P., 2010, Gluttony, sloth and the metabolic syndrome: a roadmap to lipotoxicity: Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism, doi: 10.1016/j.tem.2010.01.009.

2Wildman, R.P., Muntner, P., Reynolds, K., McGinn, A.P., Rajpathak, S., Wylie-Rosett, J., and Sowers, M.R., 2008, The Obese without Cardiometabolic Risk Factor Clustering and the Normal Weight with Cardiometabolic Risk Factor Clustering – Prevalence and Correlates of 2 Phenotypes among the US Population (NHANES 1999-2004): Archives of Internal Medicine, v. 168, p. 1617-1624, http://archinte.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/abstract/168/15/1617.

3Faragó, T., Pongrácz, P., Range, F., Virányi, Z., and Miklósi, Á, 2010, 'The bone is mine': affective and referential aspects of dog growls: Animal Behavior, v. 79, p. 917-925, doi: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2010.01.005.

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