Noncaloric Sweeteners: What’s the Rub??

avoid-artificial-sweeteners

 

Happy December, ceiling fans 🙂 In September, I wrote a post reviewing Fat Chance, a book by Dr. Robert Lustig, that discusses the root causes of obesity and Metabolic Syndrome. The review caught the eye of Dr. Lustig’s business partner at the Institute for Responsible Nutrition, and we had a great exchange over the past couple of months. This was very exciting and a big deal for me! He asked me to write a guest post on their website, and coincidentally enough, it is about a topic that I’ve been meaning to explore for quite some time: Noncaloric sweeteners.

The blue, yellow, and pink rectangular packets are a visual staple on tables at American restaurants. Sweet’N Low, Equal, Splenda, and Stevia (with a new, green seat at the table) are alternatives to sugar that our country has adopted with open arms. I question, do they actually work in thwarting weight gain without sacrificing sweetness? Are they safe? Please check out my interesting and eye-opening post on their site here, or you can check it out below (They left out a few key graphs and figures). Either way, I appreciate your support, as always!

 


 

It is well known and undisputed that the increased consumption of sugar, in all its variations, has contributed to the ever-growing prevalence of obesity and metabolic syndrome over the past fifty-plus years. Once the exception, metabolic dysregulation and its related symptoms have now etched themselves as the rule in our global health picture. As a result, the industries involved in treating, rectifying, and capitalizing on this problem and its associated costs are estimated to be in the tens of billions of dollars.

 

Weight loss programs, pharmaceuticals, exercise techniques, surgical procedures, nutritional supplements, and diet products targeted to consumers and physicians permeate the media, literature, and our everyday vernacular. Rife among these countless products and initiatives designed as quick-fix remedies to lower blood sugar, boost weight loss, increase insulin sensitivity (and the like) are noncaloric artificial sweeteners (NAS).

 

NAS are commonly deemed as a safe and beneficial solution for weight loss, given their low caloric content, stunted insulin response, and reduced costs for use in commercial products. Yet, their surge in promotion, production, and consumption over the past twenty to thirty years has not done the average American’s waistline any favors. In fact, the opposite has occurred. So, what’s the rub??

 

type 3 diabetes

 

Before I try to tackle this question, I would like to point out that there truly is not enough clinical research or epidemiological data out there to definitively conclude whether to label NAS as “good” or “bad” in comparison to sugar. Many of the studies that promote their safety and benefits for weight loss are industry-funded. Unbiased, evidence-based research is sparse. Further, the FDA’s approval of their portioned use in foods doesn’t really account for the surplus amounts of these substances most consumers actually ingest due to their ubiquity and our nation’s appetite.

 

All being said, my hope for this post is to illuminate two rather different mechanisms through which NAS can disrupt metabolic function and perhaps further negate the weight problems they were created to fix. The significant kind of weight gain that plagues many in our society is not just a matter of caloric indulgence; it is an overall reflection and byproduct of the inner workings of one’s body and health gone awry. Because of this, I would like to draw some attention away from the mouth, and focus instead on two different areas that NAS can considerably affect: the brain and the gut … and as a result, one’s clothing size.

 

Many of us, when we have just sampled a delicious dessert, have said, “Oh my goodness, this must be so bad for you.” Simply put, this is our body’s innate ability to determine the caloric contents of what we eat based on its sweet taste.

 

As a result of a sweet taste and our brain and body’s calibration of its caloric estimation, an assembly line of biochemical reactions occurs that determines how our body then regulates the caloric energy we have just received. Our metabolism revs up like an engine because it has fuel to burn. Our brain also tells us to stop eating (or drinking) because it received a negative feedback message that our body has enough energy to accomplish what it needs to.1,2

 

Now, if something were to disrupt this communication – like, keeping the sweet taste in tact but omitting the calories – don’t you think the body and brain would get a little confused? That nice give-and-take balance is thrown off; the sweet taste registers, but there are no calories, nutrients, or fuel to burn and utilize. It’s sort of like the boy who cried wolf. What a gyp! A predictive relationship, such as the sweet taste, caloric estimation, and metabolic adjustment is based upon a specific cue followed by a specific outcome. The relationship becomes progressively weaker when either the cue or the outcome occurs alone. In the case of NAS, the sweet taste occurs alone without the calories to produce a proper outcome.1,2

 

In a 2008 study1, Susan Swithers, the leading scientist on noncaloric sweeteners, successfully demonstrated this predictive relationship with sweet tastes and what ensues metabolically when it is disrupted by NAS. In a normal, healthy rat, they ingest a form of glucose, the sweet taste signals the imminent arrival of nutrients and calories into the gut where they will be broken down and used for energy. When the nutrients in the food are absorbed in the gut, their core body temperature rises, and the rats become more active to utilize and burn the energy provided by the calories. She found that, “impairing the ability of sweetness to predict the arrival of energy in the gut accurately reduced the efficient utilization of that energy,”1 thereby weakening the feedback loop to the brain in order produce satiation.

 

rats and artificial diabetes

 

In Swithers’ study, two separate groups of rats were fed yogurt; one was sweetened with glucose, the other with saccharin (Sweet’N Low). It was found that those who were fed the saccharin had increased overall caloric intake (despite saccharin being noncaloric), greater weight gain, increased body fat, and lowered temperature change (reflecting a lowered metabolic rate) when other caloric foods were introduced.

 

As we know, a normal diet doesn’t consist solely of NAS or zero calories; one is bound to encounter calories and glucose at some point. This study revealed that, with the presence of NAS in the diet, the aforementioned predictive relationship is no longer tightly regulated, and when one eats or drinks anything with calories going forward, the body doesn’t quite know what to do with itself. In response, it cannot find its satiety point, stores fat, and does not burn energy as efficiently.

 

graph1

 

graph2

As you can see, it’s not to say that sugar is by any means an innocent bystander. This study, however, effectively shows that NAS are certainly not a magic bullet for weight loss either. In fact, they fare worse on almost all accounts.1

 

While Swithers’ research indicates that NAS do not have much influence on glucose homeostasis, a 2014 study3 by Suez et al. discovered a secondary route through which these noncaloric sweeteners do affect our glucose metabolism – via our microbiome.

 

Most of the noncaloric sweeteners fail to elicit an insulin response because, well, they go right through us. They slide through our GI system without being absorbed into the gut. Through their transit, though brief, they interact with our glorious microbiome and the intestinal bacteria colonies residing there, which we are learning play integral roles in regulating multiple physiological processes.3 This groundbreaking study went on to research how NAS may directly impact the microbiome, and as a result, the many processes to which it is intimately connected, including glucose metabolism.

 

microbiome-cartoon

 

In a set of experiments, Suez et al. monitored the glucose tolerance of mice ingesting water sweetened with aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet), saccharin, and sucralose (Splenda). At week 11 of this experiment, the NAS-mice had developed marked glucose intolerance compared to those ingesting sucrose, glucose, and plain water.

 

To determine whether their glucose intolerance was specifically induced by changes to their microbiome, antibiotics were administered to address their cultured dysbiosis. Lo and behold, once their dysbiosis was eradicated by the antibiotics, their glucose tolerance returned to healthy curves, despite the mice maintaining their NAS-laden diets. Further, the researchers took a fecal transplant from the dysbiotic guts of these mice and placed them into healthy germ-free mice. Six days after the transfer, glucose intolerance ensued in the recipients, illustrating a clear relationship between NAS use, resultant dysbiosis, and causative metabolic dysregulation.3 To note, saccharin-consuming mice displayed considerable dysbiosis, engendering the most significant changes in microbial overgrowth.

 

The researchers then went on to confirm the same effects in humans. Following seven healthy volunteers who do not consume NAS, the researchers asked the participants to ingest the upper limits of the FDA-approved daily allowance of saccharin for one week. Through monitoring glucose measurements, researchers found that the participants developed poorer glycemic responses compared to controls. Most importantly, there were significant changes to their microbiome composition after NAS ingestion.

 

To determine whether the dysbiotic changes to their microbiome caused their metabolic changes, fecal transplants from Day 1 and Day 7 of the trial of the NAS-participants and controls were placed into healthy germ-free mice. Day 7 transplants induced significant glucose intolerance in the mice compared to Day 1. However, both Day 1 and Day 7 transplants from controls had no effect on the mice’s glucose tolerance.

 

This study showcased that, in both mice and humans, increased incidence of glucose intolerance was mediated by modulation of the composition and function of their gut microbiota.3 As we know, one’s glucose tolerance plays a significant and direct role in their risk for developing obesity and metabolic syndrome.

 

As Suez nicely put it, NAS are “enhancing the exact epidemic they themselves intended to fight.”3

 

gut rx to artificial sweeteners

 

As I mentioned before, but it doesn’t hurt to reiterate, this is not a post recommending sugar consumption over NAS. Minimal to no amounts of both should be consumed in efforts to lose weight and restore metabolic and hormonal communication. However, I hope these studies revealed that a calorie certainly is not just a calorie, and this notion of weight management is antiquated at best. There are multiple players in the game and multiple avenues by which one can treat and improve such derangements. NAS add insult to injury by impairing multiple systems simultaneously.

 

A balanced diet, rich with wholesome, unprocessed, nutrient-dense foods will eliminate the need for sugars and the artificial sweeteners that were created to replace them. Once you’ve made the switch, you will find out that life without both of them is, well, a whole lot sweeter.

 

If you would like a heads-up for when I write a future follow-up post to this one, detailing the most relevant research on all of the sweeteners out there (including Stevia, Lo Han Guo, and sugar alcohols) and their effects on our body, please fill out the subscription link on this page.

 

Thanks for reading!

 

 

References

 

  1. Swithers, S.E.; Davidson, T.L. A Role for Sweet Taste: Predictive Relations in Energy Regulation by Rats. Behavioral Neuroscience 2008, 122, 161-173.
  2. Swithers, S.E. Artificial Sweeteners produce the counterintuitive effect of inducing metabolic derangements. Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism 2013, 24, 431-441.
  3. Suez J, Korem T, Zeevi D, et al. Artificial sweeteners induce glucose intolerance by altering the gut microbiota. Nature 2014, 514, 181-188.

 

 

The Global Obesity and Metabolic Syndrome Pandemic: What’s At the Root??

Fat Chance Cover

 

Hi everyone, Happy Labor Day weekend! Almost two months ago in one of my classes, we were assigned to read and analyze a diet/health book, write a research paper on it along with our analysis, and create a video communicating our findings. This turned out to be one of my favorite assignments in my program so far because there are countless books, blogs, and even journal articles published that go unquestioned. Both the public and physicians sometimes take the findings and advice and run with them without a second thought, dramatically adjusting their diets and lifestyles based upon what is shared. As a future practitioner who will undoubtedly have patients whose physical and mental health are negatively affected by the dogma put forth in such writing, a large part of my success in treating them will rely upon being able to effectively communicate why they feel the way they do, and why they need to shift their beliefs and try something new.

 

As part of any review, one needs to look at the background of the author (their credentials, affiliations, is there a financial angle, etc.), the science behind the central theory of the book, if the author uses peer-reviewed scientific references to back up their claims, and if there is other supporting research outside of what the author cites to further substantiate their advice. There are much more in-depth ways to evaluate journal articles, but there’s no need to delve into them on this post. The video explanation was a little difficult for me but I enjoyed it; we were only given ten minutes to effectively summarize our findings, and it was challenging to recall the complicated science and communicate it in a way so that everyone can absorb it. You can watch my video and read my written review below, and let me know what you think!!!

 

 

Dr. Robert Lustig, the author of Fat Chance, boasts an impressive résumé that has prepared him to effectively articulate and drive home the biochemical principles at the root of the global obesity pandemic. Earning his undergraduate degree from MIT and medical school training from Cornell University, along with many years spent working at St. Jude’s hospital treating children with hypothalamic disorders, Lustig is a neuroendocrinologist and an expert on metabolic disease.

 

Further, he has taught at the University of Wisconsin, University of Tennessee, and currently at the University of California San Francisco as a Professor of Pediatrics in Endocrinology. To boot, he has authored over 85 peer-reviewed articles. This distinguished amalgam of experience not only makes his work credible, but, given his teaching and writing experience, he is well-equipped to simplify complex biochemical pathways so the “layperson” can understand the dynamics of obesity and Metabolic Syndrome (MS).

 

The inception of his work in metabolic disease occurred while witnessing children become acceleratedly obese following damage to their hypothalamus as a result of diminished leptin signaling. Part of successful treatment for these children relied upon pharmaceutically-induced suppression of insulin secretion, causing them to become more active, eat less, and lose weight. Years later, this framework transcended to obese individuals without any form of hypothalamic disorder or damage, who Lustig treated successfully.1

 

Appropriately, the central theory of his book rests on debunking the world’s notion that obesity is a personal responsibility caused by eating too much and not exercising enough. To Lustig, a calorie is not a calorie. Biochemistry influences these behaviors and, without altering it, one can never improve their health. Referencing over 300 peer-reviewed scientific studies and books to support his theory (seven of which are his own work), along with clinical anecdotes of his patients woven through each chapter, Lustig is not pushing any fluff or conjecture upon the reader. Specifically, he expounds upon the “battle royale” between the Ancel Keys2 and John Yudkin3 studies, claiming Keys as the wrongful victor and how these findings incorrectly influenced our society to avoid dietary fat. Sugar, as Yudkin cited, is “pure, white, and deadly,” and the true villain in this story.

 

Lustig attributes the prevalence of metabolic disturbances today to the increased quantity and decreased quality of our food and beverage supply, specifically four main items: trans fats, branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), alcohol, and most notably, fructose. He also emphasizes that fiber has all but been eliminated from most Americans’ diets. Cut the sugar, boost the fiber, and exercise; this is the central theory behind Fat Chance and on solving the global obesity and MS pandemic. In the next paragraphs, I will explain the biochemistry involved in arriving at this metabolic cul-de-sac and how his simplified recommendations can navigate one’s body out on to Easy Street.

 

parker

 

Our hormones control our behavior. Many women (and men!) can attest to this if they have ever experienced or witnessed uncontrollable mood swings prior to or during menses. For the health picture Lustig is describing, insulin and leptin are the two key players, and the hypothalamus is the conduit, specifically the vagus nerve.

 

Insulin is our energy storage hormone. When we consume carbohydrate-containing meals, our blood glucose elevates, and the pancreas secretes insulin to escort the glucose into the cells for energy, store the protein into our muscles, and fats as triglycerides. The more insulin pumping, the more fat storing.4 Leptin is a protein made and released by our fat cells that communicates with the hypothalamus regarding our satiety, fat storage amount, and nutrient metabolism.5 This messaging is part of our biochemistry and, in turn, influences our behavior.

 

In a normal, healthy individual, they eat, insulin rises, and energy goes to their fat cells. Leptin senses that their fat cells are energized, reports back to the hypothalamus and says, “We’re fed and happy, we don’t need anymore, so let’s start to do work and burn this energy.”6 The hypothalamus then tells the pancreas to stop pumping insulin by reducing our appetite so we don’t take in any more food. Insulin is leptin’s antagonist;7 when insulin levels are chronically high, the hypothalamus only sees this message. Leptin cannot get the hypothalamus’ attention, so the hypothalamus misses the memo, continuing to tell our body, “I didn’t hear you’re full or fat yet. In fact, it seems like you’re starving. Don’t burn anything, don’t do anything, and store all the fat you can because you need to survive!”8

 

Lustig reiterates that chronically high insulin levels are a result of increased consumption of fructose, trans fats, and alcohol, and its effects on our mitochondria. As the interpretation of Ancel Keys’ study led to the reduction of dietary fat in our food supply, increased amounts of sweetener were incorporated in order to make things palatable. This led to greater amounts of sucrose (50% glucose, 50% fructose) and high fructose corn syrup (55% fructose, 45% glucose) dominating nearly every manufactured food in our supermarkets.

 

Glucose metabolism is insulin-dependent and is metabolized by all organs, including the brain, for energy. What is left is then sent to the liver for glycogen formation. Fructose, on the other hand, goes straight to the mitochondria of our hepatocytes. Further, our liver requires three times as much energy to metabolize fructose, depleting our ATP stores. Similarly, four times as many calories of alcohol reach the liver versus that of glucose, which heads straight the mitochondria as well.9 To compound things further, trans fats, synthetic fats created to preserve shelf life and stability of processed foods, cannot be broken down by our mitochondria.10 In addition, taste and expiration dates were favored at the expense of fiber in our processed foods. Fiber inhibits the rate of flux of nutrients from our intestines to our bloodstream; the onslaught of these stresses to the mitochondria is decreased when our food contains it. Without it, our mitochondria must work harder and faster, and as a result, become overwhelmed and inefficient.11,12 With this lethal combination, our liver enzymes are overactive, inflammation and insulin resistance develop, and our leptin signaling becomes disrupted. We get sick or fat, or both.

 

bybyetransfats_590_417

 

Eating is a pleasurable experience, no doubt. When we eat something we love, dopamine is released, and we experience pleasure.13 Both leptin and insulin, when they rise, cue the brain to stop releasing dopamine and clear it out of the synapses where it is active, respectively.14,15 However, in metabolic syndrome, where one is hyperinsulinemic and thereby blocking leptin signaling, the brain once again misses the memo to shut down all parts of this reaction. As a result, eating continually triggers the same feeling of reward – not easily thwarted – and one keeps eating and eating.

 

By avoiding sugar and increasing fiber, we avoid these consequences and allow our mitochondria to get back on track. By adding exercise to the equation, one builds muscle and new mitochondria, decreases visceral fat, improves insulin levels and sensitivity, and reignites proper communication between leptin and the hypothalamus.16,17 Exercise also increases the rate of our Krebs cycle – all of which burns energy and fats faster and more efficiently. We become healthier, skinnier, or both.

 

xigKbqB6T

 

Most of Lustig’s references cover the most relevant and comprehensive studies and literature that exist on the topic of MS. I found additional supporting research that backs up the science he so eloquently supplies along with his traditional remedy of diet and lifestyle change. Four studies discuss increased fructose consumption as a causative factor in metabolic syndrome,18-20 which is significantly hastened by the removal of fiber from the diet.21 Two studies emphasize the risk heavy alcohol consumption poses on development of MS,22 differing in severity by alcohol type.23 One study highlights the improvement of metabolic syndrome scores in those with T2DM and MS as a result of combined aerobic exercise and strength training.24 Again, there are countless studies that confirm Lustig’s “theory,” as it is hard science.

 

Slightly off topic, I found a study that showed a significant correlation between decreased marital satisfaction of women and their risk for developing MS as a result. Interestingly, the same was not reflected for men.25

 

As for my opinion, I would not categorize Fat Chance as a “diet book,” by any means; it is a sound scientific explanation of metabolic disease, and Lustig does a superior job of communicating where we have gone wrong. Ironically, where this book does lack a punch and where he loses his credibility is in the actual dietary recommendations section. He provides general practices: avoid sugar (specifically fructose), eat more fiber, eat real food, etc. He also provides a “red, yellow, and green” status system for foods that should be consumed sparingly, three to five times a week, and everyday, respectively. This yellow status column introduced my first bone to pick with Lustig.

 

Many items on the yellow list are processed, pro-inflammatory, refined foods. Kashi? Cheerios?! Canola oil? Egg beaters? Salami??? Lunch meats? He also red-lists nutritious foods like coconut oil and palm oil without any reasoning to explain their place on the list. Oddly, he also places diet drinks and noncaloric sweeteners on the “limbo list,” which I assume means that the jury is still out on these. This disappointed me, as a 2008 study26 shows that noncaloric sweeteners disrupt innate physiological responses to glucose and further compound factors leading to MS. Perhaps his strict science background relating to biochemistry limits his knowledge to the insulinogenic properties of food at the expense of other effects these types of food have on our overall health. The book can only cover so much, though. And, to his credit, his green list is ripe with grassfed meats, pastured eggs and poultry, wild fish, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and organic dairy.

 

The other bones I have to pick with the author involve his negative views on BCAAs and his take on micronutrient supplements.

 

Lustig explained that BCAAs (the essential amino acids valine, leucine, and isoleucine), when in excess, head straight to our hepatocytes’ mitochondria to be burned for energy and lead to fat synthesis. He also cited a study that correlated those with MS having higher levels of these amino acids in their bloodstream.27 This is correlation and not causation, though. In my research, I have found that plasma levels of BCAAs fluctuate to meet demands of different metabolic pathways.28,29 In skeletal muscle, BCAAs are transaminated to ketoacids, which are then broken down and oxidized by the branched-chain ketoacid dehydrogenase enzyme (BCKD) to eventually feed into the Krebs cycle for energy production. Increased insulin levels, which are a hallmark of obesity and MS, inhibit BCKD activity.29 Metabolic acidosis, which is seen in tandem with the catabolic states characteristic of obesity and insulin resistance,30 also inhibits BCKD.28 Depression of the enzyme’s activity minimizes complete BCAA oxidation, causing them to accumulate in the blood, thus being one rationale as to why plasma levels are elevated in these states.28,29

 

Furthermore, a study31 by Macotela et. al on rats with Metabolic Syndrome fed a high fat diet for eight weeks responded to doubling of dietary leucine alone, reversing their metabolic abnormalities and upregulating their insulin sensitivity. This being said, I would remove BCAAs from the list of culprits, as their plasma elevations are a downstream effect, and can even be beneficial to the system.

 

As for micronutrient supplements, Lustig says on page 156, “Micronutrients matter – the biochemistry says so – except they don’t work when provided as supplements in clinical trials. . . And nutritional supplements can’t reverse that which has previously been destroyed.” As a clinical nutritionist in training, I beg to differ.

 

Chromium is known for its role in insulin sensitization. When insulin is secreted, it rushes to receptors on the cell like a lock-and-key to transport glucose out of the blood and into the cells. The insulin receptor, tyrosine kinase, is dependent upon chromium for activation and functionality, in order to allow for insulin to unlock the cell and import glucose. Without chromium, this sensitization is lost and insulin resistance can occur.28 Understandably, those deficient in this nutrient would have decreased insulin sensitivity. In fact, a 2011 study32 revealed that the worse one’s insulin resistance is, the greater amount of chromium they excrete in their urine, further compounding its low circulation. It was shown that this chromium dumping occurs well before development of T2DM, and supplementation with the nutrient could prevent its further progression.

 

Furthermore, a 2013 study33 was performed on women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) comparing the effects of chromium picolinate and Metformin, a pharmaceutical used to increase insulin sensitivity. After three months of treatment, chromium picolinate significantly decreased fasting blood sugar along with fasting insulin levels, thus revealing increased insulin sensitivity. Chromium was also better tolerated than the Metformin.

 

I agree that supplementation is not a magic bullet, but it could certainly boost metabolic pathways and is a clinically proven beneficial adjunct to a comprehensive treatment plan.

 

Refreshingly, Lustig dedicates 42 pages at the end of the book to public health policy, government, and political involvement in our food supply and their onus in our current mess. He discusses the health insurance industry and the need for sugar intake to be treated the same way smoking was or else we will not be successful in overcoming this health crisis. This was extremely encouraging to hear from an esteemed medical doctor, as most seem to avoid these hot button topics all together.

 

murray-budget-2

 

As a practitioner, I would not recommend this book for all of my clients; it was extremely enjoyable for me because I am familiar with anatomy, physiology, and advanced biochemistry. For the client who comes in who has no clue about anything and just wants to lose weight, this would be way over their heads. However, I would definitely recommend this for “technical” personality types. Clients who inquire about details and scientific research, ask why and how about everything, and who need to see facts and understand things in order to initiate behavior would benefit immensely from Lustig’s explanations. For anyone I recommend this book to, however, I would tell them to skip over the dietary recommendations section. Or, I would need to feel confident in their understanding of my beliefs on food quality and nutrition prior to them reading it.

 

The best part of the book, in my opinion, is Lustig’s tone. He manages to get heavy and difficult messages across to the reader, but keeps things light and provides hope and a means to change things for the better – for everyone – not just for oneself. After all, he stresses that this is not about personal responsibility anymore; it is a public health crisis. He also has a whip-sharp wit and sarcasm, which surprised me for a San Franciscan. It all made sense, though, when I researched his biography; he’s from Brooklyn. 🙂

 

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Enjoy the holiday weekend! Thanks for reading!

 

 

References

  1. Lustig RH, Greenway F, Velasquez-Mieyer P, et al. A multicenter, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, dose-finding trial of a long-acting formulation of octreotide in promoting weight loss in obese adults with insulin hypersecretion. International Journal of Obesity. 2005;30(2):331-341.
  2. Keys A, Aravanis C. Seven Countries: A Multivariate Analysis of Death and Coronary Heart Disease. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press; 1980.
  3. Yudkin J. Pure, White and Deadly: How Sugar Is Killing Us and What We Can Do to Stop It. London: Davis-Poynter; 1972.
  4. Lustig RH. Pediatric Endocrine Disorders of Energy Balance. Reviews in Endocrine and Metabolic Disorders. 2005;6(4):245-260.
  5. Flier JS. What’s in a Name? In Search of Leptin’s Physiologic Role. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. 1998;83(5):1407-1413.
  6. Leibel RL. The Role of Leptin in the Control of Body Weight. Nutrition Reviews. 2002;60(10):15-19.
  7. Lustig RH. Childhood obesity: behavioral aberration or biochemical drive? Reinterpreting the First Law of Thermodynamics. Nature Clinical Practice Endocrinology & Metabolism. 2006;2(8):447-458.
  8. Leibel RL. Changes in Energy Expenditure Resulting from Altered Body Weight. New England Journal of Medicine. 1995;333(6):399-399.
  9. Lustig RH. Fructose: Metabolic, Hedonic, and Societal Parallels with Ethanol. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2010;110(9):1307-1321.
  10. Tetri LH, Basaranoglu M, Brunt EM, Yerian LM, Neuschwander-Tetri BA. Severe NAFLD with hepatic necroinflammatory changes in mice fed trans fats and a high-fructose corn syrup equivalent. AJP: Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology. 2008;295(5).
  11. Post RE, Mainous AG, King DE, Simpson KN. Dietary Fiber for the Treatment of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: A Meta-Analysis. The Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine. 2012;25(1):16-23.
  12. Levine R. Monosaccharides in Health and Disease. Annual Review of Nutrition. 1986;6(1):211-224.
  13. Carr K., Tsimberg Y, Berman Y, Yamamoto N. Evidence of increased dopamine receptor signaling in food-restricted rats. Neuroscience. 2003;119(4):1157-1167.
  14. Farooqi IS, Bullmore E, Keogh J, Gillard J, O’Rahilly S, Fletcher PC. Leptin Regulates Striatal Regions and Human Eating Behavior. Science. 2007;317(5843):1355-1355.
  15. Carvelli L, Morón JA, Kahlig KM, et al. PI 3-kinase regulation of dopamine uptake. Journal of Neurochemistry. 2002;81(4):859-869.
  16. Little JP, Safdar A, Benton CR, Wright DC. Skeletal muscle and beyond: the role of exercise as a mediator of systemic mitochondrial biogenesis. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism. 2011;36(5):598-607.
  17. Bajpeyi S, Tanner CJ, Slentz CA, et al. Effect of exercise intensity and volume on persistence of insulin sensitivity during training cessation. Journal of Applied Physiology. 2009;106(4):1079-1085.
  18. Das UN. Sucrose, fructose, glucose, and their link to metabolic syndrome and cancer. Nutrition. 2015;31(1):249-257.
  19. Kelishadi R, Mansourian M, Heidari-Beni M. Association of fructose consumption and components of metabolic syndrome in human studies: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Nutrition. 2014;30(5):503-510.
  20. Shapiro A, Mu W, Roncal C, Cheng K-Y, Johnson RJ, Scarpace PJ. Fructose-induced leptin resistance exacerbates weight gain in response to subsequent high-fat feeding. AJP: Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology. 2008;295(5).
  21. Amin F, Gilani AH. Fiber-free white flour with fructose offers a better model of metabolic syndrome. Lipids in Health and Disease. 2013;12(1).
  22. Sun K, Ren M, Liu D, Wang C, Yang C, Yan L. Alcohol consumption and risk of metabolic syndrome: A meta-analysis of prospective studies. Clinical Nutrition. 2014;33(4):596-602.
  23. Chen C-C, Lin W-Y, Li C-I, et al. The association of alcohol consumption with metabolic syndrome and its individual components: the Taichung community health study. Nutrition Research. 2012;32(1):24-29.
  24. Earnest CP, Johannsen NM, Swift DL, et al. Aerobic and Strength Training in Concomitant Metabolic Syndrome and Type 2 Diabetes. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2014;46(7):1293-1301.
  25. Whisman MA, Uebelacker LA. A longitudinal investigation of marital adjustment as a risk factor for metabolic syndrome. Health Psychology. 2012;31(1):80-86.
  26. Swithers SE, Davidson TL. A role for sweet taste: Calorie predictive relations in energy regulation by rats. Behavioral Neuroscience. 2008;122(1):161-173
  27. Newgard CB, An J, Bain JR, et al. A Branched-Chain Amino Acid-Related Metabolic Signature that Differentiates Obese and Lean Humans and Contributes to Insulin Resistance. Cell Metabolism. 2009;9(4):311-326.
  28. Lord RS, Bralley A. Laboratory Evaluations for Integrative and Functional Medicine. Revised 2nd Edition. Duluth, GA: Genova Diagnostics; 2012.
  29. Adams SH. Emerging Perspectives on Essential Amino Acid Metabolism in Obesity and the Insulin-Resistant State. Advances in Nutrition. 2011;2(6):445-456.
  30. Korte MS, Koolhaas JM, Wingfield JC, McEwen BS. The Darwinian concept of stress: benefits of allostasis and costs of allostatic load and the trade-offs in health and disease. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews. 2005;29(1):3-38.
  31. Macotela Y, Emanuelli B, Bång AM, et al. Dietary Leucine – An Environmental Modifier of Insulin Resistance Acting on Multiple Levels of Metabolism. PLoS ONE. 2011;6(6):1-13.
  32. Bahijri SM, Alissa EM. Increased insulin resistance is associated with increased urinary excretion of chromium in non-diabetic, normotensive Saudi adults. Journal of Clinical Biochemistry and Nutrition. 2011;49(3):164-168.
  33. Amooee S, Parsanezhad ME, Shirazi MR, Alborzi S, Samsami A. Metformin versus chromium picolinate in clomiphene citrate-resistant patients with PCOS: A double-blind randomized clinical trial. Iran J Reprod Med. 2013;11(8):611-618.

 

Are We The Next Dinosaurs??

trex

Tyrannosaurus Rex, Museum of Natural History, May 2014

 

The Law of the Instrument, also known as Maslow’s Hammer, is a concept in psychology that not so eloquently states, “when you’re holding a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Ever since I’ve started my graduate program, my studies have been my golden hammer. I see nutritional biochemistry unfold in every stranger who walks by on the street and hear it echo in side conversations between friends waiting in line, sticking out like nails on a boardwalk waiting to be pounded. This past weekend, my hammer was ready to go in an unlikely place: the silver screen.

 

My boyfriend, Ben, and I went to see Jurassic World in 3D on a quiet Sunday night. Neither of us had any knowledge of the plot before heading into the show; we were more excited and overly impressed by the addition of luxury recliners at the local theater (amazing!).

 

Jurassic World Movie Theater Pic

 

For those of you who haven’t seen the blockbuster yet, don’t worry – no spoilers here. Basically, Jurassic World is an amusement park/experience set on an island off of Costa Rica that is home to dinosaurs that are artificially produced from prehistoric DNA and released into the “wilderness” for patrons to view. In an effort to boost profits, the CEO of the juggernaut park approved the engineering of a genetically modified dinosaur that would be bigger, badder, scarier, and every other superlative trait indicated by the guest satisfaction survey. They named her Indominus Rex.

 

In order to give her traits that deliver on all of these requests, the scientists mixed in genetically advantageous material from non-dinosaur species, such as the cuttlefish and frog. However, the scientists failed to think through what other traits from these various species may work themselves into Indominus Rex’s DNA to create a terrifyingly lethal dinosaur who would unleash its fury on the island’s thousands of guests. Golden hammer in tow, I couldn’t help but relate all of this to GMOs and the food industry. Bryce Dallas Howard may as well have been wearing a Monsanto building access card on her belt loop.

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I’m sure all of you have at least heard of the term “GMO” before. Today, I am here to break down the basics for you – the good, the bad, and the diseased.

 

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), like most things, were conceived with good intentions.

 

We wanted to feed the world and remediate world hunger and malnourishment-associated diseases. In order to do this, seeds of certain crops were genetically modified and reproduced to withstand harsh growing conditions, resist pesticides and antibiotics, and provide different nutrients in foods that normally do not supply them.

 

For example, crops that have no chance of thriving in drought-like conditions had a gene for drought tolerance inserted into their DNA so that they could flourish in equatorial areas to feed hungry populations. Crops that get pummeled and devoured by insects before they can be harvested were genetically modified to resist powerful pesticides so that the chemicals would kill the hungry insects, but allow the plants to thrive and produce far greater yields. Seeds for genetically modified “golden rice” were engineered to contain beta-carotene, giving it an orange-like hue in order to provide vitamin A precursors to populations in China, where rice flourishes but children commonly experience blindness due to lack of access to vitamin A-rich foods.

 

All good so far, right? Not for long.

 

Anyone with a knack for business could see how people would want to capitalize on the fact that producing successful crop yields in any type of weather condition would create more jobs, more food, and billions of dollars. To boot, you wouldn’t even have to worry about insects interfering with their growth. Sign me up.

 

Taking it a step further, wouldn’t you want to partner with the scientists who are creating these pesticide-resistant seeds and manufacture the pesticide to which they are resistant? And patent both the seeds and the pesticide so that every farmer has to buy them from you if they want to compete with higher yields? Wouldn’t it be even better if the scientists could doctor the seeds with a sterile, suicide gene that makes them unable to germinate and thus self-destruct after one year so that farmers must continue to purchase them from you annually instead of just once? Cha-ching.

 

Enter Monsanto: the company that reigns over most of the food production in America and throughout the world, and has done all of the above and more.

 

Upon first learning about GMOs in depth, there were two main things that worried me. One, what happens to the people who eat these foods with patchwork DNA and gene combinations that have historically never been ingested by humans? Two, if these crops are being doused with so much pesticide in order to kill the insects, what is in this toxic chemical concoction that is now on basically all of the foods we eat, and is it even safe for human consumption?

 

In regards to the first question, there has not been enough significant research conducted or results produced for me to know the answer. We do not know for sure how this genetic material could intermix with our own and cause our body’s cells to mutate, proliferate, and lead to cancer or other mysterious diseases. As my writing is evidence-based, I cannot comfortably weigh in on this. What I will say is this: most of the genes are thoroughly researched before a scientist can patent and sell the seeds. However, I personally don’t think that scientists take into account how ubiquitous GMOs are in our food and beverage supply and how much we consume of these products on an hourly basis over decades of time to accurately gauge their cumulative effects.

 

The second question, however, is what I plan to address in this post.

 

The Monsanto-born pesticide, which is employed by virtually all farmers that plant GMO crops, is called Roundup. Its active ingredient is glyphosate, residues of which can be found on nearly all sugar, corn, soy, canola, cotton, and wheat grown on American soil. Since Roundup’s patent has recently expired, agriculturists around the globe can now better afford the herbicide to use on their crops and for lawn maintenance. Due to its omnipresence on our land, it also contaminates our streams and water supply from run-off.

 

Glyphosate works so effectively because it interferes with the shikimate pathway, which then disrupts the plant’s synthesis of the amino acids tyrosine, phenylalanine, and tryptophan. Plants exposed to glyphosate show significantly less levels of these nutrients, along with an excess of ammonia. Due to the fact that humans do not possess a shikimate pathway, Monsanto has asserted that glyphosate would have no effect on our biochemistry and therefore do no harm.

 

What they fail to acknowledge is that, although we as humans may not have a shikimate pathway, the millions of beneficial bacteria and fungi that reside in our digestive tract do.

 

A study analyzing the effects of glyphosate on E. coli, a resident bacteria in our gut, revealed metabolic starvation, suppression of the shikimate pathway, energy drain, downregulation of the genes that create ATP, mitochondrial impairment, and a switch to a less efficient anaerobic metabolism. Basically, it kills them. If glyphosate is insidiously interfering with the delicate balance of good and bad bacteria in our guts, it leads to dysbiosis. Autism, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes, obesity, depression, and cognitive disorders have all been linked to dysbiosis in our guts. Is it a coincidence that all of these diseases have dramatically increased since the introduction of GMOs and Roundup to our food supply? I personally think not.

 

The health of our gut’s microbiome determines our ability to synthesize various vitamins, detoxify toxins, and maintain homeostasis of our immune system through our gut permeability. If we are readily taking in less vitamins as a result of processed and adulterated foods, being exposed to more toxins from environmental chemicals and herbicides in our foods, and we combine this with a substance in everything we eat that shuts down our ability to get rid of these toxins and synthesize vitamins that help us function, can you see how detrimental this is to our health and wellbeing? Yikes.

 

Glyphosate has been shown to inhibit Cytochrome (CYP) enzymes in our body, which have several hundred integral functions. One of which is the catabolism, or breakdown, of vitamin A. Without the breakdown of vitamin A, its endogenous levels within our body increase dramatically. I’m sure most women reading this have heard of the dangers of vitamin A associated with pregnancy. Researchers investigated the effects of low dose glyphosate on embryonic development in frogs and chicks, revealing severe embryonic defects as a result of high levels of this vitamin due to its inability to be broken down. This was directly related to the ingredient in Roundup.

 

CYP enzymes are also responsible for the activation and metabolism of vitamin D3 in our liver. Anyone else notice a greater prevalence of vitamin D-deficient individuals or issues with its utilization in the last 15 years? Hmm, weird.

 

Cytochrome P450 enzymes in our liver, whose existence dates back 3 billion years in plants, animals, and bacteria, serve as key players in detoxification reactions and energy production. This showcases yet another angle where the synergistic effect of increased toxin intake and the inability to detoxify can be causing damage that we cannot research at a fast enough rate to keep up with the onslaught.

 

Table of glyphosate usage

Close to 200 million pounds of Roundup are used each year on American crops and plants.

 

Leaving questionable trails of disease in its wake, the chemical’s effects are not limited to humans; our ecosystem is suffering, too. Honeybees, which help to pollinate all crops, plants, and flowers, have an innate resistance to most pesticides. The reason why they have this immunity is due to their CYP enzyme activity. As we know, glyphosate inhibits these enzymes, thus leaving the bees vulnerable to lethal effects of all other insecticides, causing them to die in large numbers once they bring the chemicals back to their hives. Around 2006, there was a surge of honeybee colony collapses across the country, which still continues. Without honeybees, our plants, crops, and flowers will be unable to grow successfully and independently. If we can’t rely on honeybees, the price to germinate will raise our food costs astronomically.

 

Honestly, who wins in this scenario?

 

There is so much more to write on this subject, and even more we have yet to learn, but I will stop here and leave you with what you can do to help yourself and the world around you:

 

  1. Buy organic foods when you can to avoid pesticide exposure.
  2. Stay away from the foods that you know are genetically modified in abundance (mainly processed foods that contain corn, soy, wheat, sugar, canola and cottonseed oils).
  3. Help lobby for GMO labeling on foods so we at least have the right to know what is in what we eat.
  4. Save the bees! Support beekeepers by buying local raw honey. Here are 10 other easy ways, especially if you have a green thumb.

 

As the title of this post asks, are we the next dinosaurs? Is our world’s population set to become diseased and eventually extinct? To me, it is truly mind blowing that billions of dollars are being “invested” in warding off global warming when the disastrous (and preventable) effects of GMOs are taking place right under our government’s nose. People are feverishly concerned about a climate catastrophe being the end of our species like it was for the dinosaurs. Worried about the poles melting and leaving us all under water? As you can see, my friends, we are already drowning.

 

If you’re interested in receiving emails when I write new posts, please subscribe in the box provided. Have a great weekend, everyone!

 

References:

Samsel, A.; Seneff, S. Glyphosate’s Suppression of Cytochrome P450 Enzymes and Amino Acid Biosynthesis by the Gut Microbiome: Pathways to Modern Diseases. Entropy 2013, 15, 1416-63.

Fagan J, Antoniou M, Robinson C. GMO Myths and Truths. 2014.

Does Fructose Make You Fat?

appleshaped body comic_COLOR

Have you ever seen the commercial sponsored by the Corn Refiners Association claiming that there is nothing wrong with high fructose corn syrup? That it’s “just sugar” and your body can’t tell the difference? If you haven’t, check it out below. I laughed out loud the first time I saw it air during prime time television. Unfortunately, this is the type of media messaging that is accessed and absorbed by American viewers, particularly adolescents and mothers. It is strategic and smart marketing on their behalf, because the next time these consumers are at the grocery store and happen to glance at the ingredients on a product, they’ll most likely remember, “Oh yeah, high fructose corn syrup isn’t even bad for you. It’s just sugar.” How terribly wrong.

 

 

There has been a lot of back and forth between fructose being bad and good for you. Personally, I try not to villainize any food group, macro or micronutrient. But, I recently gained some insight into how fructose is metabolized in the body in my biochemistry of nutrition class. When I say fructose, I don’t want you to think I’m referring to a piece of fruit here and there, a breakfast smoothie, or having a plethora of seasonal watermelon in the summer. This is naturally occurring fructose and these levels can be handled by metabolic pathways in healthy individuals. Rather, I’m talking about the American population loading up on sugar-laden candies, sodas, breakfast cereals, and many processed foods that contain high fructose corn syrup. THIS is when you run into trouble. Quite frankly, this is the reason why our country’s obesity rate is rising by the day.

 

In this commercial, the mom wandering around in a corn maze (??) is basically saying that sugar is sugar – it doesn’t matter what form it’s in – the body recognizes it all as the same thing. Well, this is loosely true. It’s sort of like saying a Ferrari is the same thing as a Chrysler Sebring; both can be convertibles, have four wheels, and get you from point A to point B. See my point? This lady/actress and Michael Scott are most likely good friends.

 

So, what’s false about this commercial??

Well, there are many different types of sugar that exist. Let’s start out with the basics and then I will show you how high fructose corn syrup is linked to them. Glucose is our body’s (and brain’s!) main, most easily metabolized, and preferred carbohydrate fuel source. It is a monosaccharide, which is the most basic sugar/carbohydrate form that exists. As such, glucose can be metabolized by any cell in the body. The other monosaccharides are fructose and galactose. Glucose, fructose, and galactose all have a chemical formula of C6H12O6, which is about as far as their similarities go. The difference lies in the placement of the carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen bonds in their structures, as can be seen in the diagram below. Your body is picky, it knows the difference between these sugars very well, contrary to what the corn refiners say:

 

carbon structure

Now, one of the main reasons we ingest glucose, or any food for that matter, is to break it down in order to utilize its caloric energy or store it for later on. In chemistry terms, “energy” is basically referred to as ATP, or adenosine triphosphate. Ring any bells??

 

So, you have a nice bowl of pasta for dinner. What happens? Glucose is released from the carbohydrates, it raises your blood sugar, your brain registers this, and insulin is secreted to get the glucose out of the bloodstream and into the cells where it can be burned, in this scenario. Once in the cells, it enters glycolysis, which ends in the formation of pyruvate. Pyruvate makes its way to the Krebs cycle, and eventually yields a total of 36 ATP – aka energy for your body to use as it sees fit. This mechanism is highly complex and works extremely efficiently since regulating blood sugar is integral to our homeostasis.

 

Why, then, would our body have two separate pathways to breakdown fructose and galactose if the one I just discussed for glucose works so well? It doesn’t.

Fructose and galactose undergo short reactions to rearrange their structures in order for them to enter glycolysis just like glucose. This saves the body a lot of energy. One of the ways fructose undergoes this type of rearranging can be seen in the below diagram. When fructose enters the liver, it requires a bit of effort to get it into glycolysis, into which glucose would normally slip so easily. (Warning – I have no graphic design talent):

 

fructose metabolism diagram 2

 

As you can see, fructose eventually needs to be converted to glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate. This is accomplished by adding a phosphate. Where does this phosphate come from? The P in ATP!

 

Translation: It costs your body energy every time you ingest a molecule of fructose.

Now, the sugar we ingest – what form is it in? Cane sugar, also known as table sugar or sucrose, is 50% glucose and 50% fructose. Not that bad. This is also naturally occurring. High fructose corn syrup, on the other hand, is a man-made sweetener and preservative that has chemically altered the glucose in corn starch to become fructose, resulting in a super sweet and palatable end product. Is corn a fruit? Not the last time I checked. Hmm … Anyway, as a result, HFCS is 55% fructose and 45% glucose. In your body, this translates to a lot more fructose that needs to be broken down.

 

Unlike glucose, which can be processed in all cells of the body, fructose can only be metabolized in the liver. In a previous post, I emphasized how overburdened the liver is on a daily basis with its metabolic duties. So, if you are inundating your body with fructose on top of everything else, you will really be depleting the liver of its energy stores. If you and your liver are energy deficient (which is very common), the glyceraldehyde seen in the diagram will stand alone, phosphate-less, and be unable to enter glycolysis.

 

Where does this leftover glyceraldehyde go? It stores itself in the adipose, or fat tissue … You gain weight.

 heavy bird in tree

What is also interesting is when you ingest glucose, it provides a “satiety” signal to the brain. This signal assists insulin in getting the glucose out of your blood and into the cells. Fructose, on the other hand, is not used by the brain for fuel. Therefore, it never gets there to provide that same message of, “I ate, that was delicious, I’m satisfied, you can put down the fork now.” Moreover, the transporter that pushes fructose out of the blood and into the cells is not insulin dependent. Consequently, your tissues can’t really absorb and process the fructose as readily. Once the fructose is able to get in the cell, if in excess, it will react to form components of triglycerides more readily than glucose would. Sorry to break it to you, but there’s always excess fructose floating around when you’re consuming high fructose corn syrup. Which means, you’ll usually be forming triglycerides, which are fat stores.

 

In addition to not stimulating insulin, fructose fails to stimulate leptin hormone production. Leptin is the key hormone that regulates your hunger signals. If it’s not working, you will always feel hungry, never feel satisfied, and your body will hold onto the weight because your brain is telling it that you haven’t really eaten, so why burn it? Our bodies are very smart and protective of our survival. So, you can see how a diet high in fructose over a long period of time can throw off your sugar metabolism and appetite, right? This is a recipe for consistent weight gain and insulin resistance –> diabetes –> obesity!

 

So, yeah, I would have to disagree with that commercial. Shame on them.

 

Peace of mind starts on your plate – or in the produce section, in this case. Not in a Pepsi can.

If there’s one thing you can remove from your diet as a first step toward breaking that ceiling, slimming your waistline, and lowering your risk for diabetes and obesity – get rid of the high fructose corn syrup.

 

Happy Holidays!!

 

 

Research cited: Ferder, L.; Ferder, M.D.; Inserra, F. The Role of High Fructose Corn Syrup in Metabolic Syndrome and Hypertension. Current Hypertension Reports, 2010, 12, 105-112.

 

Put Down the Juice Cleanse and Read This First!.. What Detoxing Really Means

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 Your Neighborhood Healthfood Store, October 2014

 

When I was in my early twenties and learning about Chinese medicine, I went for regular acupuncture treatments with a very lovable and charming practitioner named Dr. Wang on the Upper West Side. Dr. Wang barely spoke a word of English, save a few words of instruction on how to position my body on his treatment table, and maybe some metaphorical words of advice – at which I would smile politely, but really had no clue what he was talking about.

 

Without fail, when I went for tune-ups for symptoms like headaches, frequent colds, low energy, trouble rising in the morning, and irritability prior to menses, Dr. Wang’s diagnosis after looking at my tongue and feeling my pulse was always, “liver qi stagnation.”

 

I would usually nod, expecting this answer. In between his needle insertions, I would probe as to what this meant and how to fix it. He would then say, “Eat greens. Look at green things. Take herbs. Don’t be so angry. If you’re holding it in, yell. Loud yells, Erin.” With Chinese medical philosophy in mind, these are all sound recommendations. However, I always wondered how this had anything to do with my liver and how to relate these Eastern puzzles to my Western-leaning comprehension. I also wondered if he was a little out of his mind at times, but that’s beside the (acupuncture) point.

 

A couple of years later when I started to delve into the science of Nutrition, the etiology of my Chinese diagnosis became very clear when I started to learn the role the liver plays in our bodies. The liver alone handles up to 500 separate functions, which impact every system in our body and, reciprocally, every system in our body affects the liver. According to the Huang Di Nei Jing, the liver is like the General of an army. Liver qi stagnation loosely translates to a liver that is overburdened, backed up, and not able to freely take care of these functions so that the body (and army) can operate smoothly.

 

As one of its major functions, the liver breaks down and detoxifies substances so they can be eliminated from the body via the kidneys and bowels. Complementarily, the liver is also a major storage unit, housing glucose for energy and vitamins and minerals for biochemical mechanisms of the cells as needed.

 

Eliminate, store, eliminate, store. Do you see how this delicate balance can be thrown off if we’re not careful?

In this post, I’ll be primarily focusing on the detoxification function of the liver. Before we dive in, though, I just want to mention that the detoxification mechanisms of the body are extremely complex. There are specialists out there who study this for years and new facts and protocols are readily established all of the time. I’m just here to brush the surface and set the record straight on a few misconceptions you might have, and shed some light on yet another potential ceiling that blocks us from reaching an elevated state of health.

 

Now, disclaimers out of the way, let’s look at detoxification:

Detoxification, simply put, is the way the body heals and repairs itself, which it has always done for as long as we have been roaming the planet. It is an internal cleansing process that takes place continuously and naturally. A true minimalist, the body prefers to not keep anything around for a long time – even good things. For instance, our very own hormones are constantly broken down and reconstructed in preparation for recycling or elimination. Enzymes in the liver break down most of these unwanted molecules using Phase I and Phase II detoxification pathways.

 

phase I and II pathways

 

Pictured above is a general overview of these pathways. Phase I uses enzymes (such as Cytochrome P450) to break down toxins into intermediate and, oftentimes, more toxic metabolites. At this point, some toxins (like caffeine) are ready for immediate elimination, but most require a second cycle (Phase II) before they are neutralized enough for eradication.

 

To confuse you a little more, there are six different pathways within Phase II that complete the breakdown of chemicals outside the body (such as heavy metals, xenobiotics, drugs) and also those found inside the body (dietary, produced by the gut, endogenous in nature).

 

phase II pathways

 

These channels further deconstruct the toxins from Phase I and bind them to specific protein molecules that escort them out via the kidneys or bile, and later through the bowels. Now, what do all of these channels have in common? They’re amino acid driven – remember this for later.

 

So, great … all of this happens in the liver and the liver takes all of the credit. But, how does all this stuff get to the liver in the first place? One major way is through the lymph.

Our lymphatic system is a branch of the circulatory system and a major component of the immune system. It is a network of organs (tonsils, thymus, spleen), lymph nodes, ducts, and vessels that make and move lymph from the tissues to the bloodstream. Once in the bloodstream, it gets circulated around the body and eventually makes its way to the liver.

 

lymphatic system diagram

 

Lymph plays a vital role in detoxification. Essentially, as interstitial fluid, the lymph flows through cells and lymph nodes where bacteria, viruses, organic materials, and toxins are filtered out via immunomodulatory mechanisms. In this sense, you can call it the pre-filter to the liver’s master filtration, as to not overburden the liver’s job since it has so many responsibilities already. It’s like its own personal assistant.

 

Anyway, the lymph flows verrryyyyy slowly. It moves around at a rate of three liters per day. Blood circulates at a rate of five liters per minute. Why is the lymph so slow? Well, there’s no pump! As the heart is in charge of circulating the blood, WE (yes, you!) are responsible for voluntarily pumping the lymph around. If not adequately circulated, toxins of any kind will store themselves in any number of places for which they have an affinity (for instance, heavy metals love nerve tissue) … and then they start to strain the immune system.

 

Lymph that is not flowing enough doesn’t look so great, either. I’m sure most people who are reading this have a little bit of cellulite or at least know what it looks like. If you don’t, you should probably go buy a lottery ticket because you are living a pretty nice life. These dimples are due to a lack of blood and lymph fluid circulating to the subcutaneous layer of skin, causing the septa (fibrous tissue) to become stiff. Lymph then gets trapped and the surrounding tissue hardens, causing those lumps and bumps Kim Kardashian has learned how to disguise so well in her selfies. Say (cottage) cheese, Kimmy!

 

The vessels that move our lymph around open and close via skeletal muscle movement. Naturally then, physical movement or exercise is one surefire way to get it pumping. Want to know a really effective method???

Rebounding! Or, better known as jumping on a trampoline.

 

 

Looks fun, right?

 

The combination of gravity, muscle contractions, and pressure really forces the lymph fluid to move all over your body, collecting toxins and wastes in its bouncing glory. During exercise, the blood also brings more oxygen and nutrients to the liver so it is primed to get down to business with the lymph escorting the waste right there, ripe for the picking.

 

Aside from rebounding, here are some other great and fun ways to improve lymph circulation:

Yoga Inversions: Turning upside down helps to circulate the lymph from your legs and lower body.

Massage, particularly lymph massage: This one doesn’t require any effort and it’s super relaxing. Massage therapists, with their pressure, help to open and close these vessels to get things flowing.

Qi gong exercises: Particularly, beating the area of your chest over your thymus gland, like Tarzan. You might feel a little awkward doing this, but you should try it. It feels so good! Beat it like a drum, hard, about 20 times. You’ll feel a nice vibration. This thumping helps to stimulate an increase in the maturation and release of white blood cells.

 

The skin is another huge detoxification organ; it is responsible for a quarter of the body’s detoxing each day. It can excrete up to half a liter of fluid, mostly via the sweat glands through perspiration, but also by diffusion.

 

One way to enhance detoxification through the skin is by using an infrared sauna. Infrared rays penetrate deeply into the skin, warming the body instead of heating the surrounding air like steam saunas do. It requires a much lower temperature to trigger twice the amount of release, and the rays penetrate deeper into the skin, targeting toxins that reside in the fat cells. If you’re interested in visiting one, I know of a great place in the city, so please message me. This is not something you should try on your own! It should be under the guidance of a licensed practitioner, such as a naturopathic doctor.

 

Another great technique to target the skin to assist detoxing is through dry brushing. Dry brushing is a way to stimulate the organs of detoxification by providing a gentle internal massage. It also moves lymph back into the circulatory system, which as we already know, helps bring it to the liver.

 

One thing to keep in mind, too, is what you put on your skin. You want to make sure that any heavy products do not block your pores, and also be careful not to apply anything too toxic that will be absorbed. You can read more about this in my previous post.

 

Last week, I was down in Maryland visiting for a few days. On a neighborhood walk, my boyfriend and I walked along a stream that spanned a long portion of the main road by his family’s home. In looking and listening at the dark green water flow from one small pond to the next, down small waterfalls, and around various bends, I was in awe of how effortlessly everything was running steadily through these small obstacles without a hiccup.

 

Your body’s detoxification system works in a similar fashion.

 

Each obstacle the water nimbly surpassed represents different foundational components of health of which you must be mindful. You can’t just work on the getting the lymph rushing to the liver; the stream will back up and overflow at one of the bends. You can’t just work on speedily filtering out the liver; the stream’s water level would get too low. You can’t just do an extreme detoxing protocol to take care of your body; sure, the stream would flow smoothly if done correctly, but the water would not be clear and vibrant. You get the picture, right?

 

Everything in our body and in this stream is interconnected. One system affects the next, affects the next, affects the first one. You should think of and approach everything slowly, gently, and completely… versus a shock-to-your-system Master cleanse, or Blueprint cleanse, or any extreme fasting as a quick-fix to give your conscience an excuse to go back to your binge-drinking, no sleep, work-a-holic, coffee chugging norm.

 

Maybe Dr. Wang was right. Looking at green things, such as this stream in Maryland, did help me understand what I need to do to fix my liver qi stagnation.

 

Now, before you run out and start a detoxification program or do any of the beneficial rebounding and sauna-ing tactics mentioned above, please note that this can be a dangerous shock to the body if it’s not primed and prepared. Elimination pathways need to be open and functioning well. Once these toxins are released from their storage sites, our body must have the capability to flush them out. If you’re not flushing them out, they will just be released to other parts of the body and could make you feel even worse.

Here’s how to ensure these elimination pathways are clear:

MANAGE STRESS: First, detoxification is a parasympathetic process. This means that our body must be in “rest mode” for us to fully and properly detoxify. If you are constantly stressed and worried, under the gun at work etc., you are in “fight or flight” mode, and your body does not prioritize detoxing by any means.

Stress also triggers your adrenal glands to release the hormone cortisol. Excess cortisol due to ongoing, chronic stress has been shown to directly contribute to fatty liver, which clogs this metabolic organ.

The body also sees constant stress as a toxin itself. So don’t stress about detoxing either, that would be counterproductive 😉

DON’T EAT LATE: Since detoxification is a parasympathetic process, one guaranteed way for our body to be in this state is when we’re asleep. If you eat late at night right before you go to bed, your body prioritizes digestion over detoxification, so you miss out on this integral time of reparation and healing.

SLEEP. A LOT!: The best medicine.

MAINTAIN A CLEAN DIET: Processed, lifeless food is toxic. Too much volume of food is seen as a burden to the digestive system, too. Wholesome, natural foods provide the proper macro and micronutrient balance and enzymes needed for all detox pathways.

I asked you to remember that the six channels in Phase II are amino acid driven, right? It’s important to get all of the essential amino acids through your food – high quality animal protein is best.

BLOOD SUGAR BALANCE: Steep fluctuations in blood sugar levels as a result of eating too much sugar and carbohydrates in relation to proteins and fats cause your adrenal glands to, once again, fire large amounts of cortisol.

Chronically high blood sugar levels create a buildup of free radicals and a general catabolic state, which robs nutrients necessary for proper detoxification.

Blood sugar handling also depletes the B vitamins necessary for liver enzyme function and neurotransmitter synthesis.

HYDRATE, HYDRATE, HYDRATE: Drink purified water as a staple beverage. Diuretic drinks like soda, alcohol, and caffeine will deplete water from your body. You also want to be properly hydrated so that the kidneys are functioning well, as they are the major excretory organ for toxins. If you’re dehydrated, your body will want to retain water and, with that, retain toxins.

Sweating also requires proper hydration, as does the circulatory system in order to keep the blood nice and fluid so that toxins are delivered to the lymph and liver.

ENHANCE DIGESTIVE FUNCTION: Someone could have the most pristine diet out there, but if you’re not digesting the food well, this will clog detox pathways, harm your gut lining, and set off an immune reaction from food allergies that will stress your body so that it will slow down all detoxification.

More specifically, poor fat digestion clogs the lymph and the liver, preventing proper bile production. The bile is built from healthy fats and is the “river” by which toxins are removed from the body via the intestinal tract. I’ll be writing more about the importance of healthy fats in an upcoming post.

One of the best ways to start working on your digestion other than eating healthy foods is to make a commitment to be in a relaxed state during mealtimes.Turn off the television, put away your cell phone, and have a conversation with your dinner date. If solo, try eating your food with your legs crossed in Indian-style on the floor (I’m serious). This triggers the brain to be in a more parasympathetic state, with enzymes and stomach acid abound.

 

My Recommendations:
  • Address the foundational approaches listed above for 2-3 months, at least.
  • Start with supportive therapies (rebounding, dry brushing, sauna, etc.) after 2 months of foundational work.
  • If you’re still not noticing any improvement after six months of foundational work and supportive therapies, consult with a Naturopath, Chiropractor, Functional Doctor, or Clinical Nutritionist to assist you with high quality supplements and a more intense and monitored protocol.

 

As for the title of this post, sure, juice cleanses can help. A little. But they’re not the answer.

 

I know it was lengthy one (thanks for reading the whole thing!), but I hope this post opened your eyes to how things really work and how intimately tied everything in our body is to one another. Most importantly, I hope you understand what we can do to help it function as it should.

 

Although he may be a little unconventional, it may pay off to heed Dr. Wang’s words of advice: eat greens, yell a little bit, and look at green things, too – grass ceiling being one of them. Have a great weekend, everybody!

 

 

Toxic Beauty – Do You Know What’s In Your Daily Regimen?

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My Beauty/Personal Product Collection, September 2014

 

I’m a little embarrassed to admit, and was rather aghast to realize that on any given day all of the products pictured above could make their way on to my skin. In my defense, I never said it was easy to look this good (kidding, kidding).

 

This beauty repertoire may seem crazy or excessive to some people. But, I bet if you placed all of the products you own on a magenta towel, too, yours may look even more saturated than mine. For me, though, there’s a gaping disparity. With the stringency I exercise in what goes in my body via food and bev, to the ways I aim to avoid negative energy in my surroundings, along with the positive thoughts I try to cultivate, you would think I would be just as heedful in terms of what I apply to my skin, considering it’s the body’s largest organ.

 

Well, it’s complicated. Cetaphil and Neutrogena moisturizer have basically had a sixteen-year common-law marriage on my face. NARS lip-glosses are the best, period. Benzoyl peroxide, although it has bleached about fifty pillowcases of mine by now, without a doubt works on any breakouts. I’m a creature of habit; once something works well for me, I don’t deviate. I’m sure most females out there would agree.

 

What if your beloved beauty regimen, though, is a huge toxic load in your daily routine?

 

What if you likened the amount of carcinogens incurred during your morning makeup application to those in smoking a cigarette? Would you still be so loyal to those products?

 

Scarily, this could be the case. I’ve been in denial of making this type of switch for a very long time. So, I decided to investigate the subject a little further, and here’s what I found out…

 

When I was at the Evolution of Medicine Summit last week, I heard Heather White speak. For those who weren’t able to tune in, Heather is an environmental lawyer and the Executive Director of the Environmental Working Group. The EWG is the country’s leading environmental advocacy organization that uses their own research to help people, businesses, and (hopefully) the government make better choices to conserve public health and our environment.

 

She informed the crowd that one of the EWG’s top initiatives for this year will be updating the Federal Cosmetics Act, which determines what ingredients and chemicals can and cannot be used and sold in any skincare and beauty products. Do you know the last time this act has been updated? 1938… 1938! What was going on in America in 1938?

 

  • The average home cost $3,900
  • Oil was discovered in Saudi Arabia
  • Ballpoint pens were introduced
  • DuPont announced a name for its new synthetic yarn: Nylon
    • Of which, the first toothbrush with bristles was sold
  • The figure of the mythic hero arose with the introduction of Superman in Action Comics
  • The tape recorder was invented

 

As you can see, we’ve made some revolutionary advances since 1938. To compound this, tens of thousands of new chemicals have made their way into the environment and our products since then, as well. It’s beyond everyone to understand why the government hasn’t revisited the laws that permit known toxins into our makeup, shampoos, sunscreens, diaper creams, and even contact solutions.

 

So, what are some of these toxins?

 

Take a few of the creams you use everyday and look at the list of ingredients on the back of the bottle. See if you can match a few of them up to the list below (courtesy of Beautycounter’s Never List):

  • Parabens (methyl-, isobutyl-, propyl-, and others): A class of preservatives commonly used to prevent the growth of bacteria and mold. Parabens are endocrine (or hormone) disruptors, which alter important hormone mechanisms in our bodies. Specially, parabens mimic estrogen; they can lock on to our cell’s own estrogen receptors and mess with important natural signals. They may play a role in triggering breast cancer. Found in: shampoo, face cleanser, body wash, body lotion, and foundation.
  • Phthalates (DBP, DEHP, DEP and others): A class of plasticizing chemicals used to make products more pliable or to make fragrances stick to skin. Phthalates disrupt the endocrine system and may cause birth defects. Found in: synthetic fragrance, nail polish, and hairspray.
  • Sodium Lauryl/Laureth Sulfate: SLS and SLES are surfactants that can cause skin irritation or trigger allergies. SLES is often contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, a byproduct of a petrochemical process called ethoxylation, which is used to process other chemicals in order to make them less harsh. Found in: shampoo, body wash, and bubble bath.
  • Bisphenol A (more commonly referred to as BPA): A hormone disruptor that may also alter DNA. It’s used in plastics and resins. Found in: plastic bottles, lining of aluminum food cans, possibly in eyeshadow, and styling gel.
  • BHA and BHT: Synthetic antioxidants used to extend shelf life. They are likely carcinogens and hormone disruptors, and may cause liver damage. Found in: lipsticks, moisturizers, diaper creams, and other cosmetics.
  • 1,4-Dioxane: A by-product of manufacturing that is a probable human carcinogen (a known animal carcinogen), as well as toxic to organs and the respiratory system. It’s also a skin irritant. Likely to be present where ethoxylated ingredients like sodium laureth sulfate, PEGs, and ceteareth are listed on ingredient labels. Found in: shampoo, body wash, and bubble bath.
  • Mercury and Mercury Compounds (also listed as Thimerosal): Metallic element used as a preservative and antiseptic known to damage brain function. Found in: ear and eye drops; may be used in mascara. (Side note from Erin – Thimerosal is also used in many vaccines.)

 

To help provide me with a little more color on the matter, I decided to consult with a growing expert in the field; I interviewed Jessica Warta, an independent consultant for a company called Beautycounter, a beauty and skincare brand with the mission to get safe products in the hands of everyone.

Jess and I used to work together in HR, where she introduced me to the wild world of pivot tables, which was certainly life changing at the time. We reconnected again this year as our worlds realigned with a shared interest in natural health. Once again, she has enlightened me… but in a much more significant way than through v-lookups.

 

Check out our interview:

 

Jess, what made you decide to join Beautycounter as an independent consultant?

I joined Beautycounter six months ago because I truly believe the education around these products and the industry is worth sharing and is what inspired me to join the company. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. Like many of your readers, I’m a daughter, a sister, a wife, and a mom, and I pride myself on cooking and eating organic, jogging, going to barre and pilates classes three to five times a week, and consider myself to be an overall educated, health-minded person. However, I experienced a big wakeup call six months ago when my friend and Beautycounter Founding Member, Kristin Brady, asked me if I understood the back of the ingredients on my body lotion, my shampoo, my kids’ shampoo, and all of the other products my family and I use daily. I candidly admitted that I had never once thought about nor read the ingredient label on ANY of my personal care products in my entire 33 years, assuming that anything on the shelves of any typical drugstore is safe.

Unlike the Food Industry, which the FDA oversees with strict standards for what food items are certified as “organic,” the FDA does not hold the personal care industry to such standards and requirements. So when a food item says it is organic, it is. However, when a personal care product says it is “organic or natural,” it doesn’t mean anything. Cosmetic companies can write WHATEVER they want on packaging to market the product. It is serving the needs of the leading companies and not the American consumer.

So in short, I joined Beautycounter to be part of the mission to put safe products in the hands of everyone and educate every person I come in contact with about the ingredients in their personal care products and choosing “clean,” safe products.

 

What differentiates Beautycounter from all of the other organic competitors on the market?

Beautycounter has the strictest and most transparent Ingredient Selection Process in the virtually unregulated, $60 billion dollar cosmetics industry.

It bans and eliminates more than 1,500 chemical ingredients from its products, setting a new health and safety standard, while ensuring that the products perform to the highest standards. To put this into perspective, there are currently 1,300 chemical ingredients that are banned in the European Union. Do you know how many chemical ingredients have been banned in the US? I guessed maybe 500. The answer is 11.

Beautycounter screens for safety criteria like skin irritation, carcinogenicity, and reproductive toxicity, as well as any information regarding cumulative exposure (are we exposed to this chemical from other sources?) and bioaccumulation (will it build up in our bodies over time?). They also work closely with green chemists and consider environmental impact working diligently to avoid ingredients that negatively impact the ecosystem. Further, all Beautycounter products are free of common allergens like skin irritants, nut oils and gluten, and chemicals linked to cancer or hormone disruption.

Finally, Beautycounter developed a Never List – a list of the 27 most harmful chemicals that we should avoid at all costs. Through that link, you can see WHY each of these chemicals is so dangerous.

 

beautycounter

 

How would you recommend someone go about evaluating his or her current collection of products?

I would absolutely print out and have a copy of Beautycounter’s Pocket Never List in your wallet to refer to when you are shopping for personal care items and do a quick scan of the ingredient label before purchasing.

Another invaluable resource in my education regarding personal care product safety has been the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database. The EWG is one of Beautycounter’s trusted non-profit partners.

You can also download the app on your smart phone. Through this app, you can either scan the bar code or type in the name of thousands of products and it will provide an immediate toxicity rating from 1-10 (1-3 being good, 4-6 being fair, and 7-10 being very toxic). I’m warning you that the app can get a little addicting, though!

 

What are some baby steps to make the switch over?

At Beautycounter we have a company mantra that I believe applies perfectly to your question: “It’s about progress, not perfection.” Six months ago when I began my education process, I initially felt totally overwhelmed by all of the new information on personal care product safety and toxins to avoid. But I think it’s all about perspective, and understanding that we certainly can’t eliminate all the toxic chemicals we come in contact with and control everything in our lives.

However, to me, making healthy, safe, informed choices regarding what food I put IN my body, as well as the products I put ON my body are two things I believe I can integrate into my life without a radical change.

Another important point I tell my clients all the time is that our skin is our biggest organ, it may absorb up to 60% of what you put on it. So the initial products I recommend incorporating right away are those that you use in your routine daily and are readily absorbed into your skin, like moisturizers, skin tints and concealers, body lotions, and eye creams.

 

Well, there you have it. (Thank you, Jess!)

 

I want to emphasize, though, that the condition of your hair, skin, nails, and even eyelashes reflects as a barometer of your overall internal health. Think about it – if your body is struggling, it’s not going to care about your looks. It’s focusing its energy on your heart and brain to function and keep you alive and well. So, the best way to really beautify is from the inside out through diet, exercise, and making yourself happy.

 

Your body is constantly detoxifying, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It’s detoxing pollutants you inhaled waiting for a cab, last night’s cocktails, chemicals in the water you used to brush your teeth, and even toxins made in your very own gut’s bacteria. Why burden your liver with even more work to do with having to detox your moisturizer?

 

The harder your liver has to work to detoxify –> the more free radicals it generates –> and the faster your body ages –> and you get wrinkles –> and then you’ll have to add yet another under-eye cream to your cabinet (sans parabens, of course!)

 

If you are interested in learning more about or purchasing Beautycounter products, please reach out to Jessica Warta via her page here.

 

Stay tuned for an upcoming post on natural ways to detoxify your body.

 

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