Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Obesity Epidemic: is the Metabolic Syndrome a Nutritional Deficiency Disease?

The United States is currently facing an obesity epidemic across its population, affecting children and adults alike. It is now estimated that 30% of Americans are overweight [27], and the problem has been worsening over time.

Why does the US have this problem? Why are we the "leaders" in obesity and related health issues such as heart disease and diabetes, despite our incredibly high dollar investment in health care? What are we doing wrong?

My research, detailed in this essay, shows that in many cases the underlying cause of obesity lies with basic nutritional deficiencies, which can be corrected through simple dietary changes. These deficiencies are likely caused, in large part, by two ill-conceived, yet supposedly "healthy", modern day lifestyle choices: an excessively low-fat diet, and sun phobia. The modern preference of sugar-laden over calcium-rich foods also plays a role.

The solution to our problems, fortunately, is surprisingly simple. It involves making a conscious effort to consume foods rich in vitamin D, calcium and fats, and to spend more time outdoors on sunny days. While many researchers have come to suspect that vitamin D (Details) and calcium (Details) deficiencies play a causative role in obesity [2][4][5][10][19][21][23][33][35][36][39][40], the critical role played by insufficient dietary fats has been largely overlooked. I have previously argued that a deficiency in these three nutrients is a key contributor to the current epidemic in autism in America. I have also made a case for a role played by these deficiencies in increased susceptibility to infectious diseases such as swine flu . Here, I will develop an argument that explains why a person suffering from deficiencies in calcium, vitamin D, and dietary fat is likely to steadily gain weight throughout their life, and develop a host of associated health problems.

Excessive weight is a principal factor associated with what has been termed "the metabolic syndrome." This syndrome is manifested principally by excess fat deposited around the abdomen. It is usually associated with several other risk factors for diabetes and heart disease, including high blood pressure, high levels of triglycerides in the blood, elevated values for LDL (the "bad" cholesterol), reduced values for HDL (the "good" cholesterol), and high blood sugar [40].

The basic problem that a person with severe calcium and vitamin D deficiencies faces is an inability for the heart and muscles to effectively utilize glucose (sugar) for their energy needs [14][17][18]. Even when blood sugar levels are high, the heart and muscles are starved for energy. I am reminded of a ship lost at sea -- water water everywhere and not a drop to drink." However, there is an alternative energy source -- fats -- that would be readily available to them if the body could just maintain an adequate supply.

With a low-fat, high-carb diet, it is sugar rather than fat that is primarily available from food sources. Thus the body's fat cells are recruited to convert the sugar to fat so that the muscles and heart will be able to satisfy their energy needs. The fat cells are overburdened with this monumental task, and, to keep up with demand, they must become more abundant; i.e., the person gains weight.

The heart can never afford to be without energy supply. Hence, I argue that an additional step is taken to assure a private source of fat in very close proximity to the heart. Fat deposits begin to accumulate directly within the walls of the arteries supplying the heart. The familiar name for these fat deposits, placed there to fuel the heart, is "arteriosclerosis." Eventually, fat also accumulates in the body cavity encasing the heart -- i.e., "pericardial fat" [9]. The arterial fat deposits can also provide fuel for bacteria and viruses, which can easily enter the blood stream through the lungs, and I (and others [25][34]) believe that it is infection in the fats lining the coronary arteries that ultimately leads to heart attacks (Details) .

In the following sections, I will first explain why these deficiencies are widespread in America, and then present the argument at a somewhat technical level that explains in detail how the metabolic syndrome evolves. Finally, I will provide recommendations for modest lifestyle changes that will correct these deficiencies.


Kathie said...

Stephanie--I've been reading your information with great interest. I think you're the only website offering real answers for Metabolic Syndrome. Thanks for what you're doing to help all us non-scientists!

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