14 April 2013

The Evolving Health blog is moving to evolvinghealth.wordpress.com

Although I've enjoyed posting from Blogger for five years now, I've found that Wordpress offers me a lot more of the functionality that I need.

So, I hope you'll join me for more posts about evidence-based food, nutrition and medicine updates over at http://www.evolvinghealth.wordpress.com.

Also, don't miss my coverage of Experimental Biology 2013 from April 19-24!


09 April 2013

Why we should adopt a "zoobiquitous" approach to health

We are all animals. It's a fact that may be unsettling for some, but for others it is a fountain of understanding and of inspiration. Since 1859, thanks to Charles Darwin, our place in the animal world has been firmly established. Yet, to this day, it is all too common within medicine (and nutrition) to have the tendency to develop a narrow-mindedness about ourselves that disconnects us from the natural world. Rarely do medical doctors ever look beyond, to other animals, for a broader perspective about their fields. As the veterinarian insider joke goes, "What do you call a physician? A veterinarian who can only treat one species." 

 This is where zoobiquity (a different, zoobiquitous approach to medicine) comes in.

What is zoobiquity? When a story of how two obese Alaskan grizzlies lost hundreds of pounds helps inform nutritionists about how they might advise their human patients on weight management, you could say that is an example of zoobiquity. When a psychiatrist finds she is able to kindly comfort a patient diagnosed with anorexia by pointing out that an eating disorder is nothing ashamed of and that, in fact, it is quite common across several species, that's zoobiquity. And, when a veterinarian oncologist and human oncologist come together to discuss the similarities of their animal and human patients and share data in an effort to improve medical outcomes of their patients, that's zoobiquity.

19 February 2013

Calories aren't right on labels and maybe that’s OK

Has it ever crossed your mind that the number of listed Calories (Kcals) of, say, a large, raw, whole apple at 116 Kcals and that of a glazed doughnut at 125 Kcals might not be an accurate comparison*? Surely, you might think, isn’t the doughnut more likely to add inches to your waistline?

You'd be right. The difference that you might have understood intuitively is that, although the number of listed Kcals are similar, your body is likely to extract more of them from the doughnut than the apple. Why the disparity then on the Kcals listing? You can lay blame on the shortcomings of the Atwater Specific-factor System.

Here's a little nutrition science history lesson: In the early 20th century, American chemist William Olin Atwater pioneered calculation of energy values from measures of heat combustion of proteins, fats and carbs. This is how we arrived to the familiar protein at 4 Kcals per gram, lipids at 9 Kcals per gram, and carbs 4 Kcals per gram. It would come to be known as the Atwater General Factor System. At the time, Atwater couldn’t account for fiber, so, in 1955, Bernice Watt and Annabel Merrill refined the system with specific Calorie conversion factors of foods, which has led to what the system is now.

11 February 2013

Experts on the evolution of human nutrition

Want to eat a diet that mimics that of our Paleolithic ancestors? It might be a little more complicated than what the popular books say.

The fact is, there was never one Paleo Diet; it's more likely there were hundreds of them and that they were continually changing and broadening over evolutionary time.

That was the overarching message of an impressive lineup of experts on ancient human diets at a symposium entitled "The Evolution of Human Nutrition" organized by the Center of Academic Research and Training in Anthropogeny (CARTA) at UC San Diego on December 7, 2012.

Now, I'm happy to report, the videos of a few of the talks have been made available (embedded in this post below). You can also read what other folks on Twitter had to say about the event using the #CARTAsymp hashtag in my Storify story.

20 January 2013

The nutritional biology of human skin color

The amount of melanin found within our skin has long been a source of division for humans culturally, but anthropologist Nina Jablonski of Penn State tells the story of how human skin color unites us all biologically.

It's become one of my favorite stories to share as it relates to nutritional biology: More pigment was naturally selected because it acted as a sunscreen needed to protect against DNA damage and destruction of folate, needed for reproduction. Depigmentation was selected for when humans dispersed from Africa and into the Northern Hemisphere where they needed skin light enough to absorb sufficient UVB rays to produce vitamin D.

I first heard Jablonski discuss the nature of human skin pigmentation almost two years ago at the AAAS conference in Washington DC. Later, I discovered her TED talk, which I've posted above. It's older, but worth watching over and over again. Jablonski has a simple message: instead of using skin color to discriminate, use skin color to teach people about evolution and health.

What a Komodo dragon can teach us about energy balance

Credit: San Diego Zoo
Try telling a Komodo dragon that physical activity doesn't matter and that all one needs to do to lose weight is eat a diet lower in carbohydrates.

Meet Sunny, the obese Komodo dragon. Her San Diego Zoo keepers have put her on a strict diet based on her animal energy and metabolic requirements. She eats only mice, rats, and ground turkey mixed with vitamins and calcium. Yet, it's not enough to keep Sunny from steadily gaining weight. When in captivity, dragons are prone to obesity because of their mainly sedentary lifestyle. They do little else than sleep, bask in the sun or shade, and eat breakfast or supper.

In their native habitat of Indonesian islands, Komodo dragons are extremely active. They travel up to 10 kilometers a day, run up to 13 miles per hour, swim several kilometers from island to island, then dig or climb as they hunt. Once they capture their prey, they can eat as much as 80 percent of their body weight in a single meal. That energy they will serve to store for often days or weeks.

When I asked senior zookeeper Ken Morgan what he was doing to help get Sunny moving and losing weight, he replied that they were trying a series of enrichment programs. But getting a 200-pound dragon to do any activity at all is no easy task, he said. It takes some creativity. One enrichment program Morgan has used involves burying a ball with a dead mouse inside. Sunny picks up the scent, spends some time searching for it, then digs around before finally discovering the treasure. It's activity accomplished. These games can help Sunny burn more calories to keep weight off.

What journalists should know before writing about fructophobia

"Pick your poison" Sugars by vavroom, on Flickr

In his new book, Fat Chance, Dr. Robert Lustig argues that "sugar is more toxin than it ever was nutrient." He writes that sugar is as addictive as cocaine, that it should be regulated like tobacco, and that children should be carded before having a soda. He compares the fructose component of sugar to ethanol. "Pick your poison," he writes, arguing that fructose will "fry your liver and cause all the same diseases as does alcohol." He also challenges energy balance (calories-in-calories-out) as the dominant paradigm of understanding obesity and and argues that sugar is harmful in ways beyond the calories it provides.

With statements as controversial as these, it's no wonder that the media, who tend to crave sensationalism to obtain readers or viewers, eat them up like candy. And Dr. Lustig knows what he's doing and just what to say to elicit attention. He's no stranger to the spotlight, as Elizabeth Weil writes in her article featuring the pediatric endocrinologist. The showman-doctor also knows just how to tell a classic falling-prey-to-cruelty story. He'd have his readers believe just what they want to hear: that their weight gain is not their fault, that the great evil monster of the food industry is putting addictive "poison" in their food in the form of sugar, and that the government is standing "idly by" letting it all happen. After reading Dr. Lustig's book, it's easy to understand why readers are entertained and maybe even enraged enough to give up on sugary sodas, cheese cake, and apple pie. But are the arguments Dr. Lustig makes in the book right or wrong?