The Roulette Wheel Stops

In Weight-Loss Maintenance on November 22, 2010 at 7:12 pm

Well, THANK YOU for playing my game. It’s time to name a winner. And I gotta say, it’s not easy. Special appreciation to Jocetta for providing thought-provoking links (which I may purloin and post upon). And to DeeLeigh, for keeping Jocetta on her toes. And back at Jocetta, again, for accepting DeeLeigh’s toe-correction with grace!

Thanks to RNegade and DeeLeigh for a heated yet interesting discussion on the strength of the link between obesity and Type II Diabetes. It got us a little off topic, but it’s clearly a great topic for another day. Many of the White Labcoats have pronounced causation when it’s still clearly ONLY association. Maybe we, the lab rats, can gently suggest they research the outside factor(s) that may initiate both.

Yes, the Roulette table was confusing and confounding.  Thank you to all 23 players, many with multiple entries.  Vegas would get rich off of you. 

Now, I wasn’t asking what makes us fat (though I got a lot of good answers). I was asking what has changed to make us fatter in the last four decades. And Friday, I pooh-poohed the idea that our formerly virtuous behavior has collectively eroded. Today, I award a tie and identical copies of the GRAND CYBER GLOAT to Mo, Jocetta and RNegade, the proponents of genetics and epigenetics, which I didn’t even put on the board to begin with. But, indeed, the scientists who are advancing the best thinking are starting from the point of view that who we are, down to our very code, not what we do (unless it’s affecting that code) is making us fatter. Who we are impels us to eat when we know we will store too much energy – for our personal comfort and for the social rewards of a culture that detests fat people. Who we are as organisms (engaged in complex chemical reactions) has, on average, gotten more adept at storing energy. Who we are has changed profoundly, moreso than what we do.  But what, then, has caused this change in who we are?

I think it is one or more of the poisons of our modern society – pesticides, food additives/preservatives, trans fats, HFCS, Bisphenol A or livestock growth hormones (and I’ll be more brave and specific later). We all respond uniquely to these poisons. Some of us are better at processing and discarding them than others. Blessed genetics. Some of us may not respond with increased weight, but may suffer with asthma, immune disorders or chemical sensitivities (which are all also on the rise in our modern society).

With regard to obesity, these toxins may be disrupting our endocrine directly, or, as I’m posturing here, they may permanently change our genetic code and cause us to pass down this changed/broken code to our children, a code that sets in motion a cascade of endocrine responses that makes it difficult to maintain weight loss long term. The reason I think this code is broken is based on my humble, personal experience. As much as I have been able, I have eliminated many of the common endocrine disruptors from my diet and my environment, and yet I continue to battle the binge impulses, which I insist on calling “real” and not some misguided “emotional eating” pop psychology mumbo jumbo. I know that some people find relief from hunger and binge cues by eliminating white carbs and, sometimes, additionally all grains, but that has not been my good fortune.

Now, to be brave (or foolish), I’m going to go one step further and put my chip on a single box with regard to obesity. If I were the George Soros or Bill Gates of obesity research, with unlimited funds to dole out generously, I would beg the scientists to look harder at livestock growth hormones, and specifically those that affect mammals. The research that exists is esoteric, centered on mice (not humans), inconclusive, and sometimes done by people with conflicts of interest. The research seems to suggest (to this lay person’s eye) that in large doses bovine growth hormones may suppress weight gain, but the amounts that we’re likely exposed to in our daily lives may promote it. When you Google “Bovine Growth Hormone Obesity,” you get page after page of lay articles, with little scientific backing, some claiming a link and others discrediting the link between obesity and rGBH. I give credit for this confusion to the formidable Monsanto PR machine.  Regardless of whether it is the key factor, it is the one most in need of research. 

The CDC study on rising obesity that I quoted in my earlier post, and that is often cited as proof of a 24-pound average weight increase (actually, it’s 23.5 for men and 22.7 for women) from 1960 to 2002, has many interesting tables. The one that shows the increase in weight by pounds reveals that in the first 20 years, weight only went up by about 7.5 pounds for men and 5.2 pounds for women. All the rest of that average weight gain happened in the final two decades. If you were to graph these numbers, an upward bend would have started a little before the market introduction of rGBH in 1993, but there were other livestock hormones at play at that time. Moreover, the curve continues at a scary upward tilt after rGBH’s introduction. It makes me queasy that it has gotten relatively little independent study.

When I was nursing my son, the lactation consultant instructed me carefully as to what to eat, lest I spoil the flavor of my milk or give my son gas, and she told me to be very conservative about the drugs I took and always with doctor supervision. How come we aren’t so careful after we wean? We drink and guide our children to drink copious amounts of cow’s milk, we eat cheese and yogurt, as well as the flesh of our fellow mammals who have been made fat on hormones. What is this consumption doing to us? I have a deep suspicion that it has made us fatter. I think that’s where the magnet on the Roulette wheel is planted.

But, hey, I’m just another garden variety lab rat for the NWCR, and, yes, I eat breakfast daily, if that’s all you care to know. Sigh.

  1. The one that shows the increase in weight by pounds reveals that in the first 20 years, weight only went up by about 7.5 pounds for men and 5.2 pounds for women. All the rest of that average weight gain happened in the final two decades. If you were to graph these numbers, an upward bend would have started a little before the market introduction of rGBH in 1993, but there were other livestock hormones at play at that time. Moreover, the curve continues at a scary upward tilt after rGBH’s introduction. It makes me queasy that it has gotten relatively little independent study.

    It would be interesting to investigate the effect of rBGH on humans. However, I doubt that rBGH will turn out to be a huge factor in human weight gain for one simple reason: As far as I know, it is not used in Europe, yet the average weight over here certainly has increased. On the other hand, I guess it is nonetheless possible that the use of rBGH might explain or partially explain the difference in average weight increase between Europe and the US.

    • Good point, Sannanina. I guess rGBH is just a bee in my bonnet, and I sure would love to share it with some lovely, credible empirical scientist. Ahhhh.

      Welcome to the site, by the way.

      • Thanks for welcoming me, Debra. I sure understand that you would like to see your hypothesis tested. And I actually am an empirical scientist – from the wrong discipline, though.

    • I believe it’s a similar situation in Canada. rBGH is not allowed, but the average weight of Canadians has increased over the same period, although I believe not quite as much as in the US. While I gained 40-50 pounds over several years after moving to America, I had already gained 100 pounds in Canada from ages 16 to 33. Much of that weight was gained as a vegetarian, though one consuming a fair amount of milk products and eggs.

      I think the increasing industrialization of food production and food manufacture over this period is a big problem, not only for this issue but for many others, but I don’t think it can be boiled down to just one aspect of it like the use rGBH.

      (I believe Canada also does not allow the use of high fructose corn syrup in soda, although it’s likely in other foods there. Although I’ve often wondered if the differences in the weight increases between the two countries have more to do with free refill availability than what’s in the soda. It might have changed in the past 8 years, but free refills in restaurants were pretty rare when I was living in Canada. Generally you bought a can or a glass of soda, and if you wanted more you paid for another serving, which would start to add a lot to the bill if done very often.)

      • HFCS isn’t used in Canada, but I don’t know if that’s due to regulation or economics. Recall that HFCS is cheap in the US because it’s produced here. It’s most costly to ship than sugar, though, so we don’t export it much.

  2. I would not be at all surprised. I haven’t time for a long response, but amphibian scientists are screaming blue bloody murder on the subject.

    Frogs, you see, are the ecological canaries in the coal mine. They are very sensitive to changes in their environment. There are any number of scientific studies showing damage to their development, especially the sexual characteristics, when exposed to various chemical and biological contaminants introduced by humans. This includes, I vaguely recall, human hormones from discarded birth control pills flushed down the toilet in one particular study but don’t quote me on that, my memory may be faulty. Try Googling for that or begin by checking the archives of Science Daily for a starting point if you are interested.

    I’d love to see funding for a study on this. It’s doable – the organic movement has existed long enough that there should be a sufficient population of people who have eaten untreated meat and vegetables available to match with control groups on a SAD. But it would be expensive to recruit and follow them and agribusiness and Big Pharm sure aren’t interested in funding it.

  3. Okay, at the risk of sounding incredibly stupid, if these animal growth hormones are the main reason for our being overweight, would just becoming a vegetarian solve that problem? Or has the years of ingesting the meat changed us permanently?

  4. Ah, Debby, you are far from stupid. I appreciate having another nurse’s brain around here, in addition to RNegade. You have insight into the white coats that those of us who only see them as patients cannot fathom, and you see the world through a combination of compassion and science. So important.

    Accepting my precept, which is indeed flimsy — it’s my bee in my personal bonnet — vegetarianism doesn’t seem to solve the issue. There are plenty fat vegetarians. It may be, as you indicate, that we are “broken” permanently by our past exposure. Or it may be that we have continued exposure to these hormones through milk products. That might indicate the need for some kind of study of vegans v. omnivores to see if, on average, over the same time period, the vegans have seen the same increase in average weight.

    • It would also be possible to compare increase in average weight and meat/ dairy consumption in different areas of the US. It might be, though, that a possible effect of rBGH does not follow a linear pattern.

  5. I just came across a heart-breaking testimonial from a former vegan about how her incredibly “clean” diet made her incredibly ill. It’s just one person’s experience, but very interesting:

  6. Jocetta, I think this this is the study you were talking about (link is to a page at Yale Daily News summarizing the results of one of the studies). Frogs are definitely being affected by chemicals in the environment – birth control pills and other estrogens and pseudo-estrogens are affecting development, and acid rain and other pollutants are leading to defects, and then there’s chytrid – which is having the strongest effects on frogs in remote, high-elevation sites far from humans.

    While we’re talking about environmental effects on animals, I’d like to draw everyone’s attention to this article which just came out in this week’s Nature: Lab animals and pets face obesity epidemic. Pets, lab animals, and even wild/feral animals in close proximity to humans (e.g., urban rats) have shown significant increases in body weight and the probability of being overweight over the last 20 years – the same time period during which humans have shown the greatest increase in body weight! Verrrry interesting…. I think this gives strong support to the black side of the board. I don’t see rGBH as a factor here – while urban rats may be eating dairy products in our trash, lab animals and dogs, at least, don’t tend to consume many dairy products.

    But I believe this offers strong evidence that other environmental factors – personally, I lean towards the BPA and/or pseudo-/true estrogens and/or virus hypotheses – are the main drivers in the so-called “obesity epidemic.” While you could make an argument for pets being overfed (though everyone I know feeds their animals expensive healthy pet foods today, versus the cheap junk food-equivalents we fed our animals when I was young), or rats eating higher-calorie refuse, lab animals on consistent diets can’t be gaining weight due to behavioral changes. The odds of humans, pets, lab animals, and wild animals all showing the exact same changes during the exact same time periods for different reasons are highly unlikely, and when in doubt the more parsimonious explanation is usually more likely (per Occam’s Razor).

  7. Debra, I’m with you that what’s changed is some modern toxin, but for me, it wouldn’t be animal hormones. For now, I’m particularly intrigued with theories related to how food has shifted from nutrient-dense to energy-dense. In addition to obesity, the prevalence of both diabetes and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease are also rising, and it’s curious how sugar, insulin, and leptin all seem to make appearances.

    Anyways, that said, did you notice this making the rounds recently? Curiously, this researcher identified weight gain in 24 animal studies! While the study didn’t find any common culprit, it certainly provides some support for an environmental cause other than industrial food.

    Of course, if obesity is anything, it’s probably a wicked problem, which is defined as a problem that gets more complicated the more you look at it!

  8. I know I am very late to this party, but there is a documentary on google about the scientists that proved epigenetic effects of famine on decendants of those who experienced the famine. I don’t have the link 😦 To me seemed strong evidence on the “black” side.

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