Why Will I Gain Weight If I’m Not Sleeping Well?

As bizarre as it sounds, how well we sleep can have a direct impact on the amount of weight we gain.  While doctors often talk about how poor sleep impacts immune function and stress hormones, we’re only more recently beginning to understand how hormones that control appetite are also affected.

Leptin and ghrelin are hormones in our system that regulate feelings of hunger and fullness.  Ghrelin, which is produced in the gastrointestinal tract, stimulates appetite, while leptin, produced in fat cells, sends a signal to the brain when you are full.  Lack of sleep leads to both a lowering of leptin levels (lack of satiety) and a rise in ghrelin (stimulated appetite).  The combined effects of these changes leads to overeating, followed by weight gain.

One example of this effect was demonstrated in a joint study between Stanford and the University of Wisconsin.  Those who slept less than eight hours a night not only had lower levels of leptin and higher levels of ghrelin, but they also had a higher level of body fat.  Those who slept the fewest hours per night weighed the most.

While this information is certainly promising, the relationship between these hormones and weight gain is still not entirely straightforward.  Some patients who have sleep apnea, combined with obesity, actually have high levels of leptin, rather than low.  It’s been speculated that some patients may become resistant to this hormone, so elevated levels mean their body isn’t responding to the signals of this hormone, still making them more prone to weight gain as a result of sleep apnea.

I think the bottom line is that diet and exercise aren’t the only factors when it comes to addressing weight gain.  Poor sleep or untreated sleep apnea should always be addressed with any weight loss program, if any level of success is to be achieved.

 

Can Diet Reverse PCOS?

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a condition that affects the hormone balance in women, favoring the production of male hormones like testosterone over female hormones like estrogen and progesterone. This imbalance can lead to symptoms such as menstrual problems and infertility. Many women with this condition also develop insulin resistance, diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease.  In a new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, blood sugar control, weight loss, and cardiac risk were all improved when women with PCOS were put on a high protein, low carbohydrate diet.

The new study included data collected from 27 women with polycystic ovary syndrome. Participants were assigned to either a high-protein diet or a standard-protein diet for six months. Both groups received regular nutritional counseling and were guided to reduce their intake of sweets and soft drinks.

The aim of the high-protein diet was to get 40% or more of each day’s calories from protein and less than 30% of calories from carbohydrate. To achieve this, women in the high-protein-diet group were instructed to replace sugary and starchy foods with either protein-rich foods like meat, eggs, fish, and dairy foods, or with vegetables, fruits, and nuts. The aim of the standard-protein diet was to get less than 15% of calories from protein and more than 55% of calories from carbohydrate. There were no calorie restrictions with either diet.

At the end of the study, the following differences between the groups were seen:

  • Women on the high-protein diet lost 4.4 kilograms (10 pounds) more than women on the standard-protein diet.
  • Almost all of the extra weight lost by the women eating the high-protein diet was body fat, not muscle.
  • The high-protein diet was associated with a greater reduction in waist circumference, indicating a greater loss of abdominal or belly fat. This type of fat has a strong link to cardiovascular disease.
  • Women on the high-protein diet had lower blood glucose and C-peptide levels. C-peptide is a protein that is linked to insulin production. These findings show that blood sugar control improved more in this group than in the standard-protein diet group.

Implementing this type of diet is one of the first things I do with patients who have PCOS, and the results are consistently rewarding. Between these dietary changes and other nutritional and botanical interventions, I’ve witnessed the naturopathic treatment of PCOS being just as, or even more effective, than the medication regime often utilized in conventional medicine. Plus, these diet changes promote longer term health benefits, particularly with respect to cardiovascular health.

If you’ve been struggling with weight gain and other complications of PCOS, and you’ve only tried medications to address it, don’t feel like your options have been exhausted. Seek out a practitioner who can give you detailed dietary instruction, a method that has now been proven to work!

(Am J Clin Nutr 2012;95:39–48)

Don’t Skip Your Breakfast!

Prior research suggests that breakfast eaters may be healthier than people who skip breakfast, and now a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests a nutritious breakfast may be especially good for your heart. Specifically, the recent study shows that regular breakfast eaters may reduce risk factors linked to heart disease.

Breakfast eaters reduce heart disease risk factors

While prior research has shown that skipping breakfast may lower a person’s energy level and increase the risk of weight gain, less is known about the effects of skipping breakfast on other body organs and functions.

In this study, 2,184 participants, 9 to 15 years old, initially filled out a questionnaire about diet and physical activity and stated whether they usually ate breakfast before school or not. Twenty years later, one third of the original participants filled out a meal frequency questionnaire, had their waist size measured, and had blood levels of triglycerides, total and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, and fasting insulin (insulin levels after no food has been eaten overnight) checked. Participants were then classified into four groups:

• skipped breakfast in neither childhood nor adulthood,

• skipped breakfast only in childhood,

• skipped breakfast only in adulthood, or

• skipped breakfast in both childhood and adulthood.

Results showed that people who skipped breakfast in both childhood and adulthood had a larger waist size and total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels compared with people who ate breakfast in both childhood and adulthood. They also had higher fasting insulin levels, which indicates they have insulin resistance, a risk factor for diabetes and heart disease.

Breakfast skippers also tended to be single, have a lower education level, and were more likely to smoke, watch TV, get less physical activity, and have a less healthy diet compared with breakfast eaters.

The authors comment, “Skipping breakfast was associated with a larger waist circumference, cardiometabolic risk factors, poorer diet quality, and unhealthy lifestyle behaviors.” They add that promoting the benefits of eating breakfast may be an important public health message.

M
ore reasons to be a breakfast eater

There are many good reasons to eat breakfast, and prior research has shown that compared with breakfast skippers, breakfast eaters tend to have:

Better habits. People who eat breakfast tend to have healthier diets and get more physical activity.

A more nutritious diet. Breakfast eaters tend to eat less daily fat and cholesterol and more fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

A healthier weight. Some studies suggest that breakfast eaters have a lower weight compared with breakfast skippers.

Artificial Sweeteners=Real Trouble

Most of my patients know that I’m not a fan of artificial sweeteners, but people often have      a hard time cutting them out of their diet. Hopefully this evidence (excerpted from   mercola.com) will be enough of a motivator!

Why Artificial Sweeteners Can be Detrimental to Your Waistline

The belief that eating artificially sweetened foods and drinking artificially sweetened beverages will help you to lose weight is a carefully orchestrated deception. So if you are still opting for sugar-free choices for this reason, you are being sorely misled.

For years now studies have shown that consuming artificial sweeteners breaks the connection between a sweet sensation and a high-calorie food, thereby changing your body’s ability to regulate intake naturally.

In one study by psychologists at Purdue University’s Ingestive Behavior Research Center, rats that ate yogurt sweetened with an artificial sweetener consumed more calories (and didn’t make up for it by cutting back later), gained more weight, and put on more body fat than rats that ate yogurt sweetened with sugar.

Other studies, too, have shown that eating artificial sweeteners might hinder your body’s ability to estimate calorie intake, thus boosting your inclination to overindulge. Your body and your brain simply do not have the same biological response to artificial sweeteners that they do to regular sugar, and this can pose some serious problems.

Your Brain Can Tell the Difference

You may have convinced yourself that your favorite artificial sweetener tastes the same as sugar, but rest assured your brain is not being fooled.

In one brain-scan study by neuroscientist Paul Smeets, volunteers were given two version of a beverage, one sweetened with sugar, the other with a blend of artificial sweeteners. The brain scans showed that the artificially sweetened beverage failed to activate an area of the brain called the caudate nucleus, which is an area associated with rewards.

A separate study by psychiatrist Guido Frank at the University of Colorado in Denver also looked into your brain’s response to sugar versus artificial sweeteners. Women given a taste of the two said they could not consciously determine a difference. However, a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) of their brain responses showed differences indeed.

As in the previously mentioned study, the sugar activated the reward areas of your brain more strongly than the artificial sweetener, suggesting that the latter may not make you feel satisfied the way sugar would.

This is not an endorsement to indulge in sugar; rather it’s a major clue that your body is not being fooled by artificial sweeteners.

High Fructose Corn Syrup Tries To Hide Behind Name Change

In an attempt to try and fool the public, the Corn Refiner’s Association has applied with the FDA to change the name of high fructose corn syrup to “corn sugar”. This would imply that high fructose corn syrup is a “natural” product, when in reality it is a highly synthetic product. The move may have partly been prompted by a recent Princeton University study demonstrating that rats who consumed high fructose corn syrup “gained significantly more weight than those with access to table sugar, even when their overall caloric intake was the same.”
For more information, visit the following website:

http://www.takepart.com/news/2010/09/14/high-fructose-corn-syrup-up-for-a-new-name?fb_js_fbu=757915220

Blueberries and Insulin

A new study published in the Journal of Nutrition (August 19, 2010) showed that subjects who consumed blueberries twice/day for 6 weeks had an improvement in insulin sensitivity. The participants were all obese and insulin-resistant, but not diabetic.

Blueberries have long been considered a “super-food” because of their high antioxidant and fiber content, and are often recommended for diabetic or insulin-resistant patients due to their negligible affect on blood sugar (as opposed to other fruits). However, the fact that they are now proven to actually reverse insulin-resistance makes it even more important for doctors to emphasize that all patients who are pre-diabetic and/or obese consume blueberries on a daily basis.

Green Tea and Metabolic Syndrome

Because metabolic syndrome is something I tend to see on a weekly basis, it’s always good to see new information on what can help to control and reverse this condition. The latest research points out the benefits of green tea in treating metabolic syndrome. It’s also well known that green tea contains weight-loss promoting properties, among many other beneficial compounds. 

Here is a summary of the research findings:

Reference: “Green tea minimally affects biomarkers of inflammation in obese subjects with metabolic syndrome,” Basu A, Lyons TJ, et al, Nutrition, 2010 Jun 1; [Epub ahead of print]. (Address: Nutritional Sciences, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, Oklahoma, USA).
Summary: In a randomized, controlled study involving 35 obese subjects with metabolic syndrome, results indicate that green tea intake may exert cardioprotective benefits. The subjects were randomized to receive green tea (4 cups/d), green tea extract (2 capsules and 4 cups water/d), or no treatment (4 cups water/d) for 8 weeks. At intervention end, green tea (drink and capsule) intake was associated with significant reduction of plasma serum amyloid alpha, compared with control. Thus, the authors of this study conclude, “green tea significantly reduced plasma serum amyloid alpha, an independent cardiovascular disease risk factor, in obese subjects with metabolic syndrome.”

Weight Gain and Fatty Acids-Born Into Obesity?

For years, the naturopathic profession has emphasized the importance of balancing the ratio between omega 3 and omega 6 intake. The standard American diet is overloaded with omega 6 fatty acids, while being deficient in omega 3, which can lead to a chronic inflammatory state, increasing the risk of cancer and other serious diseases. Now, a new study in the Journal of Lipid Research has found that a high omega 6:omega 3 ratio may not only lead to insulin resistance in individuals, but may actually predispose their offspring to a life-long struggle with obesity.

In addition to high consumption of fast foods and refined carbohydrates, the high omega 6:omega 3 ratio in the American diet is largely due to the shift from grass-fed to grain-fed livestock. For meat eaters, this means seeking out sources of locally raised or grass-fed livestock, along with incorporating more wild game (bison, venison) into the diet. In general, a diet that is well-balanced with fruits, vegetables, fish, and healthy oils should insure a healthy balance of omega fats. Supplementation with fish oil and ground flax seeds is also recommended, to further bolster your omega 3 intake. 

Weight Loss and Natural Medicine

Naturopathic Medicine can offer a number of options for helping people to lose weight. From hormonal imbalances to underlying food allergies, the causes of abnormal weight gain are varied, so it’s important to seek an individualized approach to losing weight. Consulting an experienced naturopath will help you identify obstacles to weight loss, allowing you to lose weight in a safe, medically supervised fashion. 

In the meantime, here are some general tips to help you lose or maintain your weight: 

Talk with a professional. Being overweight increases a person’s risk of a number of medical conditions such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. If you are overweight, talk with a knowledgeable doctor to come up with a good program for you, and work with a nutritionist who can educate you about what to eat and help you stay motivated and on track for a healthy weight. As this study showed, people who attended more dietary counseling sessions lost greater amounts of weight than those who attended less.

Identify triggers that lead to cravings or overeating. It is important to ask yourself questions such as “Why do I choose foods that are not healthy for me?” and “What feelings or circumstances lead me to crave unhealthy foods or to overeat?” Answering such questions can help you learn how to manage the cravings and feelings that lead to overeating, and help you plan ahead with healthier alternatives in situations where you might normally make unhealthy choices.

Choose the right foods. You know the recommendations by now, but have you taken specific steps to improve your diet? The body needs an abundance of fruits and veggies–at least 5 servings every day–and a source of protein every day in order to optimize health and prevent disease. Eating foods high in sugar increases cravings, so reach for low-sugar, low-fat, nutrient-dense foods when eating regular meals and when snacking.

Plan ahead. Sit down and plan your meals for the week. Try grocery shopping on a Sunday in order to stock the refrigerator with healthy foods to get you through the week. Don’t bring high-sugar, high-fat foods into the house, which may increase the temptation for overeating, but keep looking for healthy foods that you really enjoy so you have options if a snack attack hits.

Exercise regularly. Guidelines recommend 60 minutes of exercise every day for healthy adults and 90 minutes for children. Exercise helps reduce cravings and overeating and also improves risk factors for chronic disease such as high blood pressure, glucose and cholesterol levels. If the optimal amount is too overwhelming either because of your schedule or fitness level, remember that everything helps. Get the all-clear from your doctor, and then start slowly and build over time. As your fitness improves, you will naturally enjoy longer exercise sessions, rather than slogging through. Exercise buddies and cross-training are also good tricks for keeping yourself going.