Colorectal cancer is the second most common cause of cancer-related death in the United States.

The incidence of EO-CRC, which refers to when people under 50 years of age develop the condition, has increased markedly in several wealthy countries.

One 2020 article in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians suggested that over the course of the year, about 150,000 U.S. individuals would receive a diagnosis of colorectal cancer and about 53,200 would die as a result.

The authors also predicted about 18,000 cases of individuals younger than 50 years of age receiving a diagnosis of colorectal cancer, with 3,640 forecasted deaths in this population.

Compared with adults born in the U.S. around 1950, those born around 1990 have twice the risk of developing colon cancer and four times the risk of developing rectal cancer.

A new study in the journal Gut links drinking two or more SSBs per day in adulthood with a doubling in the risk of bowel cancer before the age of 50 years.

Researchers found that each daily SSB serving among adult women may be associated with a 16% higher risk of developing EO-CRC.

Also, the study found that each additional SSB serving per day among individuals aged 13–18 years may be linked to a 32% increase in the risk of developing EO-CRC.

Examples of SSBs include soft drinks, pre-packaged fruit drinks, energy drinks, and sports drinks. Sugary drinks are the leading source of added sugars in the American diet.

In fact, from 1977 to 2001, energy intake from SSBs increased by a whopping 135%.

Unique epidemiologic evidence

For this study, the researchers used data from 95,464 participants in the Nurses’ Health Study II. This is an ongoing monitoring study of 116,430 U.S. registered nurses, all women, who were aged 25–42 years when they enrolled in 1989.

Every 4 years beginning in 1991, the women in the study reported on what they ate and drank using validated food frequency questionnaires.

In 1998, researchers asked the participants to recall their health status and lifestyle habits as teenagers.

Also, 41,272 of the women reported on what they typically ate and drank as well as on the quantities of these items between 1960 and 1982. They were aged 13–18 years at this point.

The participants also gave information on potentially influential factors, including their family history of bowel cancer, their lifestyle habits, and any regular use of aspirin, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or vitamin supplements.

Over 24 years of monitoring, 109 women developed bowel cancer before the age of 50 years.

The study authors write that their findings “add unique epidemiologic evidence that SSB intake may partly contribute to the rapid increase of CRC in younger adults.”

Notes on the study

It is important for researchers to understand what is behind this increase, said study co-author Dr. Jeffrey Meyerhardt. He is the clinical director of the Gastrointestinal Cancer Center at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, MA.

“It is presumed that exposures early in life are contributing to this rise,” Dr. Meyerhardt told Medical News Today. “Studying exposures that can be prevented is [essential] to getting control of this rising health issue.”

Substituting SSBs with reduced-fat milk or whole milk appears to be beneficial, according to study co-author Dr. Yin Cao. She is an associate professor of surgery at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, MO.

“In this study,” she told us, “we showed [that] replacing one daily serving (8 oz) of SSBs with an equivalent amount of reduced-fat milk or total milk was associated with a 35–36% lower risk of EO-CRC.”

“During the second half of the 20th century, for which average U.S. per capita soft drink consumption has dramatically increased by ~500%, milk consumption has declined by half. Milk is a good source of calcium, a mineral found to be protective of colorectal cancer.”

“We postulate [that] low milk consumption could be plausibly linked with the increased risk of EO-CRC, and further research on this topic is in the pipeline.”

The researchers point to several limitations of their study. First, they caution that this was an observational study, which can only establish correlation, not cause. They also note that the majority of the participants were white women, so the findings may not apply to men or other ethnic groups.

Even so, the study provides insight into possible actions that public health leaders might take, Dr. Cao explained.

“Particularly in adolescence,” she wrote, “the immature and rapidly growing organs could be more susceptible to exposures that could lead to cancer development.”

“Campaigns, education programs, and interventions targeting the young population to reduce SSB intake and/or replace SSBs with other healthier beverages could help reduce the accrual of time at risk and convert this window of increased susceptibility into an opportunity for better health outcomes later in life.”

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Obesity can have severe effects on a person’s quality of life and lifespan. Research shows that it substantially increases the risk of a wide range of diseases, including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and some cancers.

Despite the long-established health risks, however, recent decades have seen an inexorable rise in rates of obesity throughout the world.

One study found that between 1980 and 2015, the prevalence of obesity doubled in more than 70 countries and steadily increased in most others.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2016, more than 650 million adults had obesity. Overweight and obesity now claim the lives of more than 2.8 million people each year.

A major challenge for researchers is to distinguish the effects of genetics from those of lifestyle on the progression of obesity and its effects on health.

A team of researchers, led by two from the Obesity Research Unit at the University of Helsinki, in Finland, used an ingenious way to do this.

By studying 49 pairs of identical twins who did not share the same body mass index, or BMI, readings, they removed the effect of genes from the equation.

Identical, or monozygotic, twins have the same genetic makeup. They experience almost identical conditions in the womb and usually have very similar upbringings.

This means that the differences between the twins in the study arose from the influence of their environment or lifestyle as adults, rather than their genes or conditions during childhood.

The researchers have published their findings in the journal Cell Reports Medicine.

Biopsies of fat and muscle

First, the researchers took blood samples and biopsies of fat, or adipose, tissue and skeletal muscle tissue from the volunteers.

They then used a variety of molecular techniques to analyze the transcription of genes, production of proteins, and processing of metabolites in the two types of tissue.

A key finding was that the activity of mitochondria, the power plants of cells, was reduced in the muscle and adipose tissue of people with obesity.

The change was more marked in adipose than in muscle tissue.

Meanwhile, there was also increased inflammation in the tissues from twins with obesity, compared with their leaner siblings.

The changes in adipose tissue, but not muscle tissue, were associated with adverse health effects, including fatty liver disease and insulin resistance, conditions that have been linked to the development of diabetes.

Reduced power output

“If mitochondria […] are compared to the engine of a car, you could say that the power output decreases as weight increases,” explains senior author Prof. Kirsi Pietiläinen, also of the university’s Obesity Research Unit.

The researchers believe that these underperforming mitochondria produce more of the harmful reactive oxygen species, or free radicals, that stoke inflammation.

“A low-powered mitochondrial engine may also generate toxic exhaust fumes, which can cause a pro-inflammatory state in adipose tissue and, consequently, the onset of diseases associated with obesity,” explains Prof. Pietiläinen.

“What was surprising was that the mitochondrial pathways in muscle had no association with these adverse health effects,” she adds.

Another notable finding was that mitochondria in the adipose and muscle tissue of individuals with obesity were less efficient at breaking down a type of amino acid. These acids are the building blocks of proteins.

“This finding was of particular significance because the reduced breakdown of these amino acids and the resulting heightened concentration in blood have also been directly linked with prediabetic changes and the accumulation of liver fat in prior twin studies,” says Prof. Pietiläinen.

The researchers observe that in people with obesity, excessive nutrients may upset the control of catabolic and anabolic processes, reactions that break down and assemble organic molecules, respectively.

They write:

“We argue that, because of a high nutrition load, adipose tissue and skeletal muscle tissue no longer sufficiently shift between catabolic and anabolic reactions in acquired obesity. Consequently, the cells in these tissues increase their [internal] communication and activate emergency responses, such as inflammation.”

They acknowledge that the major limitation of their study was its cross-sectional design, meaning that it focused on a single point in time.

While the study identified associations between obesity and the various metabolic and health measures, it could not prove the existence of any causal relationships, as a result of this design

By 2030, experts predict that nearly half of all adults in the United States will have obesity.

There are well-known links between obesity and a wide range of physical illnesses, including type 2 diabetesTrusted SourcehypertensionTrusted Sourcerheumatoid arthritisTrusted Source, and some forms of cancerTrusted Source.

However, there is also a complex two-way relationship between obesity and mental illness.

According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 43%Trusted Source of the U.S. adults aged 20 years and over who are living with depression also have obesity. There is also an association between mental illness in general and obesity.

Weight gain is a recognized side effect of many antidepressant medications. Conversely, research suggests that obesity can have a psychological effect on people that predisposes them to depression.

But researchers believe that there may also be a more direct, physiological link between the two conditions.

Among the possible causes that obesity and mental illness may have in common are:

  • inflammation
  • hormonal disturbances
  • genetic factors

Brain circuitry

There is also a possibility that certain neural circuits in the brain predispose people to both obesity and mental health conditions. However, exactly where these circuits are and how they work have been unclear.

Researchers from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, TX, recently led a team of researchers that may have discovered such a circuit in mice.

The team found that feeding mice a high fat diet disrupted the circuit, which led not only to weight gain but also to signs of anxiety and depression on standard behavioral tests.

When the researchers used genetic techniques to restore the normal functioning of nerve receptors in the circuit, this resulted in weight loss and eliminated the animals’ signs of anxiety and depression.

Remarkably, despite still having a healthy appetite, the mice reduced their food intake and were no longer interested in high fat food.

“We were surprised to see that the animals lost weight not because they lost their appetite but because genetically aided readjustment of the mental states changed their feeding preference from high fat to low fat food,” says Dr. Guobin Xia, a postdoctoral associate at Baylor who is co-first author of the study.

Two drugs that target the same nerve receptors in this brain circuit had similar beneficial effects on the mice and their feeding preferences.

The research appears in the journal Molecular PsychiatryTrusted Source.

Appetite and emotions

The newly identified brain circuit comprises connections between neurons in the hypothalamus and those in another brain region called the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST)Trusted Source.

Whereas the hypothalamus plays a central role in the hormonal regulation of appetite and physiology, among other functions, the BNST is involved in stress and fear responses.

The researchers showed that in mice, eating a high fat diet disrupted the circuit, dulling its ability to regulate appetite and emotions.

“This newly discovered circuit was malfunctioning in mice that were both obese and depressed,” says Dr. Xia.

The scientists found that they could restore the circuit by tweaking the activity of two nerve receptors in the BNST, either genetically or with drugs that target the receptors.

This reversed the negative effects of the high fat diet, eliminating signs of anxiety and depression and reducing body weight.

Drug combination

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has already approved the two drugs, zonisamide and granisetron, as treatments for epilepsy and for preventing nausea, respectively.

Dr. Qi Wu, who is the corresponding author of the new study, explains:

“We discovered that the combination of two clinically approved drugs, zonisamide and granisetron, profoundly reduced anxiety and depression in mice and promoted weight loss by synergistically acting upon two different molecular targets within our newly identified brain circuit.”

The researchers believe that their findings could lead to future clinical trials of this drug combination for treating the link between obesity and mental health conditions.

Until other researchers have confirmed the findings and conducted clinical trials, however, these early results from a study in animals remain tentative and may not translate to humans.

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For many decades, nutritionists have recommended a balanced diet to provide the body with the proper nutrients to stay healthy. The core components of this diet include vegetables, fruits, grains, proteins, and dairy.

A recent study by researchers at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, MA, provides further evidence for current dietary guidelines and expands on them, finding that consuming at least 2 fruit and 3 vegetable servings on a daily basis may lower the risk of both disease-related death and death from all causes.

The study appears in Circulation, a scientific journal of the American Heart Association (AHA).

Current dietary guidelines

“While groups like the American Heart Association recommend 4–5 servings each of fruits and vegetables daily, consumers likely get inconsistent messages about […] the recommended amount and which foods to include and avoid,” says Dr. Dong D. Wang, M.D., Sc.D., an epidemiologist and nutritionist at Harvard Medical School and lead author of the study.

The Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture published their recommendations in the form of the 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

According to this set of guidelines, half of the plate for every meal should contain fruits and vegetables.

However, the guidelines also note that more than 80% of people in the United States do not meet this recommendation and should aim to increase their consumption of nutrient-dense foods.

Participant dietary information

The researchers collected self-reported dietary information from two large cohort studies: the Nurses’ Health Study (NHS) and the Health Professionals’ Follow-up Study (HPFS).

The NHS cohort included registered female nurses between the ages of 30 and 55 years, while the HPFS cohort included males aged 40–75 years with occupations in the health profession. These studies included follow-ups with the participants every 2–4 years to accumulate dietary information over a span of approximately 30 years.

The researchers excluded participants with baseline heart disease, cancer, or diabetes, leaving them with data from 66,719 females and 42,016 males.

They also incorporated data from an additional 26 studies involving a total of 1.9 million participants, which examined the relationship between fruit and vegetable intake and death rates.

The high participant numbers and continuous longitudinal assessments provided the team with an extensive collection of data for analysis.

However, it is important to note that the criteria of the two cohorts — occupation and corresponding education — suggest a similar socioeconomic status across the participants, who may have been more likely than other members of the population to have access to a healthy diet. The study does not address the realities and effects of food insecurity.

Nutritional values of fruits and vegetables lower risk of death

The study outcomes showed that an increased intake of fruits and vegetables is associated with a lower risk of death, including death due to cancer, heart disease, or respiratory disease.

Additionally, the researchers saw the lowest risk of death at a threshold of a combined 5 servings, beyond which there was no apparent benefit on risk.

These results point to the nutritional value of these foods. For example, higher consumption of fruits and vegetables increases the intake of potassium and antioxidant activity, which link to lower blood pressure and improved lung function, respectively.

As the data are fully self-reported, there may be discrepancies between the actual and reported intakes. Participants with higher intake, in particular, may have tended to overestimate how many servings they consumed.

This margin of error may blur the defined threshold of 5 servings, so the study authors acknowledge that slightly higher servings (up to 10) could also lead to lowered risk.

This study also expands beyond current guidelines by differentiating among specific groups of fruits and vegetables.

The researchers observed trends with a lowered risk of death for leafy greens and foods rich in vitamin C and beta carotene. Fruits and vegetables that fall into these categories include spinach, kale, carrots, and citrus fruits.

Conversely, they did not identify any trends for fruit juices or starchy vegetables, such as potatoes and peas. One possible reason for the latter is the prominence of canned foods. The canning process may deprive starchy vegetables of their antioxidant properties.

Compared with whole fruits, the fluid form of juices may cause a more rapid elevation of blood glucose and insulin levels, which can increase the risk of disease.

In contrast to the existing guidelines, which include canned foods and juices among the recommended foods and drinks, this study calls for further research on the effects of these items on health.

Continued support for ‘5-a-day’ serving recommendation

Rather than being an interventional study, in which researchers directly implement variables and analyze the effects, this study was observational. As a result, it is not possible to conclude that the trends present in this study indicate a causal relationship.

Regardless, there is plentiful evidence that highlights the benefits of a balanced diet containing plenty of fruits and vegetables. The present conclusions also correspond to findings from similar observational studies on the associations between fruit and vegetable intake and disease.

The findings of this study conform to the overall current dietary guidelines to eat at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Additionally, it provides further insight into the specificities and benefits of fruit and vegetable intake.

No control and overwhelming cravings are feelings that many may be familiar with when faced with their favorite food or ‘guilty pleasures’ staring them in the face. But a recent study has revealed that these feelings may be more than simply hunger. Food addiction is a distinctive medical and psychological condition, which research has shown has many symptoms similar to substance use disorders.

This study, to published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Appetite next year but released to the public last week, has opened up a conversation that aims to understand more about food addiction as a legitimate medical condition and the thought process behind some overarching themes; namely compulsion and control.

Both quantitative and qualitative data were collected from 34 Australian participants, with the majority being females who were overweight. This initial pool is small-scale, compared to some larger studies being conducted, but provided a lot of value and insight into the multi-faceted condition.

Stress and depression were both identified as being the most prominent negative emotional states, although the data is not yet clear enough to determine whether these emotional states are leading into the food addictions, are a result of the food addictions, or contribute to a continuous cycle. What we do know, from years of research and lived experience, is that stress and depression can both greatly alter our mental state, and at times have been shown to rewire cognitive pathways. One potential thought to consider is that regardless of where these two conditions sit in the cycle of food addiction, removing them altogether will make the environment difficult for an addictive disorder to thrive.

The urge of compulsion was used to distinguish participants’ experiences relating to addictive eating behaviors, in particular the notion of craving certain foods, craving any foods, and a lack of control. It’s a feeling that many of us are all too familiar with at certain points in our lives, however, this addictive disorder is largely defined by an overwhelming or near-constant experience of compulsion. The theme of control then encompassed the participants’ own perception and understanding of both the processes and outcomes of overcoming their addictive eating – both considering that there may have been a lack thereof, or a desire to gain further control. The study abstract states that, “the two themes identified were not mutually exclusive, and relationships between them and their influence on each other were observable.”

Interestingly, control is a term that has long-been associated with eating disorders across the board, from anorexic and bulimic tendencies, to ‘newer’ conditions such as orthorexia Nervosa (a condition that considers extreme dietary restrictions and excessive exercise to be reflective of a disorder). The link between control of foods, exercise, or actions taken after consuming foods (vomiting and laxatives), is at times triggered by a lack of control in external elements of the individual’s life and a desire to have control over anything they are able to. At other times it can stem from further psychological disorders concerned with control, such as OCD.

We can only hope that this study will prompt further research into a new approach to mitigating these disorders and developing happy, healthy, and holistic ways for people living with food addiction to live their best possible lives.

Do you suffer from gas, bloating, or other digestive issues? You’re definitely not the only one out there – but it doesn’t have to be this way.

We all know the foods we like and dislike, and some of us are even in tune enough to know the foods that do and don’t sit well within our body – but how well do we really understand the process of our own digestion? Certain physical cues often indicate whether everything is running, ahem, smoothly, and others are often common signs that your digestive system isn’t working properly.

I’m hesitant to choose a favorite system of the human body, but the intricacies and needs of our digestive system are fascinating. The very process of digestion itself involves taking all our wonderful, nutritious foods (or those less so), and breaking them down into the minuscule monomers needed for our body’s day-to-day functioning. When you consider every reaction in the human body, right down to a cellular level, that has to go right for this process to work, it can be very humbling.

Digestion is arguably one of the most important functions of the human body. But when something’s not going right with the system, such as an underlying issue or illness, all the wonderful foods won’t be absorbed in the way they should. Luckily, there are a number of signs and indicators that you’ll likely recognize in your own body to suggest your digestive system might not be flourishing.

1. Changes To Bowel Movements

While we all have different experiences of what it means to be ‘regular’, we do have our own natural digestive rhythm. Your bowel movements are one of the best indicators of what’s going on inside your body, and while changes to your usual schedule will come and go – anything significant is usually a symptom of a malfunctioning digestive system. Laurentine has written this amazing article that goes into the details of how to understand what it all means for your health, and how to navigate the Bristol Stool Scale, to shed some more insight on what your movements actually mean.

2. Reflux & Heartburn

Resting at the other end of the gastrointestinal tract (GIT) is our esophagus, and there are a few issues that can be another indication that something isn’t sitting right with our digestive system. Primarily, these are often reflux or heartburn, coupled with excessive burping in some instances. These symptoms can be caused by a number of digestive issues, ranging from simple food intolerances to bacteria overgrowths or stomach ulcers. If you’re experiencing persistent reflux or heartburn, start by first noticing any patterns with your triggers, and if removing these triggers is unsuccessful, like always, I recommend consulting with a qualified practitioner.

3. Bloating, Cramping & Uncomfortable Gases

Bloating happens when your GIT fills with gases, oftentimes caused by something as simple as a chemical reaction to the food you eat. Common occurrences include both lactose and gluten intolerances, as the digestive system lacks all the tools it needs to break down these foods efficiently. Many allergies and intolerances will also lead to cramping as the tissues in your abdomen struggle to deal with the food that has been put into it, however cramping may also be indicative of conditions such as IBS or gastritis.

4. Changes In Appetite

Much like other aspects of our digestive system, our body will often come to understand what normal looks like. You are the most qualified person to talk about your normal eating habits and patterns, the foods that make you feel good, and those that bring you down. And just as you know what’s normal, it’s good to check-in and ask yourself if there have been any changes of late? This might mean the size and frequency of meals, changes in how your body responds to a certain food, or even skipping meals altogether. These changes could be for any number of reasons, ranging from a shift in our energy expenditure levels to binge eating disorder, or perhaps an underlying chronic illness. So once you begin to identify these changes, whether they’re long-term or just temporary, seek out the protocol best suited to helping you figure out why these are occurring – just to be on the safe side.

5. Malabsorption Of Nutrients

Unless you’ve got a pathology lab in your attic, this can be a little more difficult to diagnose. And as a full disclaimer, Food Matters always recommends you do diagnose and begin treatment plans with a licensed practitioner that works for you. However, some examples of instances include difficulty absorbing iron due to a multitude of underlying causes, or damage caused to the intestines by an autoimmune condition like celiac disease. But the main takeaway is any ongoing malabsorption issues indicate your body may need a deep reset before rebuilding your digestion.

While the causes for your digestive concerns will vary from person to person, there’s one protocol we always suggest for a total reset before taking more extreme measures. A gentle detox is one way to give the digestive system a much-needed rest and reset from life’s daily stressors – including any aggravating foods.

1192508928 Image credit: TravelCouples / Getty Images.

Contrary to what many believe, a study finds that weight management is not more difficult for older adults.

While people often assume that losing weight is harder later in life, a new study concludes that this is not so. The research offers encouragement for older adults hoping to reap the health benefits of maintaining a healthy weight.

In an obesity program conducted at a hospital in the United Kingdom, weight loss was unaffected by age, with statistically equivalent results for people younger and older than 60.

Senior study author Dr. Thomas Barber, the scientific lead of the Human Metabolism Research Unit at the Warwick Medical School, in the U.K., explains that for people whose health would benefit from weight loss:

“Weight loss is important at any age, but as we get older, we’re more likely to develop the weight-related comorbidities of obesity. Many of these are similar to the effects of aging, so you could argue that the relevance of weight loss becomes heightened as we get older, and this is something that we should embrace.”

The study’s authors write that weight loss may help older individuals address more than 50 comorbidities common with age, including diabetes, osteoarthritis, and mood disorders such as anxiety and depression. Increased mortality and a general lack of well-being in older adults are also associated with obesity.

The results of the new study appear in Clinical Endocrinology.

Staying healthy as we age

“There are a number of reasons why people may discount weight loss in older people,” says Dr. Barber. “These include an ‘ageist’ perspective that weight loss is not relevant to older people and misconceptions of reduced ability of older people to lose weight through dietary modification and increased exercise.”

The study provides evidence that weight loss programs administered by medical professionals, in particular, have value.

“Older people may feel that hospital-based obesity services are not for them,” Dr. Barber acknowledges. Nonetheless, he suggests, “Service providers and policymakers should appreciate the importance of weight loss in older people with obesity for the maintenance of health and well-being and the facilitation of healthy aging.”

The study shows, Dr. Barber says, that “Age, per se, should not contribute towards clinical decisions regarding the implementation of lifestyle management [in] older people.”

The research

The team analyzed the medical records of 242 randomly selected people who had participated in the obesity service offered by the Warwickshire Institute for the Study of Diabetes, Endocrinology, and Metabolism (WISDEM) program between 2005 and 2016.

The researchers divided the cohort into two groups: people under 60 and people aged 60–78. All participants had morbid obesity at the outset, with BMI measurements over 40. The analysis compared weight loss outcomes in the two groups.

Participants in the program managed their weight with dietary changes and more exercise, and medical professionals had customized the program for each individual’s needs. Psychological support and encouragement were also provided.

The researchers took weight measurements before and after participation in the WISDEM program.

While the older group spent slightly less time in the program — 33.6 months as opposed to 41.5 months — weight loss in both groups was statistically equivalent.

People in the older group lost an average of 7.3% of their body weight, while those in the under-60 group lost 6.9%.

Never too late

Given the health benefits that can result from weight management in people of any age with obesity and especially those who are already experiencing age-related health issues, Dr. Barber concludes:

“Age should be no barrier to lifestyle management of obesity. Rather than putting up barriers to older people accessing weight loss programs, we should be proactively facilitating that process. To do otherwise would risk further and unnecessary neglect of older people through societal ageist misconceptions.”

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For people who may wish to lose weight, plant-based diets could be the best solution thanks to the way in which they influence metabolism.

That is the takeaway from a recent study published in the JAMA Network Open.

According to the research results, switching to a low fat, plant-based diet could boost the body’s metabolism enough to burn excess weight and fat — even without vigorous exercise.

Researchers with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) partnered with Dr. Kitt Petersen and Dr. Gerald Shulman of Yale University. Together, they conducted a 16-week trial where participants in the intervention group adopted a low fat, vegan diet.

The study team hoped to find the full impact of a low fat, vegan diet. Could it improve metabolism, reduce visceral fat, and aid in significant weight loss?

Initially, 3,115 people responded to the flyers distributed by the research team. Of these, 244 met the criteria for participation in the study.

Eligible study participants had overweight, with body mass indexes ranging between 28 and 40, and were aged 25–75.

Researchers randomly split the study participants into two groups. The first group followed a 4-month-long low fat, vegan diet, eating fruits, vegetables, pulses, and grains in serving sizes comparable to what they ordinarily consumed at mealtimes. The second group, functioning as the control group, did not change their dietary habits.

Members of both groups curbed their daily alcohol consumption for the duration of the study. Women could drink a single alcoholic beverage daily, while men could have up to two drinks per day. Neither group began an exercise routine or deviated from any existing physical habits during the 16-week trial.

Study outcome and implications

Researchers took measurements at the beginning and end of the trial. By the end of the study, the plant-based diet group averaged an 18.7% increase in their after-meal calorie burn. They also saw an average weight loss of about 14 pounds (lb).

Additionally, the vegan diet group experienced a decrease in insulin resistance and a reduction in body fat. Crucially, this group saw a significant loss of visceral fat, the more detrimental type of fat that gets stored around the internal organs.

By contrast, the control group experienced no significant loss of weight or reduction in body fat. After comparing the two groups, it was clear to researchers that the low fat, vegan diet had a measurable impact on the weight and health of the intervention group.

Lead study author Dr. Hana Kahleova, director of clinical research at the PCRM, considers the results “groundbreaking for the 160 million Americans struggling with overweight and obesity.”

She adds, “Over the course of years and decades, burning more calories after every meal can make a significant difference in weight management.”

Findings back up existing research

These findings are consistent with a number of previous studies that have shown plant-based diets to be associated with reduced excess body fat. As reviewed recently by Rami S. Najjar and Rafaela G. Feresin in Nutrient:

“Plant-based diets can reduce body fat […] [and] cumulatively lead to reduced calorie intake and increased energy expenditure.”

It is worth noting that the PCRM and Yale University researchers focused on people without a history of diabetes. The pool of participants also skewed heavily toward one gender, with females constituting 86% of all participants.

Additional research might be needed for those already experiencing related health issues, or with a more balanced group of participants.

Still, there is enough existing research to suggest that no matter a person’s current diabetes status, their health outcomes could improve through following a diet mainly consisting of fruits and vegetables.

At least one participant in the clinical study decided to make a permanent change to his lifestyle. Sam T., who lost 34 lb during the 4-month study, continued with the plant-based diet. He reached his goal weight and began partaking in half-marathons and marathons.

660578615 Design by Diego Sabogal

Although obesity is common, there are many misconceptions associated with it — and these myths often fuel social stigma. In this edition of Medical Myths, we tackle five of the most common misunderstandings about obesity.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in the United States, 42.4% of adults have obesity. Globally, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimate that around 650 million adults have obesity.

People are growing increasingly aware of the health issues associated with obesity. However, despite public health campaigns, myths continue unabated. Many of the most common myths drive stigma that can impact the mental health of people with obesity.

For instance, the results of one 2020 meta-analysis on the subject indicate “a stronger association between weight stigma and diminished mental health with increasing body mass index [BMI].”

Addressing the myths that surround obesity is important. With this in mind, this article will tackle five of the most prevalent misunderstandings around this condition.

1. To reduce obesity, just eat less and move more

In many cases, consuming more calories than the body needs for a prolonged amount of time is the direct cause of obesity. Indeed, the vast majority of measures for reducing obesity aim to lower caloric intake, increase physical activity, or both.

Although diet and exercise are important factors, several unrelated factors can also play a significant part in obesity.

These factors, which people often forget about, include insufficient sleep, psychological stress, chronic pain, endocrine (hormone) disruptors, and the use of certain medications.

In these cases, overeating, for instance, may be a symptom rather than a cause.

Also, some of these factors work together to increase the chance of obesity. As an example, stress can increase the chance of obesity. Due to the prevalence of weight stigma, obesity can be stressful for some people, thereby increasing stress levels and sparking a negative feedback loop.

Added to this, stress can impact sleep quality, and this, in turn, might cause sleep deprivation, which is another factor in the development of obesity. Sleep deprivation also appears to increase stress levels. As one paper explains, “stress hormone levels correlate positively with decreased sleep duration.”

Sleep apnea, wherein a person stops breathing for short periods during sleep, is more prevalent in people with overweight or obesity. Again, a cycle can form: As they gain weight, their sleep apnea may worsen, which can lead to sleep deprivation, which can lead to further weight gain.

As another example, there appears to be an association between chronic pain and obesity. The reasons for this relationship are sure to be complex and differ from person to person, but they likely include chemical factors, sleep, depression, and lifestyle.

It is not difficult to see how chronic pain would both increase stress levels and impact sleep, adding to the negative loops outlined above.

Stress, sleep, and pain are just three interlinking factors that can drive obesity. Each person’s case will be different, but simply receiving an instruction to “move more and eat less” might not be an adequate intervention.

As this article will continue to reiterate, calorie intake and exercise are vital factors in reducing obesity, but they do not tell the whole tale.

2. Obesity causes diabetes

Obesity does not directly cause diabetes. It is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes, but not everyone with obesity will develop type 2 diabetes, and not everyone with type 2 diabetes has obesity.

Obesity is also a risk factor for gestational diabetes, which occurs during pregnancy, but it is not a risk factor for type 1 diabetes.powered by Rubicon Project

3. People with obesity are lazy

An inactive lifestyle is a factor in obesity, and becoming more active can aid weight loss, but there is more to obesity than inactivity.

One 2011 study used accelerometers to measure the activity levels of 2,832 adults, aged 20–79 years, for 4 days. Their step counts reduced as their weight increased, but the differences were not as significant as one might predict, particularly for women.

The list below shows the women’s weights and how many steps they took per day during this study:

  • those with a “healthy” weight: 8,819 steps
  • those with overweight: 8,506 steps
  • those with obesity: 7,546 steps

When one considers that someone with overweight or obesity expends more energy with each step, the difference between the groups’ overall energy expenditures may be even more slight.

This does not mean that physical activity is not essential for good health, but the story is more complex.

Another factor to consider is that not all people are able to perform physical activity. For instance, some physical disabilities can make moving challenging or impossible.

Also, certain mental health issues can severely impact motivation — and there appears to be a relationship between depression and obesity, which further deepens the complexity.

Aside from physical and mental health issues, some people with obesity may also have a negative body image, which might make leaving their home a more daunting prospect.

4. If your close relatives have obesity, so will you

The relationship between obesity and genetics is complex, but someone whose relatives have obesity will not necessarily develop the condition themselves. However, their chance of doing so is higher.

Understanding the role of genes and the environment in isolation is difficult; people who share similar genes often live together and, therefore, may have similar dietary and lifestyle habits.

In 1990, a group of researchers published a study that helped split genes from the environment. The results appeared in The New England Journal of Medicine.

The scientists investigated twins who had been brought up apart and compared them with twins who had been brought up together. In this way, they hoped to tease apart the impact of genetics and the environment. Overall, they conclude:

“[G]enetic influences on [BMI] are substantial, whereas the childhood environment has little or no influence.”

One twin study from 1986 reached similar conclusions. The researchers found that the weights of adopted children correlated with the weights of their biological parents, but not with those of their adoptive parents.

Although more recent studies have identified a more significant role for the environment, genetics do appear to play an important part in obesity.

In recent years, scientists have searched for the genes that influence the chance of obesity. As the CDC explain, in most people with obesity, “no single genetic cause can be identified. Since 2006, genome-wide association studies have found more than 50 genes associated with obesity, most with very small effects.”

One gene that is linked to obesity is a variant of a gene called FTO. This variant, according to one 2011 study, is associated with a 20–30% increased chance of obesity.

Although genetics are important, this does not mean that obesity is inevitable for someone whose relatives have the condition. The above study, which involved individuals with the FTO gene variant, looked at the role of exercise. As the paper explains:

“Using data from over 218,000 adults, the authors found that carrying a copy of the susceptibility gene increased the odds of obesity by 1.23-fold. But the size of this influence was 27% less in the genetically susceptible adults who were physically active.”

review and meta-analysis that investigated the same gene variant came to a similar conclusion. The authors explain that people with the FTO variant “respond equally well to […] weight loss interventions and thus genetic predisposition to obesity associated with the FTO minor allele can be at least partly counteracted through such interventions.”

However, it is important to reiterate the point that these interventions alone may not be helpful for some people.

5. Obesity does not impact health

This is a myth. There are several conditions associated with obesity. For instance, obesity increases the risk of diabetes, high blood pressurecardiovascular diseaseosteoarthritis, sleep apnea, and some mental health conditions.

That said, even modest weight loss can provide health benefits. According to the CDC, “weight loss of 5–10% of your total body weight is likely to produce health benefits, such as improvements in blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and blood sugars.”

Also, a review of existing literature in the BMJ concludes that weight loss interventions “may reduce premature all-cause mortality in adults with obesity.”

Obesity is highly prevalent. Currently, the stigma surrounding the condition is unhelpful and can be damaging. We need to address it whenever we encounter it.

More than four billion people could be overweight by 2050, with 1.5 billion of them obese, if the current global dietary trend towards processed foods continues, a first-of-its-kind study predicted Wednesday.

Warning of a health and environmental crisis of “mind-blowing magnitude”, experts from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) said that global food demand would leap 50 percent by mid-century, pushing past Earth’s capacity to sustain nature.

Food production already hoovers up three-quarters of the world’s freshwater and one-third of its land — and accounts for up to a third of greenhouse gas emissions.

Providing a long-term overview of changing global eating habits between 1965 and 2100, the researchers used an open-source model to forecast how food demand would respond to a variety of factors such as population growth, ageing, growing body masses, declining physical activity and increased food waste.

They found that “business as usual” — a continuation of current trends — will likely see more than four billion people, or 45 percent of the world’s population, overweight by 2050.

The model predicted that 16 percent would be obese, compared with nine percent currently among the 29 percent of the population who are overweight.

“The increasing waste of food and the rising consumption of animal protein mean that the environmental impact of our agricultural system will spiral out of control,” said Benjamin Bodirsky, lead author of the study published in Nature Scientific Reports.

“Whether greenhouse gasses, nitrogen pollution or deforestation: we are pushing the limits of our planet — and exceeding them.”

While trends vary between regions, the authors said that global eating habits were moving away from plant- and starch-based diets to more “affluent diets high in sugar, fat, and animal-source foods, featuring highly-processed food products”.

At the same time, the study found that as a result of increasing inequality along with food waste and loss — food that is produced but not consumed due to lack of storage or overbuying — around half a billion people will still be undernourished by mid-century.

“There is enough food in the world — the problem is that the poorest people on our planet have simply not the income to purchase it,” said co-author Prajal Pradhan.

“And in rich countries, people don’t feel the economic and environmental consequences of wasting food.”

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned in a special report last year that humanity will face increasingly painful trade-offs between food security and rising temperatures within decades unless emissions are curbed and unsustainable farming and deforestation are halted.