In yet another attempt to bring us closer to understanding obesity and developing good solutions to the epidemic, Edmonton's Mazankowski Heart Institute recently announced $250 000 for new obesity research. Perhaps it will bring something new and vital to our understanding of the problem. Perhaps.
What it will do for sure is create work for scientists and generate more data when what we may need more than anything is to look at the existing data with fresh eyes.
Don't get me wrong: I know that the obesity epidemic needs stemming, and I'm sympathetic to the challenges. I live with insulin resistance, that metabolic syndrome in which insulin does a poor job of delivering energy to our cells resulting in higher-than-normal levels of insulin production. Insulin, of course, signals fat storage. Believe me, I know that managing weight can be difficult.
But perhaps instead of growing the endless and now-enormous body of data we could start by revisiting, rethinking and actually reporting what we already know.
A quick check with some of my favourite experts on the topic—Drs. Michael and Mary Dan Eades, Nora T. Gedgaudas, and Dr. John Briffa—yielded the following, generally not included in our discussions of obesity.
Aside from the insulin connection and our love affair with fruit juices, convenience foods, low-fat muffins, Honey Nut Cheerios, beer and the like, there is a strong magnesium connection. The debate about whether magnesium deficiencies cause elevated insulin or vice versa is ongoing, but one thing is clear: both conditions are exceedingly common, and both need to be corrected if we're going to be thin and strong and well.
Why are we magnesium deficient? One reason is the dairy lobby and our high calcium intake—the two minerals need to be in balance. Another is that in the face of elevated insulin (estimated by many to be present over half of us), the kidneys waste magnesium. And finally, our high consumption of grains, nuts and seeds that we've neither soaked nor sprouted depletes magnesium.
Grains, nuts and seeds carefully guard the riches contained within them via their phytic acid content. Phytic acid hinders enzyme activity in our digestive systems, blocking nutrient absorption. It also bonds with magnesium and other minerals in our bodies, depleting our own stores. Soaking and sprouting minimizes or eliminates phytic acid.
The other rarely mentioned obesity factor is vitamin D deficiency. Deficiency results in high insulin levels and insulin resistance, research by K.C.R. Baynes and colleagues found over a decade ago. And many researchers are now saying we need as much as 10 times more than recommended daily allowances of vitamin D.
Sunlight, our best source of vitamin D, stimulates our thyroid glands and increases the production of testosterone, growth hormone and adrenal hormones, all of which play key roles in metabolic rate, muscle strength and body weight.
Why the rampant vitamin D deficiencies? We live indoors. We soak in sunscreen. We need fat to absorb the fat-soluble vitamin D from food sources, but we eat low-fat food. We get our eggs from grain-fed chickens, which have just a fraction the vitamin D content of free-range ones.
So get outside, and if you live in the frozen north like I do, take your fish oils in the winter months. Buy your eggs and meats from those who farm in the traditions of their parents and grandparents. Lose the low-fat yogurt and crackers.
Why are these key nutritional factors so rarely included in our discussions of the obesity epidemic? The meat and dairy industry, for one, isn't keen to have us know about them. Neither is the low-fat heart-friendly food industry. The research industry likes the money it gets from taxpayers desperate for answers, taxpayers who have forgotten that for all the billions we put into medical science, we have few cures for what ails us.
We're bent toward trusting those who say they'll solve the problem for us. Corporations have never done a particularly good job of taking care of us, but we're bent toward magical thinking. We want someone else to fix it. And we'd rather not pay more for our food and work harder to prepare it. V