metabolism

  1. Rethinking the grapefruit diet

    Nearly everyone's heard of the grapefruit diet. It's a short-term approach to weight loss (low carb, healthy proteins) with one unique feature. For 12 days you're supposed to eat a serving of grapefruit with every meal. It appears that by adding grapefruit to a protein-based meal, your metabolism gets kicked into overdrive.

    This diet's a quick fix and it's really for those folks looking to drop a few pounds quickly. But I've always had a hunch that there's something worthwhile about this diet just waiting to be discovered. Sure -- grapefruit is healthy. It's packed with vitamins. But why does adding it to your diet seem to spur on weight loss?

    Well -- a new study published in the medical journal Diabetes zeroed in on one secret ingredient in grapefruit responsible for that sudden boost in metabolism.

    More than just an antioxidant
    Grapefruits contain a type of flavonoid called naringenin. It's basically an antioxidant that seeks and destroys free radicals (those nasty agents that promote cancer). But as followers of the grapefruit diet can tell you, naringenin also boosts your metabolism.

    In fact, the new Canadian study examined exactly how naringenin works and why it promotes weight loss. Scientists divided healthy mice with normal body weight into four groups. They fed one group a normal, healthy diet. The second group received a high-fat, high-calorie diet. The third and fourth groups received a high-fat, high-calorie diet along with a naringenin supplement.

    After just four weeks, the mice on the high-fat, high-calorie diet became obese. In addition, they became insulin and glucose intolerant.

    On the other hand, the two groups who received the naringenin supplement fared much better. Despite the same high-fat, high-calorie diet, these mice didn't gain weight like their counterparts. In addition, the naringenin mice didn't develop key health factors linked to Metabolic Syndrome.

    What's Metabolic Syndrome?
    Sometimes called "Syndrome X," it's when you have significant fat around your belly as well as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and insulin resistance. According to some published reports, as many as 40 percent of adults over age 60 have Metabolic Syndrome. And many experts believe that once you've got it, you also significantly increase your risk of suffering diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.

    But the mice taking naringenin didn't get metabolic syndrome. In fact, they lowered their triglyceride and cholesterol levels. They also continued to metabolize glucose normally and they never developed a resistance to insulin.

    So how did naringenin work such magic? Did it block the absorption of the fat? Did it suppress the appetite?

    Well, in fact, none of the above. The naringenin mice never absorbed the fat because their livers got kicked into high gear and flushed out what they didn't need for energy.

    Words of caution
    Now -- before you go off and start eating grapefruit with every meal, there are a few things you need to know:

    1. First off, this study involved mice. As a general rule, I don't put a whole lot of stock into a study's findings if it's only proven to work on mice. Scientists still have a long way to go to prove that naringenin works the same magic in humans. But given what we already know about grapefruit, I've got a pretty good hunch that scientists will eventually find that this powerful antioxidant does have a positive affect on human metabolism.

    2. Secondly, the mice didn't drink grapefruit juice every day. They took naringenin extracts. So it's tricky to determine how much you or I would need to get the same benefits of naringenin. According to the study authors, you'd have to drink roughly six to eight glasses of grapefruit juice a day to get the equivalent to what the mice took. And that's a lot of grapefruit juice. It's probably a better option to take a grapefruit juice capsule, like the mice did. But they're hard to find.

    3. Thirdly, grapefruit juice is pretty powerful stuff. In fact, it blocks the absorption of certain types of drugs, like statin drugs and calcium channel blockers. (Unfortunately, men and women taking these drugs are the ones most likely to benefit from naringenin.) So make sure to consult with your doctor before adding naringenin to your diet, especially if you take any type of prescription drug.

    4. Lastly, be sure to add a good probiotic capsule before meals if you begin a naringenin regimen or start eating grapefruit regularly. As I said before, grapefruit juice is pretty powerful stuff and can be hard to digest. But the probiotic will help regulate your digestion and soothe your stomach.

  2. Will drinking white wine help shrink your pant size?

    By now, most of us have heard about the cardiovascular benefits of drinking red wine. But white wines—like Chardonnay—have always taken a backseat to their healthier counterparts. Until now, that is.

    Actually, drinking a glass of Chardonnay isn’t going to do much for your overall health. But eating the seeds from the Chardonnay grape just might.

    Let me explain…

    Chardonnay grape seeds contain powerful polyphenols. These substances basically patrol your body, zapping any free radicals they find. Free radicals are harmful molecules that can cause disease, especially cancer, in the body. (In January 15, 2009’s Guide to Good Health, we discussed how grape seed extract can zap 76 percent of leukemia cells literally overnight. To read that article, simply visit this link: http://www.northstarnutritionals.com/article_list.php?docs_id=91.)

    Naturally boost your metabolism

    Turns out the polyphenols in Chardonnay grape seeds may also help the body regulate its metabolism, even prevent obesity.

    In recent lab testing, scientists at the University of Montpellier wanted to see if grape seed extract could prevent weight gain in hamsters. Test subjects were divided into three groups:

    1. Subjects fed a normal diet
    2. Subjects fed a high-fat diet
    3. Subjects fed a high-fat diet but supplemented with the grape seed extract

    Not surprisingly, after 12 weeks the test subjects fed a normal diet maintained a healthy weight. Subjects on the high-fat diet gained abdominal fat. These hamsters also experienced spikes in blood sugar, triglycerides, insulin and insulin resistance.

    And what about the grape seed group? Could they keep off the fat?

    The grape seed group did keep off the fat! Despite receiving a high-fat diet, they did not increase their abdominal fat.

    So, how did they eat more fat without gaining, you ask?

    It appears that Chardonnay grape seeds somehow “turned off” the body’s “switch” to retain fat. In fact, the high-fat/grape seed hamsters had 61 percent more adiponectin in their blood than their high-fat alone counterparts. Adiponectin is inversely related to body fat. The more adiponectin your body produces, the less fat you collect.

    Plus, the news just kept getting better for the grape seed group. They experienced improvements in several key markers of good health.

    Insulinemia (abnormally high insulin in the blood) decreased by 16.5 percent in the high-fat/grape seed group. Leptinemia (a marker for diabetes) decreased by 45 percent. The researchers also noted lowered glycemia and insulin resistance values among the high-fat/grape seed group.

    Lastly, the high-fat/grape seed group experienced significant drops in two measures of oxidative stress. (Oxidative stress contributes directly to the formation of free radicals in the body.)

    But as an antioxidant, the grape seed extract seems to counteract oxidative stress in the test subjects. Production of NAD(P)H dropped by 30 percent and superoxide anion dropped by a whopping 74 percent.

    This is good news, as unchecked oxidative stress has been linked to everything from premature aging to cancer to Alzheimer’s disease.

    Stay the course

    Now—I’m not saying that this study gives you carte blanche to eat a high fat-diet. From my point of view, it’s just another tool to put into your toolbox if you’re concerned about maintaining a healthy weight.

    And remember—so far it’s only been shown to work on hamsters. Scientists have a long way to go before proving this stuff works on you and me. But if you want to give it a try (under the care of a naturopath, of course), I would recommend taking 200 mg per day. It’s pretty easy (and cheap) to find.

    If you want to shrink your pant size, give some grape seed extract a try. Not only is it a great antioxidant, it just may help you lose a pound or two.

  3. Sugar: The white villain in your diet

    Even if you avoid most sweets, the food industry sneaks sugar in to just about everything on the shelves these days. Just take a look at your favorite whole wheat bread. Chances are, it’s got high fructose corn syrup in it. (This stuff is still sugar. I think of it as sugar on steroids.) Sugar is bad news, no matter how you slice it. When it enters your blood stream, your body goes into overdrive trying to get rid of the stuff. Your pancreas releases insulin to help get rid of it. Eventually, it’s converted into glucose and used up by the body as energy (or stored as fat). But when you eat lots of refined sugar (or carbs)—such as a white bagel, a soda, or a bowl of cereal—your body goes into overdrive. It starts releasing lots and lots of insulin to deal with the sugar. As a result, your blood sugar drops way too fast and goes way too low. By this point, you may start to feel low after your sugar “high” (headaches, fatigue, etc). Plus, because your blood sugar dropped so low, so fast, you may feel cravings for more sugar. Over time, your body gets addicted. The ticking time bomb Say it’s your birthday and you treat yourself to a big slice of chocolate cake. But you’ve already spent years honing quite a sweet tooth. When your body receives the signal to respond to the chocolate cake, the party’s already over. Your pancreas has called it quits. It doesn’t produce the insulin (or can’t produce enough). So your blood sugar stays high…and voila…you have type II diabetes. But you’re not alone. Today, almost 24 million Americans have got it. Reversing the damage The good news is…you can prevent and even reverse type II diabetes. The key is to control your sugar and carb (which turns into sugar in the body) intake. In 2003, researchers at Duke University Medical Center examined the effects of a low-carb diet on blood sugar in diabetics. They found that 95 percent of patients who followed a low-carb diet either reduced their need for insulin or discontinued it all together after 24 weeks. I recently read another study about how you can help your body cope with type II diabetes. Researchers at Harvard studied the effects of taking the mineral zinc on women between the ages 33 and 60. A trace mineral found in the body, zinc helps maintain a healthy immune system. It keeps your skin and hair glowing. And it also influences your cognitive and muscle functioning. Researchers analyzed nutritional data documenting the women’s zinc intake over a 24-year period. They found that high amounts of zinc reduced a woman’s likelihood of developing diabetes by up to 28 percent. This is a pretty recent study, so I’m sure one with men is probably in the works. I would gamble that zinc performs equally well for men, if not better given the male metabolism. Unfortunately, the scientists could not zero in on the mechanism that caused this drop in diabetes risk. More research is needed here as well. But the data certainly makes the case for getting more zinc into your diet if you’re at risk for developing type II diabetes. (Interestingly, though not surprisingly, we know that sugar uses up all the zinc stored in our tissues. So if you’ve got a lot of sugar in your diet, it’s not surprising that you’d have low zinc stores as well. And since zinc is vital for healthy skin, it’s also not surprising that a sugar junkie probably doesn’t have a healthy glow.) Getting more zinc You’ve got to get rid of the straight sugar in your diet. That’s a no brainer. But whole grains may still work for anyone who’s yet to develop full-fledged diabetes. Here’s why… Whole grain foods contain lots of good nutrients, like zinc. And, whole grains get metabolized much slower than refined flour products. So you’re much less likely to incite an insulin invasion. My advice? Throw out all the refined flour products in your cabinet. (Refined flour products remove all the healthy nutrients, including zinc.) Keep only the real whole grain breads, crackers, pasta, and cereals. You’ll have to become a serious reader of the ingredients list. Look for whole grains such as “wheat” as the first ingredient. And make sure the products don’t contain “high-fructose corn syrup.” As a final note, you’ll find zinc in any good multivitamin. But I’d also recommend taking 50 to 100 additional mg of zinc per day, especially if you’re concerned about your blood sugar. Go for zinc in the chelated form or as zinc picolinate. Also, zinc can deplete your stores of copper. So you’ll also want to take roughly 1 milligram of copper for every 15 milligrams of zinc as a precaution. But don’t get carried away. Zinc by itself is nontoxic within these limits. But one study that I know of has linked high doses of zinc over 10 years to an increased risk of prostate cancer.

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