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How Exercise Changes Fat and Muscle Cells

Gretchen Reynolds on the science of fitness.

 Exercise promotes health, reducing most people’s risks of developing diabetes and growing obese. But just how, at a cellular level, exercise performs this beneficial magic — what physiological steps are involved and in what order — remains mysterious to a surprising degree.

Several striking new studies, however, provide some clarity by showing that exercise seems able to drastically alter how genes operate.

Genes are, of course, not static. They turn on or off, depending on what biochemical signals they receive from elsewhere in the body. When they are turned on, genes express various proteins that, in turn, prompt a range of physiological actions in the body.

One powerful means of affecting gene activity involves a process called methylation, in which methyl groups, a cluster of carbon and hydrogen atoms, attach to the outside of a gene and make it easier or harder for that gene to receive and respond to messages from the body. In this way, the behavior of the gene is changed, but not the fundamental structure of the gene itself. Remarkably, these methylation patterns can be passed on to offspring – a phenomenon known as epigenetics.

What is particularly fascinating about the methylation process is that it seems to be driven largely by how you live your life. Many recent studies have found that diet, for instance, notably affects the methylation of genes, and scientists working in this area suspect that differing genetic methylation patterns resulting from differing diets may partly determine whether someone develops diabetes and other metabolic diseases.

But the role of physical activity in gene methylation has been poorly understood, even though exercise, like diet, greatly changes the body. So several groups of scientists recently set out to determine what working out does to the exterior of our genes.

The answer, their recently published results show, is plenty.

Of the new studies, perhaps the most tantalizing, conducted principally by researchers affiliated with the Lund University Diabetes Centre in Sweden and published last month in PLoS One, began by recruiting several dozen sedentary but generally healthy adult Swedish men and sucking out some of their fat cells. Using recently developed molecular techniques, the researchers mapped the existing methylation patterns on the DNA within those cells. They also measured the men’s body composition, aerobic capacity, waist circumference, blood pressure, cholesterol levels and similar markers of health and fitness.

Then they asked the men to start working out. Under the guidance of a trainer, the volunteers began attending hourlong spinning or aerobics classes approximately twice a week for six months. By the end of that time, the men had shed fat and inches around their waists, increased their endurance and improved their blood pressure and cholesterol profiles.

Less obviously, but perhaps even more consequentially, they also had altered the methylation pattern of many of the genes in their fat cells. In fact, more than 17,900 individual locations on 7,663 separate genes in the fat cells now displayed changed methylation patterns. In most cases, the genes had become more methylated, but some had fewer methyl groups attached. Both situations affect how those genes express proteins.

The genes showing the greatest change in methylation also tended to be those that had been previously identified as playing some role in fat storage and the risk for developing diabetes or obesity.

“Our data suggest that exercise may affect the risk for Type 2 diabetes and obesity by changing DNA methylation of those genes,” says Charlotte Ling, an associate professor at Lund University and senior author of the study.

Meanwhile, other studies have found that exercise has an equally profound effect on DNA methylation within human muscle cells, even after a single workout.

To reach that conclusion, scientists from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm and other institutions took muscle biopsies from a group of sedentary men and women and mapped their muscle cell’s methylation patterns. They then had the volunteers ride stationary bicycles until they had burned about 400 calories. Some rode strenuously, others more easily.

Afterward, a second muscle biopsy showed that DNA methylation patterns in the muscle cells were already changing after that lone workout, with some genes gaining methyl groups and some losing them. Several of the genes most altered, as in the fat cell study, are known to produce proteins that affect the body’s metabolism, including the risk for diabetes and obesity.

Interestingly, the muscle cell methylation changes were far more pronounced among the volunteers who had ridden vigorously than in those who had pedaled more gently, even though their total energy output was the same.

The overarching implication of the study’s findings, says Juleen Zierath, a professor of integrative physiology at the Karolinska Institute and senior author of the study, is that DNA methylation changes are probably “one of the earliest adaptations to exercise” and drive the bodily changes that follow.

Of course, the intricacies of that bogglingly complex process have yet to be fully teased out. Scientists do not know, for instance, whether exercise-induced methylation changes linger if someone becomes sedentary, or if resistance training has similar effects on the behavior of genes. Nor is it known whether these changes might be passed on from one generation to the next. But already it is clear, Dr. Ling says, that these new findings “are additional proof of the robust effect exercise can have on the human body, even at the level of our DNA.”

As originally published in New York Times

Diet Cola Aging Effects: Making You Fat and Age Faster

Diet cola aging effects counter the fact that they have long been regarded as the dieter’s friend – but one-calorie fizzy drinks may actually be the reason you can’t shift that stubborn spare tyre.

Some health experts now believe the chemicals in the drink could actually be causing your body to lay down fat deposits around your middle – dubbed ‘diet cola belly’.

And that’s not all: some experts also believe diet cola’s mix of carbonated water, colourings and sweeteners such as aspartame and acesulfame K could also speed up the ageing process, and have disastrous health consequences.

Diet cola is NOT going to help you lose weight, say health experts - and it could even cause wrinkles

Diet cola is NOT going to help you lose weight, say health experts – and it could even cause wrinkles

Hoards of nutritionists and scientists now claim diet cola’s image as a ‘healthy’ alternative to the nine-teaspoons-of sugar, regular variety of the fizzy drink is wholly misplaced.


The fructose, artificial sweeteners, and sugar alcohols (another type of low-calorie sweetener) present in diet colas can all interfere with natural gut bacteria, according to Amanda Payne of Switzerland’s Institute of Food, Nutrition and Health which published a paper in the journal Obesity Reviews.

Diet cola could be causing fat deposits around your middle, say health experts

Diet cola could be causing fat deposits around your middle, say health experts.

This messes up your metabolism and disrupts the body’s way of signaling to you that you’re full and satisfied.

As a consequence, the body pumps out insulin, the hormone that controls sugar levels and fat storage, so that you lay down what Toribio-Mateas calls ‘diet cola belly in the form of more fat around the midriff’ – just where you wanted to shed fat.

In addition to this: ‘The fake sugars in the drink are hundreds of times sweeter than sugar and trick your brain into thinking real sugar is on the way,’ says Toribio-Mateas. ‘When the calories don’t arrive, it triggers a cascading effect that interferes with hunger signals, blood sugar levels and satiety.’


Amanda Griggs, director of health and nutrition at the Balance Clinic in London, says: ‘phosphoric acid, the ingredient that gives diet cola its appealing tangy taste and the tingle you get when it is swallowed, can cause a host of problems’.

According to one, study, published in a 2010 issue of the FASEB Journal, it can even accelerate the ageing process.

It found that the excessive phosphate levels found in sodas caused lab rats to die a full five weeks earlier than the rats whose diets had more normal phosphate levels.

Diet cola no healthier than sugary alternatives, say some health experts
The chemicals in diet cola could be responsible for your spare tyre, say some experts

The excessive phosphate levels found in sodas caused lab rats to die a full five weeks earlier than the rats whose diets had more normal phosphate levels

Phosphoric acid has also been linked to lower bone density in some studies, including a discussion in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

In experiments at Harvard University, the mineral was found to make skin and muscles wither and to damage the heart and kidneys over time.

However, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a consumer watchdog group not affiliated with the food industry, only a small fraction of the phosphate in diets comes from additives in soft drinks. Most comes from meat and dairy products.


The phosphoric acid in cola drinks erodes away tooth enamel, and the coloring makes the root go dark brown

The phosphoric acid in cola drinks erodes away tooth enamel, and the coloring makes the root go dark brown

Sian Porter, spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association says diet colas may lack sugar, but the acidic nature of artificially sweetened fizzy varieties means they still attack tooth enamel.

‘It’s not just the sugary drinks that are causing teeth problems,’ says Porter. ‘Sugar raises the risk of decay, but diet drinks are equally acidic and can cause erosion in the same way.’


It has also been shown to raise the risk of type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure by some researchers. To add to the dire news for diet cola fans, results of a ten-year study found a link with cardiovascular disease among those who drank it every day; cola drinkers were found to be 43 per cent more likely to suffer a stroke or heart attack during a ten-year period than those who abstained.

Other studies have shown that the phosphorus released from phosphoric acid in just two fizzy drinks a week can cause calcium to be leached from bones, raising the risk of osteoporosis.

Cola (both diet and regular varieties) seems particularly damaging to the skeleton. Typically, a can of diet cola contains 44-62mg of phosphoric acid – more than in many other soft drinks – and researchers at Tufts University in Boston showed that women who regularly drank three or more cans a day had four per cent lower bone mineral density in their hips compared to those who preferred other soft drinks.

As originally published in the Mail Online.

Is Facebook Making Us All Fat?

Two months ago, Facebook hit its one billionth user. Is it coincidence that 1.4 billion adults are considered overweight by the World Health Organization?  Now that roughly 1/6th of the WORLD is eeriely connected through social media, what kind of toll is it taking on the physical and emotional health of our society?

It’s ironic, actually. Many of us venture into this virtual world every day because it gives us a sense of belonging, but new research shows that all this computer time we’re logging is actually making us feel more alienated and self-conscious. An article recently published in Psychology Today says this new fascination with constantly posting photos, videos and webcams is prompting an increase in self awareness, and that’s not great for any of us.

“These objects [photos, videos] cause us to view ourselves as we think others are viewing us.” Instead of living life, we’re becoming our own documentarians, but we’re skewing our own stories. By only posting flattering pictures, some with celebrities or influential people, or from fascinating places that make our “friends” green with envy, it’s only natural to start comparing our lives to society’s new standards, rather than focusing on our own, authentic selves. This is especially true for women, who, according to a new Swedish study, tend to feel less happy and content with their lives after prolonged Facebook usage.

Spending between 3-7 hours a day not only on Facebook, but Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest, when we could be working out or interacting with real human beings about the reality of the lives we are living, is a growing problem. A new study of 350 students from the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland found that the more time they spent on Facebook, the less time they spent exercising, with an increasing tendency to opt out of team sports.

A study out of the Michigan Cardiovascular Center (and countless others) goes so far as to blame the growing epidemic of obesity in young people on this new sedentary lifestyle. Duh. As the Internet gets even more mobile, there is a surge in the demand for treadmill desks, designed to get people out of their chairs and moving without missing even a Facebook post. But that still doesn’t do anything to alter the way we look at, or project ourselves. Whether you’re sitting or walking your way into cyber-space on any of the number of growing social media platforms, we’re starting to see that being voyeurs into other people’s more glamorous, fun and exciting lives is actually preventing us from living our own.

So, is it possible to keep your sanity and your Facebook profile? Here are 3 things to remember as you live more and more of your life online.

1. Pretending your life is perfect does not make it perfect. When you change your profile picture to the one that makes you look 15 pounds lighter, it does not make you 15 pounds lighter. Comments about how attractive you are do not make you more attractive. A study by the University of Stamford  found that when teen girls carefully select overly thin images of themselves to post on Facebook (or worse, many are even photoshopping their own pictures), it helps to perpetuate unhealthy and unrealistic appearance goals.

2. A Profile is Never the Whole Truth. College students who scroll through their Facebook feeds often are convinced their friends are leading far better lives than they are. That’s the bottom line from a new study titled “Misery has more company than people think”, which found that most people do not post the real truth about the lives they are living on their news feeds. Facebook has become more of a highlight reel when, in reality, life is more like a series of bloopers we don’t want anyone to know about! Remember that there is always more to the story than a picture from the beach or a check-in at a fancy club. While most of us have at least one over-sharer in our repertoire of “friends”, let’s not forget that these are the folks who are peeking enviously at your life, and not really living their own.

3. Social Media Breaks are Imperative for Good Health. As someone who loves social media and posts daily updates for many of my 20,000+ friends I haven’t yet met, shutting off the computer and getting out in nature helps me see the insanity that has become my busy life. Sometimes, you just need a weekend off from Facebook and Twitter to check in with your true self and stop thinking everyone else has it better than you do. Take Tammi Fuller: She’s an Emmy Award winning TV producer who created Campowerment, a weekend camp for stressed-out power people to “run away from home”, where computers and cellphones are banned and playing outside is required.

“An amazing thing happens when we can totally unplug and talk face to face, and come to realize that no one’s life is any easier than ours” says Fuller. “Most of our ‘campers’ tell us they didn’t think they could live without technology, or leave their families for 3 days, but something very strange happens when they do. As they unwind, they become calmer, more patient, and grateful for the lives they are living, warts and all.” Create your own “social rehab” for 48 hours once a month. Go to the park without sharing pictures of your kids, go out to dinner without snapping an Instagram of your meal. You may just find yourself living in the moment and enjoying every moment of it!

Here’s to a prosperous and fulfilling 2014!!


Originally published on Forbes

Are Grocery Store Chains Making You Fat?

With over 20 years of experience as a fitness trainer working with thousands of clients, and educating over 1000 trainers in the Houston area, I came to a simple conclusion that food companies and grocery store chains are one of the main reasons why America is obese and has a population that is over 70% overweight. They are contributing to over 500,000 deaths annually which are directly correlated with obesity and unhealthy lifestyle. I’m not trying to be dramatic, but I cannot help myself but to call this a crime against humanity. In many countries around the world, we accuse governments for killing far fewer people than our own food production and distribution at home.

Grocery stores and food companies are manipulating our foods so that our tasting palettes and our brains become addicted to them. Food designers are encouraged by food companies to produce food with a perfect blend to create a dependence on their product – in simple words, they’re turning us into food junkies! To top it off, grocery stores are encouraging us to buy unhealthy foods by whetting our appetites with samples; a study published in 2008 found that sampling food that tastes good enhances consumption of similar foods and may prompt people to seek other rewarding foods such as chocolate or other junk foods.

Every time I go to the grocery store, I notice something: there seems to be more and more processed foods and less and less natural foods. In 1970, there were about 700 unique food products to over 40,000 today, with processed foods accounting for most of the increase. Another observation I have is that the natural, healthy foods are hidden, unlike the processed, colorful junk food at the front of every aisle. Product placement is big money to grocery stores; studies have shown that unhealthy sweets and snack foods are commonly placed in checkout lines with the hope that they will buy impulsively, when are brains are most susceptible to it. And it works! Analysis shows that the average American woman eats more than 14,300 calories per year as a result of impulse purchases alone, while men consume 28,350 calories per year from impulse purchases. Which brings me to ask: Are grocery stores purposely making us fat? Consider this fact: 80% of all food items sold in grocery stores today did not exist ten years ago. Over the past 10 years, close to 10,000 new items have been introduced into supermarkets, with the majority of these items being packaged junk foods lacking nutrients due to over-processing.

If you do a simple google search for coupons right now, you would most likely see coupons solely for unhealthy, processed junk foods, which have the highest profit margin in stores. In an independent study of 1000 coupons from 6 national grocery chains, analysts found that 25% were for processed snack foods, candies, and desserts, 14% were for prepared meals, 12% were for beverages (half of which were high in sugar), 11% were for cereals, and only 3% offered discounts on fruit, 1% on unprocessed meats and <1% for fruits. John Hopkins School of Public Health founds that store sales and specials were usually directed towards food high in fats, sodium, carbohydrates, or a combination, This research is significant given that food prices are an important driver of what people eat.

Very often, grocery stores donate food to schools and students – and guess what – on multiple occasions, I personally witnessed the junk food they gave kids. But that’s not all – grocery store purposely market junk food to kids by placing them at their eye-level and using fictional media characters, which hold a strong influence on children, on the packaging of junk food. Researchers who examined nutrition labels of child-targeted products available at a U.S. grocer over the course of two years found that only 18% of products met the Institute of Medicine’s standards for nutritional quality of school foods, which is already fairly low.

Now let’s talk about the socio-economic impact of food buying. The location of the store heavily determines the quality of food found within – this applies to the amount of organic and natural food available to consumers. Regardless of the neighborhood, buyers are still paying a pretty penny for unhealthy products that could easily be replaced with more wholesome options – but the truth is, the profit margin on produce is significantly less than that of processed foods, and the grocery stores are more concerned with their bottom line than the health of their consumers.

But I’m not just here to criticize, I truly believe there are easy solutions to these issues so that big grocery store chains can play an important part in making the general population healthier. It would help if grocery stores not only promoted healthy, natural foods with more coupons, but also made these items more visible in store. They should begin showcasing healthier food companies and allow them to be more accessible, in addition to discriminating against foods that are making our children ill longterm. Grocery store chains are powerful companies with many employees, and I think that they should spend some of their resources to educate their employees on healthy lifestyle through seminars and educational materials so they can be enthusiastic about being healthy and more knowledgable for the customer. In my experience, big companies benefit from health challenges for both the employees and the customers – they create synergy between the grocery stores and the clients, making them more loyal to the brand or chain. Socially, these big supermarket chains could donate more to health and fitness non-profit organizations as support to healthy living. Health stores are the future of the 21st century, and the sooner grocery store chains realize this, the sooner they will gain new customers that are health oriented – a population that is growing as we speak. By combining all these basic points, grocery store chains’ net profit will grow in addition to contributing to a healthier and fitter American society today and tomorrow.

Low-Fat Diet Result in Greater Body Fat Loss Than Reduced-Carb

Low-fat diet. Low-carb diet. To the average person, the two are nearly synonymous in that there is a “low-something” that may contribute to a person’s weight gain. While fat needs no definition, carbohydrates usually elicits images of white bread and heavy starches like potatoes that provide a ton of energy (calories) but can be problematic when it comes to having them in excess, as they are converted and stored as fat, contributing to weight gain. The question then arises: which is better for you – a reduced-fat diet or a reduced-carb diet?

A study published by Cell Metabolism found that restricting fat consumption leads to more body fat loss in people with obesity than restricting carb consumption.

Additionally, the same study found limiting carb consumption resulted in greater overall weight loss compared to the reduced-fat diet. It also founded the reduced-fat diet led to decreased insulin secretion, increased fat oxidation, and increased body fat loss compared to baseline levels.

The study observed 19 adults with obesity who were confined to a metabolic ward for two 2-week periods. After determining baseline levels, the subjects were provided either a reduced carbohydrate diet or a reduced fat diet which they strictly adhered to. After a 2-4 week washout period, baseline studies would be conducted again and the subjects would then consume from the diet plan they were not originally given.

Low-Fat Diet The Way To Go

According to the study, body fat loss was determined by the difference between daily fat intake and net fat oxidation (the conversion of fat into smaller molecules that can then be burned off as energy). Though the reduced carbohydrate diet had greater increases in fat oxidation and the reduced fat diet had no change in fat oxidation, fat loss was greater in the reduced-fat diet.

The study also took care to make sure the diets had a measure of constancy. While both the reduced-calorie and reduced-fat diets were 30 percent less in calories than the baseline diet (2,740 calories), the diets themselves both had the exact same number of calories (1,918 calories). Protein levels remained unchanged for the most part, though the reduced-fat diet had an insignificant increase at 105 grams, while the baseline and reduced-calorie diets had 101 grams.

Bottom line: Calorie for calorie, the reduced-fat diet led to more body fat loss than the reduced-carb diet.