Thursday, June 16, 2005

Nature and Obesity

Researchers at the Leeds Institute of Genetics, Health and Therapeutics (LIGHT), at the University of Leeds in the UK, are exploring the relationship between obesity in humans and our departure from our relationship with the environment, or nature.

Professor Grant, director of the Institute believes the human body wouldn't become resistant to insulin action and hoard fat in the way we are seeing today without a reason.

“It's a physiological process so there must be some kind of benefit,” he said. “The question is, under what circumstances?” When the body's fat cells - or adipocytes - become full, they send messages to the brain to slow down and conserve energy. There is one circumstance where these responses are vital - animal hibernation.

Humans don't hibernate, but what has changed in our environment that would lead us to continue to gain weight and, as some suggest, lose our ability to regulate our weight?

Grant suggests that animals have a basic metabolic response that stores energy and develops insulin resistance in preparation for deprivation, usually during long winter months. In hibernating animals, this response is accompanied by prolonged periods of torpor, but in humans and other animals seasonal variations in light and food are critical in regulating energy utilisation, even though man probably never formally hibernated.

In our progress, we (humans) have lost touch with our traditional environment...throughout the year we have abundant food supplies and ambiant light sources whenever it is dark outside, thus we no longer respond to the seasons around us. As Grant puts it, "We have fractured our relationship with our environment - we no longer respond to seasons and we don't have a fluctuating food supply. As a result we get obese and what should be a short term protective response to help us over winter becomes chronic, harmful and leads to diabetes and cardiovascular disease.”

This theory is being tested at the Institute and may provide insights into how to reverse or prevent obesity in the future.

Personally, I think the theory makes a lot sense and I also think that many of the foods we now eat in abundance are also damaging our metabolism and our health.

While researchers continue to study the relationship between us and nature, and how it relates to our body weight, there are things to do now...
  • Make the majority of your diet whole foods (organic as much as possible)
  • Eat fruits and vegetables that are in-season (locally grown as much as possible)
  • Drink lots of spring water
  • Pay attention to your sleep - sleep helps rejuvenate the body
  • Go for "fresh" over frozen, processed, jarred or canned whenever possible

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