Category Archives: Fat in Diet

Ketogenic Diet for Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzhiemer's is "the long goodbye..."

Ketogenic diets have seen a resurgence in the last two decades as a treatment for childhood epilepsy, particularly difficult-to-control cases not responding to drug therapy.  It works, even in adults.  That’s why some brain experts are wondering if ketogenic diets might be helpful in other brain disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. 

I’ll save you some time and just give you the conclusion of a 2006 scientific article I read: maybe, but it’s way too soon to tell.

ResearchBlogging.orgThe article is called “Neuroprotective and disease-modifying effects of the ketogenic diet,” from researchers at the National Institutes of Health’s National Institue of Neruological Disorders and Stroke.  Sounds promising doesn’t it?

The article goes into detail about how the ketogenic diet might be good for brain health.  Dr. Emily Deans would be very interested in that, but most of my readers not.  Two-and-a-half pages on non-human animal studies, too. 

What is this “ketogenic diet” for epilepsy?

The most common ketogenic diet for childhood epilepsy is the one developed by Wilder in 1921.  It was a popular treatment for epilepsy in the 1920s and 1930s.  Fats provide 80 to 90% of the calories in the diet, with sufficient protein for growth, and minimal carbohydrates.  Since carbs are in short supply, the body is forced to use fats as an energy source, which generates ketone bodies—acetoacetate, acetone, beta-hydroxybutyrate, largely from the liver.

So what?

Not much.  This article may have been written to stimulate future research, and I hope it does.  I just searched PubMed for “ketogenic diet AND Alzheimer” and came up with nothing new since 2006. 

Could the Ketogenic Mediterranean Diet prevent or alleviate Alzheimer’s disease?  At this point, just flip a coin.

Steve Parker, M.D.

Reference: Gasior M, Rogawski MA, & Hartman AL (2006). Neuroprotective and disease-modifying effects of the ketogenic diet. Behavioural pharmacology, 17 (5-6), 431-9 PMID: 16940764

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Filed under Fat in Diet, ketogenic diet

Are Refined Carbs Worse for Your Heart Than Saturated Fat?

To reduce coronary heart disease, we need to focus on reducing consumption of refined carbohydrates rather than fat and cholesterol, according to Dr. Frank Hu.

Dr. Hu is not a wild-eyed, bomb-throwing radical. He’s a Harvard professor of nutrition and epidemiology with both M.D. and Ph.D. degrees.  High-glycemic-index carbs in particular are the bad boys, he writes in an editorial published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition earlier this year.

Additional details are at my April 26, 2010, post at the Self/NutritionData Heart Health Blog.

Steve Parker, M.D.

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Filed under Carbohydrate, coronary heart disease, Fat in Diet, Glycemic Index and Load

Is a Low-Carb Diet Safe For Obese Adolescents?

High-protein, low-carbohydrate diets are safe and effective for severely obese adolescent, according to University of Colorado researchers.

Childhood obesity in the U.S. tripled from the early 1980s to 2000, ending with a 17% obesity rate.  Overweight and obesity together describe 32% of U.S. children.  Some experts believe this generation of kids will be the first in U.S. history to suffer a decline in life expectancy, related to obesity.

Colorado researchers wondered if a low-carb, high-protein diet is a reasonable treatment option.  Why high protein?  It’s an effort to preserve lean body mass (e.g., muscle). 

ResearchBlogging.orgThey randomized 46 adoloscents (age 12–18) to either a high-protein, low-carb diet (HPLC diet) or a calorie-restricted low-fat diet to be followed for 13 weeks.  HPLC dieters could eat unlimited calories as long as they attempted to keep carb consumption to 20 g/day or less.  Low-fat dieters were to choose lean protein sources, aiming daily for 2 to 2.5 grams of protein per kilogram of ideal body weight.  Study participants underwent blood analysis and body compositon analysis by dual x-ray absorptiometry.  These kids weighed an average of 108 kg (238 lb) and average body mass index was 39. 

Analysis of food diaries showed the following:

  • Average caloric intake was 1300-1450/day, toward the lower end for the HPLC dieters
  • Energy composition of the HPLC diet: 32% from protien, 11% from carb, 57% from fat
  • Energy compositon of the LF diet: 21% from protein, 51% from carb, 29% from fat
  • Average daily carb consumption for the HPLCers ended up closer to 40 g (still very low) 

Findings

Both groups lost weight, with the HPLC dieters trending to greater weight loss, but not to a statistically significant degree.  They did, however, show a greater drop in body mass index Z-score, however.  Study authors didn’t bother to explain “body mass index Z-scores,” assuming I would know what that meant.  Average weight in the HPLC group dropped 13 kg (29 lb) compared to 7 kg (15 lb) in the low-fat group.

Total and LDL cholesterol fell in both groups, and insulin resistance improved.  Neither diet had much effect on HDL cholesterol.

As usual, triglycerides fell dramatically in the HPLC dieters.

Nearly 40% of the kids—about the same number in both groups—dropped out before finishing the 13 weeks.

The HPLC group did not see any particular preservation of lean body mass, and actually seemed to lose a bit more than the low-fat group.

There were no serious adverse effects in either group. 

Surprisingly, satiety and hunger scores were the same in both groups.  [Low-carb, ketogenic diets have a reputation for satiation and hunger suppression.]

My Comments

This is a small short-term study with a large drop-out rate; we must consider it a pilot study.  That’s why I’m not as enthusiastic about it as the researchers.  Nevertheless, it does indeed suggest that high-protein, low-carb diets are indeed safe and effective in obese adolescents.  It’s a start.   

Steve Parker, M.D.

Reference: Krebs, N., Gao, D., Gralla, J., Collins, J., & Johnson, S. (2010). Efficacy and Safety of a High Protein, Low Carbohydrate Diet for Weight Loss in Severely Obese Adolescents The Journal of Pediatrics, 157 (2), 252-258 DOI: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2010.02.010

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Filed under Carbohydrate, Fat in Diet, ketogenic diet, Protein, Weight Loss

Low-Fat and Low-Carb Diets End Battle in Tie After Two Years, But…

Dieters on low-fat and low-carb diets both lost the same amount of weight after two years, according to a just-published article in Annals of Internal Medicine.  Both groups received intensive behavioral treatment, which may be the key to success for many.  Low-carb eating was clearly superior in terms of increased HDL cholesterol, which may help prevent heart disease and stroke.

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health and was carried out in Denver, St. Louis, and Philadelphia.

How Was It Done?

Healthy adults aged 18-65 were randomly assigned to either a low-fat or low-carbohydrate diet.  Average age was 45.  Average body mass index was 36 (over 25 is overweight; over 30 is obese).  Of the 307 participants, two thirds were women.  People over 136 kg (299 lb) were excluded from the study—I guess because weight-loss through dieting is rarely successful at higher weights.  Diabetics were excluded. 

The low-carb diet:  Essentially the Atkins diet with a prolonged induction phase (12 weeks instead of two).  Started with maximum of 20 g carbs daily, as low-carb vegetables.  Increase carbs by 5 g per week thereafter as long as weight loss progressed as planned.  Fat and protein consumption were unlimited.  The primary behavioral goal was to limit carb consumption.

The low-fat diet:  Calories were limited to 1200-1500 /day (women) or 1500-1800 (men).  [Those levels in general are too low, in my opinion.]  Diet was to consist of about 55% of calories from carbs, 30% from fat, 15% from protein.  The primary behavioral goal was to limit overall energy (calorie) intake. 

Both groups received frequent, intensive in-person group therapy—lead by dietitians and psychologists—periodically over two years, covering such topics as self-monitoring, weight-loss tips, management of weight regain and noncompliance with assigned diet.  Regular walking was recommended.

Body composition was measured periodically with dual X-ray absorptiometry.

What Did They Find?

Both groups lost about 11% of initial body weight, but tended to regain so that after two years, both groups average losses were only 7% of initial weight.  Weight loss looked a little better at three months in the low-carb group, but it wasn’t statistically significant. 

The groups had no differences in bone density or body composition.

No serious cardiovascular illnesses were reported by participants.  During the first six months, the low-carb group reported more bad breath, hair loss, dry mouth, and constipation.  After six months, constipation in the low-carb group was the only symptom difference between the groups.

During the first six months, the low-fat group had greater decreases in LDL cholesterol (with potentially less risk of heart disease), but the difference did not persist for one or two years.

Increases in HDL cholesterol (potentially heart-healthy) persisted throughout the study for the low-carb group.  The increase was 20% above baseline.

About a third of participants in both groups dropped out of the study before the two years were up.  [Not unusual.]

My Comments

Contrary to several previous studies that suggested low-carb diets are more successful than low-fat, the study at hand indicates they are equivalent as long as dieters get intensive long-term group behavioral intervention. 

Low-carb critics warn that the diet will cause osteoporosis, a dangerous thinning of the bones that predisposes to fractures.  This study disproves that.

Contrary to widespread criticism that low-carb eating—with lots of fat and cholestrol— is bad for your heart, this study notes a sustained elevation in HDL cholesterol (“good cholesterol”) on the low-carb diet over two years.  This also suggests the low-carbers  followed the diet fairly well.  The investigators also note that low-carb eating tends to produce light, fluffy LDL cholesterol, which is felt to be less injurious to arteries compared to small, dense LDL cholesterol.

A major strength of the study is that it lasted two years, which is rare for weight-loss diet research.

A major weakness is that the investigators apparently didn’t do anything to document the participants’ degree of compliance with the assigned diet.  It’s well known that many people in this setting can follow a diet pretty well for two to four months.  After that, adherence typically drops off as people go back to their old habits.  The group therapy sessions probably improved compliance, but we don’t know since it wasn’t documented. 

How often do we hear “Diets don’t work.”  Well, that’s just wrong.

Overall, it’s an impressive study, and done well. 

Individuals wishing to lose weight on their own can’t replicate these study conditions because of the in-person behavioral intervention component.  There are lots of self-help calorie-restricted balanced diets (e.g., Sonoma Diet, The Zone,  Advanced Mediterranean Diet) and low-carb diets (e.g., Atkins Diet, Banting’s Letter on Corpulence, Low-Carb Mediterranean or Ketogenic Mediterranean Diets).  On-line support groups—e.g. Low Carb Friends and SparkPeople and 3 Fat Chicks on a Diet—could supply some necessary behavioral intervention strategies and support.  

Choosing a weight-loss program is not as easy as many think.  [Well, I’ll admit that choosing the wrong one is easy.]  I review the pertinent issues in my “Prepare for Weight Loss” page.

Steve Parker, M.D.

Reference: Foster, Gary, et al.  Weight and metabolic outcomes after 2 years on a low-carbohydrate versus low-fat diet: a randomized trial. Annals of Internal Medicine, 153 (2010): 147-157   PMID: 20679559

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Filed under Carbohydrate, Fat in Diet, ketogenic diet, Overweight and Obesity, Weight Loss

Maybe Diet Prevents Alzheimer Dementia After All

I blogged about a study by Gu et al on April 30, 2010, that found significantly lower incidence of Alzheimer dementia in people in Manhattan who followed this dietary pattern:

  • relatively high consumption of salad dressing, nuts, fish, tomatoes, fruits, dark green leafy vegetables, and cruciferous  vegetables
  • relatively low consumption of poultry, red meat, butter, and high-fat dairy

About the same time, a National Institutes of Health expert panel pooh-poohed the possibility that diet had any effect one way or the other on Alzheimer’s

Why does this matter?  Five million U.S. adults have Alzheimer dementia already, and it’s going to get much worse over the coming decades.

A June, 2010, issue of Journal of the American Medical Association has a commentary by two doctors (Martha Morris, Sc.D., and Christine Tangney, Ph.D.), experts in the field of nutrition.  Here’s their explanation of the NIH panel’s negative findings:

Many of the inconsistencies among studies of dietary factors can be attributed to the complexity of nutrition science and the omission of nutrition expertise in the design and analysis of both epidemiological and randomized controlled trials.

Morris and Tangney think the findings of Gu et al are valid, confirming prior studies showing benefit to diets high in vitamin E (from food) and low in saturated fat from animals.  They point out that the animal foods may simply be displacing beneficial nutrients in other foods, rather than directly causing harm.

Until we have further data, anyone at risk for Alzhiemer’s may be better off following the dietary pattern above, or the Mediterranean diet.  The two are similar.

Steve Parker, M.D.

Disclaimer:  All matters regarding your health require supervision by a personal physician or other appropriate health professional familiar with your current health status.  Always consult your personal physican before making any dietary or exercise changes. 

Reference: Morris, M., & Tangney, C.  Diet and Prevention of Alzheimer Disease.  The Journal of the American Medical Association, 303 (2010): 2,519-2,520.    doi: 10.1001/jama.2010.844

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Filed under Dairy Products, Fat in Diet, Fish, Fruits, Health Benefits, Mediterranean Diet, nuts, Vegetables

Basic Science: Mediterranean Diet Boosts Antioxidant Power

Compared to the low-fat American Heart Association diet, the traditional Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil has more capacity to counteract potentially harmful “free radicals” and “reactive oxygen species” in our bodies, according to researchers at the University of Navarra in Spain.

Our tissues normally contain free radicals and reactive oxygen species, which are intrinsic to cell metabolism.  They serve useful purposes.  In excessive amounts, however, many believe they cause “oxidative damage” and thereby contribute to chronic degenerative conditions such as atherosclerosis, aging, dementia, and cancer.

Antioxidants are thought to neutralize free radicals and reactive oxygen species, which may lead to better health.

The PREDIMED study is an ongoing Spanish project testing the heart-protective effects of the Mediterranean diet in high-risk people over the course of four years.  The three intervention groups are 1) Medi diet plus supplemental virgin olive oil, 2) Medi diet plus extra tree nuts, and 3) low-fat American Heart Association diet.

After three years of follow-up, the researchers measured “total antioxidant capacity” in the bloodstream of a subset of the PREDIMED participants.

They found that the two Mediterranean diet groups had significantly greater total antioxidant capacity, about 50% more than the low-fat control group.  Within the Medi + olive oil group, the participants with the highest levels of antioxidant capacity actually tended to lose weight, an association not seen in the other groups.

The Researchers’ Conclusions

Mediterranean diet, especially rich in virgin olive oil, is associatied with higher levels of plasma antioxidant capactiy.  Plasma total antioxidant capacity is related to a reduction in body weight after three years of intervention in a high cardiovascular risk population with a Mediterranean-style diet rich in virgin olive oil.

In other words, the Mediterranean diet with virgin olive oil may help you keep your weight under control, and the antioxidant capacity may contribute to the well-documented health benefits of the diet.

Steve Parker, M.D.

PS:  It’s impossible to tell from this report just how much weight loss was seen in the high-TAC Medi+olive oil subjects.  I doubt it was much.  Baseline body mass index for all participants was around 29, so they were overweight and just a shade under obese.

PPS:  Both the Ketogenic Mediterranean and Diabetic Mediterranean Diets mandate minimal amounts of olive oil consumption, with no upper limit.

Reference: Razquin, C., et al. A 3 year follow-up of a Mediterranean diet rich in virgin olive oil is associated with high plasma antioxidant capacity and reduced body weight gain.  European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 63 (2009): 1,387-1,393.  doi 10.1038/ejcn.2009.106

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Filed under Fat in Diet, Health Benefits, Mediterranean Diet, Weight Loss

Seminal Paper: Carbohydrate Restriction for Type 2 Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome

Carbohydrate-restricted eating is slowly gaining mainstream acceptance as treatment for type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome.  I thought it would be useful to present one of the watershed reports that summarize the potential benefits.  The article is from 2008.  Among the co-authors are some of the brightest names in this field: Richard K. Bernstein, Annika Dahlqvist, Richard Feinman, Eugene J. Fine, Robert Lustig, Uffe Ravnskov, Jeff Volek, Eric Westman, and Mary C. Vernon.

ResearchBlogging.orgThese are not wild-eyed, bomb-throwing radicals.  They are on faculty at some of the best institutes of higher learning.  They note that while many of the national diabetes organizations downplay the benefits of carb restriction, we have enough evidence now to warrant careful reconsideration.

Here are some of their major points, all backed up by references (68) from the scientific literature:

  1. Glucose (blood sugar) is a “major control element,” whether directly or indirectly through insulin, in glycogen metabolism, production of new glucose molecules, and in formation and breakdown of fat.
  2. The potential adverse effects of dietary fat are typically seen with diets high in carbohydrate.
  3.  Carb restriction improves control of blood sugars, a major target of diet therapy.  Many of the supportive studies were done with overweight or obese people (85% of type 2 diabetics are overweight).  Very low-carb diets are often so effective that diabetic medications have to be reduced at the outset of the diet. 
  4. For weight loss, carb-restricted diets work at least as well as low-fat diets.  They are usually superior. 
  5. Carb-restricted diets usually replace carbs with fat, resulting in improve markers for cardiovascular disease (lower serum triglycerides and higher HDL cholesterol levels). Replacing dietary fat with carbohydrate—the goal of many expert nutrition panels over the last 40 years—tends to increase the amount of artery-damaging “small, dense LDL cholesterol” in most of the population. 
  6. Carbohydrate restriction improves all five components of the metabolic syndrome: obesity, low HDL cholesterol, high triglycerides, high blood pressure, elevated blood sugar.
  7. Beneficial effects of carbohydrate restriction seem to occur even without weight loss
  8. Still worried about excessive fat consumption?  Many low-carb dieters demonstrate a significant increase in the percentage of total calories from fat, but without an increase in the absolute amount of fat eaten.  That’s because they simply reduced their total calories by reducing carb consumption. 

This post was chosen as an Editor's Selection for ResearchBlogging.orgThe authors in 2008 called for a widespread reappraisal of carbohydrate restriction for type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome.  It’s been happening, and many patients are reaping the benefits.

Steve Parker, M.D.

Reference: Accurso A, Bernstein RK, Dahlqvist A, Draznin B, Feinman RD, Fine EJ, Gleed A, Jacobs DB, Larson G, Lustig RH, Manninen AH, McFarlane SI, Morrison K, Nielsen JV, Ravnskov U, Roth KS, Silvestre R, Sowers JR, Sundberg R, Volek JS, Westman EC, Wood RJ, Wortman J, & Vernon MC (2008). Dietary carbohydrate restriction in type 2 diabetes mellitus and metabolic syndrome: time for a critical appraisal. Nutrition & metabolism, 5 PMID: 18397522

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Filed under Carbohydrate, Fat in Diet