Overweight and What?

   Obesity is a well-known epidemic that affects over 600 million people worldwide and has become a leading contributor to the most common types of health related disease such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and even several types of cancer. What we currently understand about obesity is how it can be detrimental to a person’s health; however an increase in obesity rates has drawn attention to the adverse effects it has on an individual’s mind and cognitive functions. Researchers over at the University of Alabama at Birmingham sought to decipher in a four-part experiment on mice published last month in The Journal of Neuroscience which can be found here. The experiments consisted of studies done on laboratory mice, obese and normal weight, that tested recognition, epigenetic changes, expression of specific genes, and the masking of certain genes.

In both the recognition and epigenetic tests researchers found the obese mice tested worse in spatial memory tasks, and had less expression of genes in the hippocampus. Researchers found four specific genes that were not expressed in the overweight mice that were expressed in the normal weight mice. Of these four there was one in specific that was thought to be at the nexus of memory and metabolic function because it proved most influential in both sets of mice. When this gene was expressed in the overweight mice they experienced better performance, and when they were masked in the healthy mice they experienced similar results to that of the overweight mice.  This research helps outline some of the more critical effects that the obesity crisis is having the general population. Not only does obesity present the likelihood of a shorter life span, but also makes it possible to experience early difficulty with memory retention which could lead to Alzheimer’s disease.  Diseases like this make it very difficult for an individual to live out their life and places added stress on their family and friends as they witness a loved one slowly begins to forget. Explaining the effects of obesity is the first part in helping to solve the epidemic and the 600 million individuals affected by this deadly, and now degenerative, disease.

The Underline Cause of a Generation at Risk

   Sharing drinks over a plate of delicious food has become the common ground for socializing among all ethnic backgrounds; however researchers are now saying to pass on that extra serving of steak and ribs in exchange for something healthier. Studies suggest that consumption of red meat has a direct link to an increase in risks for health related diseases such as diabetes, cancer, and an increase in body fat. All things said, the negative health related issues correlated with red meat has been passed around in science for years, and has brought about the push for lower fat healthier alternatives in restaurants and grocery stores across the world. What we are only now starting to understand is that the negative effects that carry on from parent to offspring. The consumption of red meat in the United States is a leading cause of health related diseases and predisposes future generations to those same risks.

A study published by investigator Stephen O’Keefe, a nutritional gastroenterologist at the University of Pittsburgh, was released involving the immediate effect that a change in diet has on the body. The study focused on trading the typical diets of two groups: African-Americans, who are at high risk for colon cancer, and rural South Africans, who have a much lower risk for the disease. A two week period consisted of eating a diet low in animal protein, and high in fiber produced a significant decrease in inflammation and levels of several biomarkers considered predictive of colon cancer risk by African Americans. At the same time, the South African participants’ level of risk increased when consuming the typical diet of African Americans rich in animal protein. The information done on both studies can be found here.

Though this research speaks greatly about the negative effects of red meat, it fails to provide any information concerning the possibility of these risks being transferred from generation to generation. That’s where the research conducted by Tine Rask Licht, professor and head of the Research Group for Microbiology and Immunology, National Food Institute, Technical University of Denmark, Soborg, Denmark comes into play. Up until now the general belief was that the damage done to an individual’s body was solely an issue that pertained to that individual and nothing else. When the notion that red meat consumption has an adverse effect on offspring was presented attention was immediately drawn to a genetic factor as a potential culprit. However, the reality lies not within a genetic disposition but in an unhealthy lifestyle that is passed down from parent to child. Martin Laursen, a PhD student at Technical University of Denmark, and colleagues compared the gut microbiotas of two sets of infants, one born from a random sample of healthy mothers and the other born from obese mothers. The researchers analyzed stool samples from the children at nine months and 18 months. By nine months, most children have transitioned, at least partially, to a complementary diet. The major determinants of gut microbiota development were breastfeeding duration and composition of the complementary diet. In both sets, gut microbial composition were strongly affected by introduction of family foods with high protein and fiber contents.The research conducted for the study can be found here.

Once again this all proves to be informative and useful information, but what exactly does it mean in the grand scheme of things? The information that this research provides serves less as a groundbreaking discovery and more as a second look at the real causes behind a country that is undergoing increasingly rapid rates of obesity in the last 100 years. Placing blame on obesity as a “genetic disorder”, at least in most cases, is no longer a suitable excuse for the condition and health related complications that accompany it. On its own excessive amounts of red meat can be to blame for a portion of the health related diseases in the United States, but ultimately no one is being force feed copious amounts of red meat anywhere in the world. The real cause of health related sickness in the United States and what ensures that it will get passed down from generation to generation, each one getting far worse, is an imbalance in dietary structure coupled with a society that emphasizes red meat consumption.