Healthwrap: Biochemicals key to weight

By ALEX CUKAN, UPI Health Correspondent  |  Jan. 10, 2007 at 11:39 AM
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What many people have traditionally viewed as a lack of willpower to lose weight may have a biochemical basis.

"It's not just a matter of lack of willpower to stop eating, or of an obesity drug not working, but the body's counterbalancing mechanisms that stops people from losing weight," says Dr. Louis J. Aronne, director of the Comprehensive Weight Control Program at New York Presbyterian Hospital-Weill Cornell Medical Center.

The chemical culprit is called the endocannabinoid -- EC -- system, and when activated, it increases hunger and decreases satiety, driving the desire for tasty food, says Aronne.

"When you eat a high-fat, high-carbohydrate food, it activates the endocannabinoid system, leading you to eat even more," says Aronne. "The endocannabinoid system interacts with other hormones to make you feel hungrier, increases body fat, and drives weight gain."

Drugs are being developed to help slow the EC response, but Aronne says to defuse the urge to snack or overeat, wait 5 to 15 minutes for a craving to pass, distract yourself with other activities such as a walk, or drink a glass of water, suggests the February issue of Food and Fitness Advisor, a monthly newsletter of the Weill Medical College of Cornell University.


The link between sleep and heart disease is a two-way street: Poor sleep can add to heart disease, and heart disease can hurt sleep.

Poor sleep has been linked with high blood pressure, arteriosclerosis, heart failure, heart attack and stroke, diabetes and obesity; and the thread that ties these together may be inflammation -- the body's response to injury, infection, irritation or disease, according to the Harvard Heart Letter.

Sometimes heart disease is a cause of poor sleep. People with heart failure may wake up with trouble breathing, which stems from fluid buildup in the lungs.

The Harvard Heart Letter suggests that if a person isn't getting enough sleep, better sleep habits may help, but if they don't work, consult a doctor about having a sleep evaluation.

For better sleep the newsletter advises to:

-- Go to bed and get up at the same time every day.

-- Use a bed only for sleeping or sex.

-- If you can't sleep, get out of bed.

-- Go easy on alcohol and caffeine; avoid nicotine.

-- Exercise in the late afternoon.


Few bag lunches of British children meet the Food Standards Agency recommendations of a starch, a protein, a dairy product, a vegetable/salad and a fruit.

Only 3.5 percent of packed lunches from home contained all of the food types recommended by the Food Standards Agency, while 44 percent included two or less, according to researchers at the University of Bristol.

Packets of potato chips and chocolate biscuits were the most commonly eaten foods after white bread with some type of spread containing fat. The lunches were especially low in fruits and vegetables.

"Fruit and vegetable/salad intakes were very low in packed lunches -- only 41 percent had a fruit and 16 percent a salad vegetable," said Emmett. "On average children were eating half the amount of fruit and vegetables that they need."


For those who have resolved to eat healthier this year, adding spices can help fight cancer, lower blood pressure and help maintain a healthy weight.

Instead of salt, using herbs such as oregano, thyme, rosemary, parsley and garlic can really bring out the natural flavors in a meal, according to Suzanna Zick, a naturopathic physician and researcher at the University of Michigan Health System.

Basil, oregano and rosemary can also help fight colds, says Zick. Since these three herbs contain strong essential oils, Zick says they potentially can fight against colds and flu. "All three are powerful antioxidants as well," she notes.

Treat chronic coughs with thyme. "The health benefits of thyme are unique. It has been traditionally used to treat coughs, even whooping cough. Thyme is often drunk as a tea," she says.

To help fight cancer, eat more curry. In addition to its anti-inflammatory properties, research on curcumin has also shown it to shrink pre-cancerous lesions known as colon polyps. Zick says the amount needed for its health benefits is unclear, but she suggests including a generous helping of curry or turmeric in a meal.

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