Monday, August 14, 2006

Microbesity NY TIMES magazine august 13


The cover of the NYtimes magazine features a study in process on the theory that obesity
may be more than just eating less, exercising more and cursing our
genes. What could be at play are viruses that affect our inner
flaura, those friendly bacteria in our gut which become altered in a
way which affect nutrient absorption and metabolism. In the 1970s
there were landmark studies done on the obese which took 300 pound
people and calculated how many calories they would need to eat to
maintain a weight of 300 pounds. They in turn fed these people
mathematically calculated meals and found that many of these people
still gained weight, no matter how little they ate.

I have my own theories on these theories as a person who consistently
struggles with weight issues and at one point was morbidly obese (at
age 15 I was 265 pounds). These on-going studies are on to something
I have believed through my own experience and research on what makes
us fat and why. Flaura, the friendly bacteria in our gut are
essential in digestion and if they do not work properly than our
digestion is slowed and ultimately we are unable to efficiently
process any type of food, be it healthy or unhealthy. Much of our
flaura is disturbed by antibiotics and ironically extremely sterile
environments. In third world countries and other countries where
obesity is less of an issue (though disturbingly becoming more of an
issue) much of the food consumed is fermented naturally, a process in
which food contains bacteria which work in symbiotic relations with
your own flaura. That is why many lactose intolerant people can eat
yogurt (a fermented food) and not drink milk (an unfermented one).
There is numerous evidence on the health benefits of fermented foods
and my own traditions and roots in India have consistently confirmed
the relation between digestion and disease. Indians consistently
swear by their yogurt as an aid to digestion and to over-all health so
much so that my mother over the past 30 years or so in New York City
snuck in strains of yogurt bacteria from India to make proper yogurt
here in the States. Even recently on her most recent visit she
realized there was no yogurt and so went to a friends place for some
of her yogurt to ferment a fresh batch. Using ready-made yogurts from
the store usually doesn't lead to success in making yogurt because
those strains due to strenuous pasteurization aren't alive. Its dead
yogurt and thus according to my mother lacking in any health benefit.

Is the answer to the obesity epidemic my mother's yogurt? A part of
it is diet I suppose though I am encouraged in general by this
promising approach to look at the epidemic in creative ways (studying
the feces of the obese and non-obese to test for certain microbes).
If an effort can be made to restore flaura, and to gain understanding
on their sensibility than through preventive measures one can give
more nuanced advice than just the simplistic eat less and exercise
more routine. After all a calorie is not a calorie when it comes to
losing weight as different foods have different effects on blood
chemistry, appetite and mood. Studies on insulin and blood sugar have
pointed to the differences of whole foods and refined foods, and this
evidence is what gave way to those carb free meat diets which though
extreme and at times harmful were based on some valid data, it was
just the intrepetation and implementation which was misguided.
Similarly I am afraid the same thing is going to happen with this data
as the article extrapolated a sort of guilt freeness that could come
about in how we treat obese people. Also a large emphasis was
placed on the work of an Indian doctor who isolated a virus which
killed off a flock of chickens while simultanously making them fat.
Can you see where this is going? Isolating a virus than manufacturing
a drug and then wallah we will have cured obesity without challenging
the causes and of course there will be unknown side effects, as all
drugs have.

The article also points out that many people who lose significant
weight constantly have to live in a sort of repressed state where they
feel hungry at all the times and while other people daydream of
tropical vacations the formerly obese dream of "crabs legs dipped in
butter". What silly nonsense. What mainstream America has always
failed to grasp is that their attachment and desires to certain foods
are based on addiction psychologically and physically. Coke, cookies,
white bread have consistently been proven to destabilize blood sugar
in a way to produce cravings much the way many illicit drugs do. Yet
food is not seen as a drug, but much of the packaged, chemical fare
should be seen as such. Instead, we feel deprived because we haven't
been able to step out of the dominant paradigm that associates
happiness with cakes, and cookies, which make one feel left out if one
cannot partake in such sinful pleasures as chocolate cake and movie
popcorn. No. The first step is to form a strong loving relationship
with whole foods in their natural form and to find healthy substitutes
for more "decadent" pleasures. The base has to be whole, unrefined
foods to satiate the body and then the mind and then our body is much
more prepared to deal with the devilish fare we may indulge in from
time to time.

Studying and building flaura, ridding ourselves of packages sweetened
foods, experimenting with fasting and other alternative therapies is
still is the best bet to not only physical rejuvenation but the
spiritual as well.

My struggles with obesity are what made me politically conscious. I
realized who benefited by my ill health and how much of our economy is
driven by over-consumption. While there are very real forces trying
to stem the epidemic, giving free reign to fast food companies to
advertise to children and in a world where even hospital cafeterias
are filled with junk, then the problem is systemic. Which doesn't
mean these studies aren't useful or promising, we just need to be
vigilant in how they are interpreted and the approach to the "cure"
they will take. Are obesity vaccines only a generation away? Am I
the only one who finds this all odd?


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