Thursday, April 28, 2011

Food Reward: a Dominant Factor in Obesity, Part I

A Curious Finding

It all started with one little sentence buried in a paper about obese rats. I was reading about how rats become obese when they're given chocolate Ensure, the "meal replacement drink", when I came across this:
...neither [obesity-prone] nor [obesity-resistant] rats will overeat on either vanilla- or strawberry-flavored Ensure.
The only meaningful difference between chocolate, vanilla and strawberry Ensure is the flavor, yet rats eating the chocolate variety overate, rapidly gained fat and became metabolically ill, while rats eating the other flavors didn't (1). Furthermore, the study suggested that the food's flavor determined, in part, what amount of fatness the rats' bodies "defended."

As I explained in previous posts, the human (and rodent) brain regulates the amount of fat the body carries, in a manner similar to how the brain regulates blood pressure, body temperature, blood oxygenation and blood pH (2). That fact, in addition to several other lines of evidence, suggests that obesity probably results from a change in this regulatory system. I refer to the amount of body fat that the brain defends as the "body fat setpoint", however it's clear that the setpoint is dependent on diet and lifestyle factors. The implication of this paper that I could not escape is that a food's flavor influences body fatness and probably the body fat setpoint.

An Introduction to Food Reward

The brain contains a sophisticated system that assigns a value judgment to everything we experience, integrating a vast amount of information into a one-dimensional rating system that labels things from awesome to terrible. This is the system that decides whether we should seek out a particular experience, or avoid it. For example, if you burn yourself each time you touch the burner on your stove, your brain will label that action as bad and it will discourage you from touching it again. On the other hand, if you feel good every time you're cold and put on a sweater, your brain will encourage that behavior. In the psychology literature, this phenomenon is called "reward," and it's critical to survival.

The brain assigns reward to, and seeks out, experiences that it perceives as positive, and discourages behaviors that it views as threatening. Drugs of abuse plug directly into reward pathways, bypassing the external routes that would typically trigger reward. Although this system has been studied most in the context of drug addiction, it evolved to deal with natural environmental stimuli, not drugs.

As food is one of the most important elements of survival, the brain's reward system is highly attuned to food's rewarding properties. The brain uses input from smell, taste, touch, social cues, and numerous signals from the digestive tract* to assign a reward value to foods. Experiments in rats and humans have outlined some of the qualities of food that are inherently rewarding:
  • Fat
  • Starch
  • Sugar
  • Salt
  • Meatiness (glutamate)
  • The absence of bitterness
  • Certain textures (e.g., soft or liquid calories, crunchy foods)
  • Certain aromas (e.g., esters found in many fruits)
  • Calorie density ("heavy" food)
We are generally born liking the qualities listed above, and aromas and flavors that are associated with these qualities become rewarding over time. For example, beer tastes terrible the first time you drink it because it's bitter, but after you drink it a few times and your brain catches wind that there are calories and a drug in there, it often begins tasting good. The same applies to many vegetables. Children are generally not fond of vegetables, but if you serve them spinach smothered in butter enough times, they'll learn to like it by the time they're adults.

The human brain evolved to deal with a certain range of rewarding experiences. It didn't evolve to constructively manage strong drugs of abuse such as heroin and crack cocaine, which overstimulate reward pathways, leading to the pathological drug seeking behaviors that characterize addiction. These drugs are "superstimuli" that exceed our reward system's normal operating parameters. Over the next few posts, I'll try to convince you that in a similar manner, industrially processed food, which has been professionally crafted to maximize its rewarding properties, is a superstimulus that exceeds the brain's normal operating parameters, leading to an increase in body fatness and other negative consequences.

* Nerves measure stomach distension. A number of of gut-derived paracrine and endocrine signals, including CCK, PYY, ghrelin, GLP-1 and many others potentially participate in food reward sensing, some by acting directly on the brain via the circulation, and others by signaling indirectly via the vagus nerve. More on this later.

At The Beach With Ariana

My friend Ariana has the best hair and the most brilliant blue eyes. I always knew I wanted to photograph her.  We finally were able to take a day trip to the beach for a photo shoot.  She was a great sport this day to roll around in the sand and plants for me.  Thank you Ariana!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Dog Fancy Magazine June Issue Article About Camping With Your Dog

Max and I are excited to be a part of the June issue of Dog Fancy magazine!  In an article written by Becky Blanton, it's all about traveling with your dog.  For the past three years, I've traveled the country with my dog and can't see a road trip without my best friend.  The first year was with my dog, Maggie and the past two years have been with my little man, Max.

The article also features all photographs taken by me, including a self portrait of Max and I camping in Yosemite last summer.

When I am not camping alone with Max, I enjoy meeting other women on the road who also enjoy camping. The other photos are of Martha and her dogs, taken when I camped with the "silver sisters" (women who camp together with their Airstreams) and Zola and her little baby on my trip with the "Sisters on the Fly".

I am looking forward to more camping adventures in the future!  The June issue of Dog Fancy is on newstands now.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Morning Coffee With Kristy Jo and Valentina

When I spent most of my days on the road, I took photographs every day.  Even on days when I didn't feel like shooting anything, I did.  I did it because I never knew what I was going to come across and the amount of time I had in one spot was limited.  That was the motivator to keep going.  Now that I am home, it's been a challenge.

I am taking photography classes and this is an added push to get me to get out and take photographs.  Most of my photography has been done by chance.  Meaning, I like to take pictures of what is going on at the time and capturing a moment with no interruption with direction.  Now, I am in complete control of a situation.  Actually, I am never in control but I can get an idea and run with it to see what happens.

I have been thinking of certain situations for my friends to try to capture their personality and essence.  This is not an easy task but it's been fun the first week trying.

My friends Kristy Jo (K.J.) and her girlfriend Valentina (Val) said yes for me to come over and photograph them around their house.  We mingled for a while while we sipped coffee.  I looked around the house and decided to take a few shots in different rooms, hanging out on the porch and my favorite, sitting in a planter tub outside in the backyard.  Once I saw the tub, I immediately got excited.  Good news for me is that they were up for anything.  Even their dog, Clayton Wembley was up for anything and he made himself at home.

It was a fun morning of shooting and chatting a bit before we all carried on with the day.  I look forward to sharing more shooting adventures with you here soon.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Upcoming Talks

I'll be giving at least two talks at conferences this year:

Ancestral Health Symposium; "The Human Ecological Niche and Modern Health"; August 5-6 in Los Angeles. This is going to be a great conference. Many of my favorite health/nutrition writers will be presenting. Organizer Brent Pottenger and I collaborated on designing the symposium's name so I hope you like it.

My talk will be titled "Obesity; Old Solutions to a New Problem." I'll be presenting some of my emerging thoughts on obesity. I expect to ruffle some feathers!

Tickets are going fast so reserve one today! I doubt there will be any left two weeks from now.

TEDx Harvard Law; "Food Policy and Public Health"; Oct 21 at Harvard. My talk is tentatively titled "The American Diet: a Historical Perspective." This topic interests me because it helps us frame the discussion on why chronic disease is so prevalent today, and what are the appropriate public health measures to combat it. This should also be a great conference.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Obesity and the Fluid-in, Fluid-out Therapy for Edema

I recently attended a lecture by Dr. Arya M. Sharma here at the University of Washington. Dr. Sharma is a Canadian clinician who specializes in the treatment of obesity. He gave the UW Science in Medicine lecture, which is a prestigious invited lecture.

He spent a little bit of time pointing out the fallacy behind conventional obesity treatment. He used the analogy of edema, which is an abnormal accumulation of fluid in the body.

Since we know that the amount of fluid contained in the body depends on the amount of fluid entering the body and the amount of fluid leaving the body, the treatment for edema is obvious: drink less, pee more.

Of course, this makes no sense. It doesn't address the underlying cause of edema and it will not help the patient. Yet we apply that exact same logic to fat loss. Since the amount of energy contained in the body (in the form of fat) depends on the amount entering and the amount leaving, the solution is easy: eat less, move more. Well, yes, if you can stick to that program it will cause fat loss. But that's equivalent to telling someone with edema to drink less water. It will cause a loss of fluid, but it won't correct the underlying problem that caused excessive fluid retention in the first place.

For example, if you have edema because your heart isn't pumping effectively (cardiac insufficiency), the heart is the problem that must be addressed. Any other treatment is purely symptomatic and is not a cure.

The same applies to obesity. If you don't correct the alteration in the system that causes an obese person to 'defend' his elevated fat mass against changes*, anything you do is symptomatic treatment and is unlikely to be very effective in the long term. My goal is to develop a method that goes beyond symptomatic treatment and allows the body to naturally return to a lower fat mass. I've been doing a lot of reading and I have a simple new idea that I feel confident in. It also neatly explains the results of a variety of weight loss diets. I've dropped a few hints here and there, but I'll be formally unveiling it in the next couple of months. Stay tuned.

* The body fat homeostasis system. The core element appears to be a negative feedback loop between body fat (via leptin, and insulin to a lesser degree) and the brain (primarily the hypothalamus, but other regions are involved). There are many other elements in the system, but that one seems to set the 'gain' on all the others and guides long-term fat mass homeostasis. The brain is the gatekeeper of both energy intake and energy expenditure, and unconscious processes strongly suggest appropriate levels for both factors according to the brain's perceived homeostatic needs. Those suggestions can be overridden consciously, but it requires a perpetual high degree of discipline, whereas someone who has been lean all her life doesn't require discipline to remain lean because her brain is suggesting behaviors that naturally defend leanness. I know what I'm saying here may seem controversial to some people reading this, because it's contrary to what they've read on the internet or in the popular press, but it's not particularly controversial in my field. In fact, you'll find most of this stuff in general neuroscience textbooks dating back more than 10 years (e.g., Eric Kandel and colleagues, Principles of Neuroscience).

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Los Angeles Brewery Art Walk

Even though I won't be traveling and living out of my car for a while, I always enjoy exploring things nearby that are fun and interesting...especially when it comes to art.  There is a community in the heart of Los Angeles that used to be a brewery and now it's a city in itself of artists.  These artists live and work in the spaces of the Brewery Art complex.

Lucky for us, they open their studios to the public a few times a year for us to be able tour their home/work space.  It's a wonderful tour of amazing artists of all mediums.  I did this last year and blogged about it and I plan to go back.  A photograph I took of the experience was licensed by Palladium Boots to use on their website under their explorations video.  You can see that video HERE.  Along with the art walk, the video mentiones other jems in the Los Angeles area to explore. To find out more about the brewery walk, click HERE.

Even if a vacation seems out of the question for you right now, I bet there are places nearby that you can visit to give you the feeling of being in another world.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

US Omega-6 and Omega-3 Fat Consumption over the Last Century

Omega-6 and omega-3 polyunsaturated fats (PUFA) are essential nutrients that play many important roles in the body. They are highly bioactive, and so any deviation from ancestral intake norms should probably be viewed with suspicion. I've expressed my opinion many times on this blog that omega-6 consumption is currently too high due to our high intake of refined seed oils (corn, soybean, sunflower, etc.) in industrial nations. Although it's clear that the quantity of omega-6 and omega-3 polyunsaturated fat have changed over the last century, no one had ever published a paper that attempted to systematically quantify it until last month (1).

Drs. Chris Ramsden and Joseph Hibbeln worked on this paper (the first author was Dr. Tanya Blasbalg and the senior author was Dr. Robert Rawlings)-- they were the first and second authors of a different review article I reviewed recently (2). Their new paper is a great reference that I'm sure I'll cite many times. I'm going to briefly review it and highlight a few key points.

1. The intake of omega-6 linoleic acid has increased quite a bit since 1909. It would have been roughly 2.3% of calories in 1909, while in 1999 it was 7.2%. That represents an increase of 213%. Linoleic acid is the form of omega-6 that predominates in seed oils.

2. The intake of omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid has also increased, for reasons that I'll explain below. It changed from 0.35% of calories to 0.72%, an increase of 109%.

3. The intake of long-chain omega-6 and omega-3 fats have decreased. These are the highly bioactive fats for which linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid are precursors. Arachidonic acid, DHA, DPA and EPA intakes have declined. This mostly has to do with changing husbandry practices and the replacement of animal fats with seed oils in the diet.

4. The ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats has increased. There is still quite a bit of debate over whether the ratios matter, or simply the absolute amount of each. I maintain that there is enough evidence from highly controlled animal studies and the basic biochemistry of PUFAs to tentatively conclude that the ratio is important. At a minimum, we know that excess linoleic acid inhibits omega-3 metabolism (3, 4, 5, 6). The omega-6:3 ratio increased from 5.4:1 to 9.6:1 between 1909 and 2009, a 78% increase.

5. The biggest factor in both linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid intake changes was the astonishing rise in soybean oil consumption. Soybean oil consumption increased from virtually nothing to 7.4% of total calories, eclipsing all sources of calories besides sugar, dairy and grains! That's because processed food is stuffed with it. It's essentially a byproduct of defatted soybean meal-- the second most important animal feed after corn. Check out this graph from the paper:

I think this paper is an important piece of the puzzle as we try to figure out what happened to nutrition and health in the US over the last century.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


I recently bought the book Food in the United States, 1820s-1890. I came across an ad for an interesting product that was sold in the late 1800s called Fat-ten-u. Check your calendars, it's not April fools day anymore; this is for real. Fat-ten-u was a dietary supplement guaranteed to "make the thin plump and rosy with honest fleshiness of form." I found several more ads for it online, and they feature drawings of despondent, lean women and drawings of happy overweight women accompanied by enthusiastic testimonials such as this:
"FAT-TEN-U FOODS increased my weight 39 pounds, gave me new womanly vigor and developed me finely. My two sisters also use FAT-TEN-U and because of our newly found vigor we have taken up Grecian dancing and have roles in all local productions."
I'm dying to know what was in this stuff, but I can't find the ingredients anywhere.

I find this rather extraordinary, for two reasons:
  • Social norms have clearly changed since the late 1800s. Today, leanness is typically considered more attractive than plumpness.
  • Women had to make an effort to become overweight in the late 1800s. In 2011, roughly two-thirds of US women are considered overweight or obese, despite the fact that most of them would rather be lean.
A rhetorical question: did everyone count calories in the 1800s, or did their diet and lifestyle naturally promote leanness? The existence of Fat-ten-u is consistent with the idea that our bodies naturally "defended" a lean body composition more effectively in the late 1800s, when our diets were less industrialized. This is supported by the only reliable data on obesity prevalence in the 1890s I'm aware of: body height and weight measurements from over 35,000 Union civil war veterans aged 40-69 years old (1). In that group of Caucasian men, obesity was about 10% of what it is today in the same age group. Whether or not you believe that this sample was representative of the population at large, I can't imagine any demographic in the modern US with an obesity prevalence of 3 percent (certainly not 60 year old war veterans).

Here are two more ads for Fat-ten-u and "Corpula foods" for your viewing pleasure:

Long Beach Transit Photographs

I am thrilled to be a part of the reopening of the Long Beach transit Mall in downtown Long Beach.  In the next few weeks, work will be completed on the project including eight canopy shelters, serving an average of 20,000 commuters daily.

Eight selected photographs that I took of Long Beach will be on display in and around the new mall to coordinate with the "nautical" theme expansion.  I spent about four months walking on the beach each night and a few mornings with my point and click camera capturing everything I came across on the beach. Images from these moments will be blown up and installed around the mall so people can experience the beach without actually being at the beach.  I look forward to the completion and encourage you to use public transportation.  You never know what you might come across.

The photos from this blog are some I took during those months, but you will have to see the chosen ones once they are installed in a few weeks.

The press Telegram writes, "After months of work, improvements to the Long Beach Transit Mall downtown are nearing completion.
Eight canopy shelters and public art should be completely installed in the coming weeks and transit operations will move back from Ocean Boulevard to First Street on Sunday, said spokeswoman Marcelle Epley on Monday.
Last August, Long Beach Transit announced that it would begin a $7 million modernization of the regional transit hub on First Street between Long Beach Boulevard and Pacific Avenue.
The Transit Mall, which serves an average of 20,000 commuters daily, has grown since opening in 1982 and now accommodates passengers taking Long Beach Transit buses, Metro Blue Line trains and buses and Torrance Transit.
Funded with federal stimulus money, the project will feature improved night lighting, upgraded landscaping and newly designed bus shelters with public art.
Done in partnership with the Arts Council of Long Beach, the public art will feature photographs by Long Beach photographer Alison Turner and nautical-theme poems by Long Beach poets, as well as poets from Long Beach literary magazine, Pearl."

For the full article, click HERE

Monday, April 4, 2011


AAPL looks quite unwell, GOOG looks weak, BANKS look pretty nasty too, COPPER continues to be sold on every uptick, IBM looks toppy and the Transports are at the top of their expanding diagonal...dangerous.

The self-destruction of the Euro - an example of government via finance gone wrong

Imagine that your family sell their home under the belief family members will be killed by terrorists if a bribe is not paid. Of course, the family sells the house and pays the bribe. But then the terrorists announce, now that the family lives in a tent and winter is coming, that the they will be needing the tent and their clothes as well...despite the bribe being paid. This is nearly same kind of terrorism and greed practiced by the banking cartel. Oddly enough, its implemented by innocuous looking academics who have letters behind their names and nice looking universities on their CV.

The blasphemy of academic economics is that, no matter the angle the academic wants to believe - it can exist in a vacuum. In fact, most of the time economic academia lives in a vacuum in an alterante universe. And that is how we got here where we are in this day and this time. That is how idiots like Bernanke get to rule the world while they do not understand real economics or business. That is also how charlatans like Paul KRUDman get tenure and high profile positions with which to broadcast their hyperbole.

Now Trichet, who believes that he has a single mandate targeting inflation - certainly must believe that his mandate exists in a vacuum. He has determined that he needs to raise interest rates now and perhaps for the special benefit of the very countries that are being forced to now implement taxes, austerity and banking according to the great European Union mandates and banking cartel dictum. By rights Ireland should have said "...piss off", but their elected officials were either threatened or bribed to coalesce and capitulate to their constituents. They are implementing new taxes as we speak, implementing austerity controls and supporting banking according to the ponzi scheme economics dictated by the EU. Now, mind you, the objective of this body is essentially the same as the IMF and World Bank and most of the central banks around the world, to transfer all of the wealth to the banks and therefore implement a comprehensive governance not only of the people but of the governments. When the IMF bribes officials in Uganda, for example, to take loans or "aid packages" from them they demand collateral in the form of future tax receipts (in perpetuity) or sovereign assets. Using this time tested technique, they have succeeded in taking already impoverished countries, enriching the corrupt and elite and further impoverishing most of the other citizens by stealing their assets, their work or their time. The incentives are clear, blackmail a corrupt official who would do anything to get his hands on new money and offer him a deal that he can pay for on Tuesday with a hamburger from Monday. That way it never really gets the light of day and the official is now beholden in the scam to the IMF. And we wonder why financial terrorism as practiced by the banking cartel leads us down a path to war? Is it not rather curious that right at the time that the facade is likely to start cracking in the best laid plans of this faction that the world is going to war in so many places at once? Will there be conflicts on other places as people start to get pissed off that their assets are being confiscated via a scam and seek to get control of them?

The trouble is, that the European Council and the European Central Bank has very much the same aims...transfer the wealth and control the governments. At this very point, they believe that raising interest rates is necessary to deal with inflation that they (the EU, and other central bankers like the Fed) are responsible for. The result will be to very quickly add a multitude of new taxes and collateral calls to the Irish table. Obviously this will not sit well, but, in the margin call process the assets of the country will be confiscated. Thank god the Irish can be iltempered...and I hope they are this time. It will take force, probably revolutionary and armed force to get rid of these academics who use their academic status as a weapon and a shield to implement reckless policies that end up destroying lives and cultures.

Keep in mind that Trichet is an academic who believes the banking crisis of 2009 was due to an under-valuation of risk and short-termism within the global financial community. He has implemented his view by fostering the very thing he supposedly wished to eliminate - short-termisim, undervaluation of risk and mal-investment with ridiculously low interest rates and indiscriminate and prevalent leverage and credit.
The end game is that "IF" Trichet believes that the appropriate thing to do right after forcing long-term insolvency on many European states, is to raise interest rates on debt that they can not be repay - it will only intensify the problems. But not to worry, Trichet won Central Banker of the Year in 2008. In my view, however, the central bank actions will have the effect of forcing defaults and conflicts. Yes the very ones that these geniuses are marketing they are now avoiding. Defaults of course, in this case, are a better thing than the long-term theft that has been implemented as a matter of policy.

Assumptions regarding this cycle of interest rate increases, will mark the next great explosion for the Euro on its path to oblivion and self-destruction. While many may look for the EURO to show strength due to the strenghtening of rates...don't count on it...its going to be a long hard trip down.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Capitalisim is not required...

Everyone's looking up - apparently the charts are looking somewhere else

The Nikkei is at major resistance in a clear counter trend bounce and looks set for a major reversal. Given the handling of the Fukushima and Tsunami crisis by the Japanese can see the attitiude they bring their financial policies. It does not inspire confidence and the Japanese people will likely be pretty close to having had enough.

Some of my systems are in the latter stages of building short positions - appropriately, just while the markets are showing unhealthy patterns and most people are looking up. The reality is that it seems many people who shorted what seemed like a logical short on the Japan and Lybia news had done so as they were gotting stopped out of a longs on significant margin and have once again been taken to the maximum pain on the new shorts. They must now handle likely being stopped out of those shorts now too. The markets are certainly continuing the patterns of confused and conflicted trading - moreover, breakout and momentum trading continues to produce failed trades trapping people in uncomfortable positions. I see, particularly in the NASDAQ and the Bank Index (among others), that a large new move is likely and not where most people are looking.

My observations last Friday stand exactly as they were state. It is time to REDUCE LONG RISK in this manipulated, extremely expensive and socialized market. The risk of a market meltdown is now much higher than most anyone expects and additionally the market is as over-priced as it ever been...with the eception of 2000. I now have nice sized short positions and look at these prices as a gift to close any open longs.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Great New Product

Do you feel sad sometimes? Are you tired when you get up in the morning? Do you get winded running sprint intervals? I've just found a great new product that I think can help. It's called bozolol.

Bozolol is an amazing nutritional supplement extracted from the bozolol berry, harvested wild in the heart of the Amazon rainforest. To the native Ilotaca tribe, the bozolol berry is sacred because it alters the molecules in your brain to make you smarter AND sexier.

Here's how it works: bozolol actually
increases the uptake of fat-soluble vitamins from your food, while reducing inflammation in the arteries and helping you shed fat faster than a pork roast! Guaranteed! Learn more about it here

April fools!

Happy Happy Joy Joy market - celebrates a totally made up jobs number

The fact that they essentially pull these numbers out of black box models that resemble reality in a parallel universe is apparently not enough...they have to leak the numbers they are going to manufacture. The good news is the fed now has the leeway to do what ever they want with quantitative easing. They have the cover to cancel QE2 or end it under the guise that its was very successful. The thing is you need the perfect jobs numbers and to eliminate 35% of people who want to work, are eligible to work but somehow don't fit in the governments pool of the "US Workforce" and then you get an 8.8% unemployment rate.

In any case, this is not enough for the leaders of the titans of the Banking system, Government and Wall Street, the numbers have to be leaked for profit not just cover in addition to being fabricated. The irony is that they have given us a tremendous gift - the ability to sell at rather advantageous prices - regardless of the flimsy foundations for those prices.

I will post additional charts and an update on the swing positions later I indicated earlier the common view is that the pullback was a wave 4 and we are off to new highs in a wave 5 type pattern...that is not what I am looking to be the case as I posted several days ago on the subject. My systems are certainly not thinking so...but the level delusion in these market is simply outstanding. Ren and Stimpy are even surprised!