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Many things contribute to how well your metabolism works and whether you have trouble losing or gaining weight. Most of these are intuitive – if you sit on the couch eating donuts all day, then you’ll likely gain weight. Others are not so intuitive – in fact, they might be downright counter-intuitive. This article focuses on things that might surprise you that can affect your weight.
Because Americans are obsessed with weight and body image, an unending number of clinical studies have looked at weight issues from all angles to determine what activities, foods, beverages, etc., can contribute to obesity or, on the flipside, help with weight loss. Many of these studies have been summarized the past two or three years in Research Extracts. So, here is a summary of 20 things that can affect your weight. References are included so you can read more about the ones you want to delve into more deeply.
A Norwegian study found that any exposure to caffeine in utero increased the risk for excess weight gain during infancy and early childhood.1 This was a dose-dependent linear trajectory until about age eight when the effect diminished, except for children whose mothers consumed more than 200 milligrams of caffeine daily during pregnancy. In that case, weight continued to be a problem for these children.
It turns out the mode in which you were delivered plays a part in determining your weight later on, as well as the pre-pregnancy weight of your mother. A study found that offspring from women who were overweight or obese prior to pregnancy were three-times more likely to be overweight at ages 1 and 3. If, in addition, delivery was via C-section, then the child was five-times more likely to be overweight by ages 1 and 3. The microbiomes of children delivered vaginally differed from those delivered by C-section, which possibly accounts for the differences in weight gain.
Along this same line, the microbes in a baby’s first stool can predict the risk of being overweight at age 3. A study found the microbial content of the meconium in children who were overweight by age 3 varied from normal-weight children. Takeaway from these studies – lifestyle habits you have prior to and during your pregnancy can have far-reaching effects.Your microbiome doesn’t stop affecting your weight when you’re an adult
Your microbiome also affects your weight later in life. Certain gut bugs can be protective, but that protection wanes as you age. A study found the genus Akkermansia protects against obesity; a 10-percent increase in the number of Akkermansia in the stool represents a 26-percent average reduction in obesity risk. However, the protective effect wanes, but does not completely disappear, with age.
Although we often think of probiotics for intestinal conditions, now that you are aware of the potential for the microbiome to influence weight and metabolism, it probably comes as no surprise that probiotics might help. A meta-analysis of 32 studies found that probiotics, or a combination of prebiotics and probiotics, can result in significant decreases in BMI, waist circumference, and percent body fat.
Three interesting studies about the effect of cold temperatures and weight
Several recent studies have stimulated interest in the potential health benefits of brown fat, one of several types of fat (adipose), including white adipose, brown adipose, and beige adipose. The body stores excess fat and calories as white adipose; whereas, brown and beige adipose are thermogenic (fat burners). A recent study found that individuals with a higher percentage of brown fat than average had a much lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease, even if they were significantly overweight. Cold exposure is the best-known way of increasing brown fat.
Another recent study illustrates the effect of cold exposure on brown fat. Healthy lean volunteers were exposed to moderate cold (57-62 °F) via a water-perfused cooling vest for 2.5 hours. Cold exposure led to adipose tissue browning and improved fat metabolism via stimulation of vitamin A release from the liver. What it does not say is, take more vitamin A and you’ll burn more fat.
Exercise is another way to increase brown fat. And in a recent study, engaging in high intensity interval exercise in cold temperatures was more effective at improving fat metabolism than exercising in neutral temperatures. The exception was when the exercise was conducted after eating a high-fat meal. In that case, there was no difference between cold or neutral temperatures.
The takeaway from these three studies – exercise in cold weather to increase brown fat and improve fat metabolism.
Although achieving a healthy weight is always a good goal, it might not be the silver bullet for maintaining good health as you age. When looking at reductions in mortality risk, intentional weight loss does not consistently result in improved mortality risk. A recent review of numerous studies found that cardiorespiratory fitness and increased physical activity were consistently associated with significant reductions in both cardiovascular disease and risk of dying from any cause.
According to one study, you don’t have to pound the pavement or lift your body weight to lose pounds or inches around the middle. A 12-week study of participants ages 50 or older with central obesity compared regular exercise (aerobic and strength) versus tai chi versus no exercise. Both the tai chi and regular exercise groups lost roughly equivalent amounts of weight and inches around the middle (tai chi slightly more inches), while the no-exercise group did not. Takeaways here – exercise is an important key to longevity, but you might not have to break a sweat to stay fit.
There is a fair amount of research on the potential health benefits of intermittent fasting. And on the flipside, according to several studies, late-night eaters tend to gain more weight than individuals who finish their last meal of the day a few hours before retiring – say, by 8 p.m. This phenomenon is for the most part related to late-night eaters eating more calories. A recent study looked at the effect of breakfast timing on obesity-related health issues. The study analyzed data from 10,575 adults and found that those who start eating before 8:30 a.m. had lower blood sugar levels and less insulin resistance, which can reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Along these same lines, another study found that shifting calories to breakfast and away from dinner assists in weight management. A higher-calorie breakfast tended to curb appetite and cravings later in the day, reduce snacking, and improve glucose metabolism.
It didn’t take any arm twisting for me to adopt the activity in this next study. A group of postmenopausal women ate either 100 grams of milk chocolate within an hour of waking, 100 grams of milk chocolate within an hour of going to bed, or no chocolate for two weeks. They waited a week and then switched to the other protocols in random succession. The women experienced the most metabolic benefits during the weeks they ate chocolate in the morning – partially mediated by benefits to the microbiome.
Milk chocolate in the morning improved metabolism by decreasing blood sugar, waist circumference, and cortisol levels. Evening chocolate decreased appetite more than morning chocolate. Both times resulted in decreased sweet cravings and no weight gain. Morning increased fat metabolism; evening increased carb metabolism. The researchers concluded that overall, in this study, the benefits were best when chocolate was consumed in the morning. This Spanish study used milk chocolate; however, dark chocolate would likely confer even more benefit because it is higher in cacao and lower in sugar.
Takeaways from these last two – although what you eat is more important than when you eat, timing can play a factor as well. Trying to get more calories in the morning? Try adding a protein powder shake to your morning routine. And you’ll get a two-fer if you make it chocolate.
Burning the midnight oil might not be good for your waistline
There’s a lot of buzz about the relationship between sleep and weight. One recent study that analyzed data from 1,165 adults found higher rates of poor quality and/or insufficient sleep were related to overweight/obesity in women but not men.14 The researchers hypothesize that this gender difference is related to differences in leptin secretion and metabolism between women and men.
Maybe. The authors of this study explored what effect artificial light exposure during sleep might have on weight. The analysis was performed on 42,000 U.S. women, average age 55. Exposure to any amount of artificial light at night was associated with a higher prevalence of obesity. The study found that compared to no artificial light, habitually having a light or the TV on was associated with a weight gain of at least 11 pounds and a 10-percent increase in BMI.
Takeaway – if you are trying to manage your weight, don’t ignore the effects that poor sleep can have.
Caffeine from all sources (coffee, yerba maté, or synthetic) had a beneficial effect on body fat, body weight, and metabolism.
Drinks sweetened with stevia can decrease appetite when consumed before lunch.
Consumption of carbonated water decreased the sensation of hunger and increased reported fullness compared to still water. The same researchers found low-calorie sweet drinks decreased sweet cravings.
At least two servings daily of high-fat dairy compared to no dairy resulted in decreased waist circumference, BMI, and other factors associated with metabolic syndrome. No such benefit was found with low-fat dairy.
Research conducted at Stanford University’s School of Medicine lends credence to the assertion that fish – specifically, the fat from fish – might help keep the fat off you.
Although these are interesting gems that might challenge what you thought you knew about factors that can help you reach your weight management goals, most of what you already know is still very sound and is probably what your mother always told you – “Eat your breakfast, go outside and get some exercise, eat your vegetables, and turn off the TV and go to sleep.”
-Kathi Head, ND