To Your Health
February, 2013 (Vol. 07, Issue 02)
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Then there's stress. Muffin top is a common complaint for many people, but what most people don't realize is that the stress hormone cortisol is responsible for that central obesity. And stress looks very different than most people think it does.

I will talk to many of my patients about carbs, and they will lose weight around their middle when they change their diet, but that's because a high-carb diet is stressful for the body. Stress isn't just your job, or how you react to situations — it's also how much sleep you get, because not enough sleep is an independent risk factor for obesity. , It's how much inflammation you have, whether it's from chronic pain, unknown food intolerances, intestinal permeability, allergies, low-level sinus infections that you know (or don't know) you have, teeth and mouth problems like gingivitis or untreated periodontal disease, over-exercising… the list goes on and on. This is probably the biggest area that people don't deal with, because many of them don't realize the impact or the need to change.

Wait! We're not done yet! Let's look at the issues with chemicals that are KNOWN to cause health and weight issues — polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB's), dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT), and Bisphenol A (BPA). While PCB's and DDT are, thankfully, a bit more limited in society now, the prevalence of BPA and its health risks should shock you. BPA has been directly linked to obesity , , hormone disruptions , and increased risk of cancer, especially breast cancer . While it only take about 3 days to clear from the body, the problem lies in our continuous exposure to it, as it's found in most plastics (like those disposable water bottles, take-out containers, plastic wrap, food storage containers), as well as food and soda cans. When you microwave in plastic, or put hot food in plastic containers, or drink water in containers that were exposed to heat (think about how those cases of water are shipped in trucks) you begin to get a sense of where you ingest it. Even worse, it's found in credit card receipt paper and other thermal papers. In fact, paper money also carries BPA from rubbing up against it in your wallet. And the most vulnerable victims are children and babies, as their immature livers cannot process this chemical to clear the body as well as adults.

What about prescribed medications? Entire classes of drugs are known to cause weight gain and ironically, one class of them is anti-depressants. Tricyclic antidepressants (TCA's), selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI's), and monamine oxidase inhibors (MAOI's) all have been known to increase weight in at least 25% of people taking them. Of course birth control pills are known to cause weight gain, beta blockers, and, of course, steroids, will also increase weight. And, according the CDC, 22% of children are on prescription meds, 30% of teenagers, 88% of people over 60 years old are on at least one medication, and one-third of them are on five or more. If you are 20 to 59 and are on a medication, statistically it's probably an anti-depressant.

Can you start to see how some of these things tie together? Like antibiotic use damaging the gut biome, causing intestinal permeability, resulting in the body reacting to food proteins that should have stayed in the gut, causing inflammation around the body. Here's another example: high-carb intake causing insulin resistance, in turn causing high estrogen (which just by itself causes weight gain — why do you think they inject estrogen into cattle?), which then interferes with thyroid function. Or someone is on a prescription med, doesn't eat ideally, and then has an injury that prevents exercise. And we look at them and think it's that they're undisciplined and lazy.

Then, of course, there are factors like Vitamin D levels contributing to obesity, leptin resistance causing people to never feel full, and how diet sodas increase obesity even more than regular sodas. And naturally, people are quick to say that obesity can be genetic, but you want to think about that: have our genes really changed in the last 25 years? No, they have not, but a lot of other things have. Put all of these factors together in some combination, add in the cultural pulls we have in TV commercials, that we have the cheapest food in the world (literally and nutritionally), a subsidized farming culture, food marketing to children, and a plethora of other factors, and you can see that it's simply wildly inaccurate (not to mention statistically ineffective) to tell people to count their calories and exercise more.

So what SHOULD people do? Well, no matter what, sugar and insulin cause huge amounts of damage so people should manage their carb intake. People should do short, intense exercise, like intervals. All the different elements that affect stress need to be looked at and addressed, including finding hidden infections, coaching people on lifestyle practices, and supporting adrenal health. Proper thyroid panels need to be run (TSH is not enough), training people to not automatically get antibiotics, learning how to repair gut flora… yes, there are many avenues to work with, but hopefully this has opened your eyes to the complexity of the situation, and you can begin to unravel this tangle for people. Believe me, they will be beyond grateful.


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Marlene Merritt, DOM, LAc, is a licensed acupuncturist and runs a wellness center in Austin, Texas. She specializes in Oriental medicine and nutritional protocols.