From My Alumni News ~ Weighty Research

The publication below landed in my mailbox last week.  I've watched a video lecture or two by Dr. Friedman, who discovered leptin, but did not know he was an RPI alum!
Rensselaer Alumni Magazine - Fall 2011 (pgs. 18-25)
There's nothing groundbreaking about the article, but I thought I'd share it here.  It does make a few things about leptin clear.

Friedman's work has been latched on to by the Healthy At Every Size, HAES crowd, (and he seems to have embraced this movement as well) and is cited in almost every anti-CICO rant by a certain prolific internet (multiple) personality.  Listening to Friedman he, unfortunately, seems locked in the obesity = genetics mode.   But the article seems to tell a slightly different story.
... obesity isn't really an "epidemic", as it is popularly described, because it doesn't spread from person to person like an infection.  What is happening is more likely the consequence of a long legacy of calorie conservation playing out against a present-day environment of plenty, at least in some parts of the world.
"Very powerful evolutionary forces shape the weight of a species.  If too thin, a person can't survive a famine, and if too fat, can't outrun a predator," explains Friedman.
Populations that, over time, have preferentially passed on gene variantes enabling people to survive famine are the ones whose descendants today, given a high-calorie "western" diet, become obese and have the highest diabetes rates in the world.  "It's hard to lose weight with a biological system that resists weight change," Friedman says.
Clearly this guy never read Good Calories, Bad Calories and someone ought to get him a copy stat!  Has he never heard of the Pima?  C'mon man!  But I digress.

The article discusses the role of leptin in energy homeostasis, and the appetite suppression.  And then there on  p. 21 ... just before the excerpts above, we find that *reward* word!  
Leptin also binds cells in a brain area called the nucleus accumbens, which is a "reward center."  The discovery of leptin, a long-sought factor regulating appetite and the first hormone found in adipose tissue, has gone a long way toward explaining why reducing one's weight is not as simple as "deciding" to eat less and exercise more.
At around the 32 minute mark of the talk linked earlier, Friedman discusses leptin resistance and lays out a means by which obesity results.  The term is not used in the article.  But there's one rather prolific blog comment contributor ItsTheWoo who posts lengthy treatises about leptin deficiency being the issue.  The genetic mutant ob/ob mouse is, after all, leptin devoid.  This article puts that notion to rest for the population at large:  
If something seems too good to be true, it usually is, and that was the case for leptin.  Once Friedman had discovered a hormone that controls weight and identified its gene in humans, researchers began looking for leptin deficiency in people.  But the same hormone deficiency that causes obesity in the mutant mice soon proved to be extremely rare in people.
Perhaps this woman is one of those extremely rare, but that particular genetic underpinning simply cannot explain the obesity epidemic.  Perhaps all who become obese in childhood should have their leptin levels checked.  I imagine it would be life changing for those rare genetic-obese.  I sense her frustration that obesity research seems to have been hijacked in a sense, to trying to solve environmental obesity -- that is far more within our control -- while neglecting to distinguish those who are genetically obese.  But that is what it is, and it is also unfortunate that much of the research is looking for that magic pill that will excuse us from the environment we've created.

Friedman likes to downplay the epidemic itself in his lectures (and the linked video is no exception), but those of us of a certain age need only look around and we don't need science and theories and studies to notice that there are a whole lot more morbidly obese Americans than there used to be.  
Even if leptin isn't the weight-loss wonder that the media first envisioned, its discovery may have a more profound effect -- lifting the stigma of obesity.  Body weight is a trait, like height or blood pressure, that varies among individuals, with input from heredity and the environment.  Friedman has become an advocate for those with obesity, attesting in frequent talks and articles to the scientific fact that this condition is part of human variation and not a personality flaw.  
The bolded statement, however, is all too commonly truncated after "heredity".  And somehow "environment" is all about carbohydrates for some, despite innumerable examples of carb-eating lean cultures (including the traditional Pima!) existing for millenia to the contrary.  Clearly there is an environment factor -- a huge one -- in the SAD that disrupts leptin signalling in some way.  Wheat belly says it's wheat, except when it's oats or any other carb.  Lustig says it's fructose.  Rosedale says it's those leptin-spiking carbs.  Kruse says it's some epigenetic switch that flipped off your leptin receptors or something about quantum levees and puffy afghans.   Taubes says it's really all about the insulin.  Stephan Guyenet says food reward is a dominant factor.   I find that last one closest of all to explaining the SAD-provoked obesity epidemic. 

When one looks at the so-called "cafeteria rat" study and relate it to the diets consumed by those who become obese, we notice that why we get fat is, in the end, actually due to overeating after all.  And how do we get rats to overeat?  Feed them foods that in most cases are engineered to be highly palatable, and are also energy dense.  Throw in a whole host of factors separating food intake from true hunger in us human types (celebrations, eating disorders, "comfort foods", guilt over starving kids in Ethopia, fitting in, body image, moral considerations, etc., etc.) and it's no wonder modern day humans become obese so easily.   Friedman seems to imply that given our environment, we are at the behest of our genes to become obese.   

The answer is remarkably simple if this is the case.  Change the environment.  Not so easy to do ... But not impossible.


Tom said…
I didn't know you were an RPI alum. Class of '89 here :-)
Have you been reading J Stanton's series over at I think he's doing a good job of arguing that overeating/obesity is tied not just to the hyperpalatability of SAD foods, but also because of their low nutrient density. They don't satiate us ... leaving us hungry despite overfeeding.

Chris Masterjohn pointed something similar a while back ... we're demanding our liver do a lot of work with all the food "toxins" we're eating, but we're getting the nutrients it needs to do its job.

I suspect this is why some folks have problems with traditional LCing. Eating a steak with added fat doesn't typically provide those nutrients either.
Oops, that's "but we're NOT getting the nutrients it needs to do its job."
Just watched the video. Interesting! He really does punt on diet/environment doesn't he? (Tho he does mention the Pima in the Q&A ;). But the .8-.9 heritability (at 20:45) is compelling. I suspect that there is an epigenetic connection -- particularly pre- and early post-natal -- that comes into play and would explain a lot.

I also found the discussion on the difference between the short- and long-term food regulation systems (at 34:00) to be interesting, especially when considered in the context of J Stanton's comments on satiation vs satiety. Perhaps "professional designed industrial food" breaks the short-term system, and one or both of the toxins in SAD foods or lack of nutrients break the long-term system.

BTW, the RPI article is online here:
CarbSane said…
Hey Tom ... we may well have crossed paths ;)

@Beth: I am somewhat swayed by the multivitamin study (would have to look at it closer) and micro deficiencies, but I'm more convinced that protein intake and quality may be more key.

Parenteral nutrition and fetal development and nutrition in infancy does seem to "wire" a metabolism. I have to flesh out some thoughts on that one.
Hubby is class of '81, electrical eng. President of the Frisbee club his sophomore year. Heh. I asked him if he'd gotten that issue yet, too.

I found THE END OF OVEREATING and cutting out eating the hyperpalatable stuff in conjunction with carbs reduction (not low carb, just LOWER) controlled my appetite (the raging beast). So, I think the food reward hypo has a lot going for it, though I have to agree that for me the carb issue was there. Will it still be if I make normal weight? Dunno. I'll test it..THEN. ; )
Matthew said…
It is interesting when you find out about the people behind these scientific discoveries.

What I wonder though is what more we don't know. Are there any other important hormones like leptin working away inside us waiting to be discovered? Maybe if they are discovered it will all become clearer.

By the way have you heard about the TEF diet yet? Its creation took a lot of effort :)
CarbSane said…
LOL Matthew ... that is a joke, right?

@Princess I would have missed your hubs there. I guess that tightens the window on my exact age LOL.
Matthew said…
It was a reaction to all the HCG diet and leptin reset questions there have been lately :)
CarbSane said…
Figured as much :-) One begins to wonder if the resetter in chief didn't HCG himself. < /rank speculation >
Matthew said…
Of course the 500 calories a day HCG diet works but calories don't matter, you understand? :)
"some epigenetic switch that flipped off your leptin receptors or something about quantum levees and puffy afghans" - made me snort up my coffee (with skim milk) thru my nose! good one :)
Galina L. said…
As a person who spent first 35 years of my life in the environment free from the fast-food and cafeteria diet, I can tell the difference. Children and young people were thin.I never personally saw a morbidly obese person before arriving to Canada. If the leptin deficiency is a genetic disorder, it should be observed all over the world.However, females of certain age were not safe from the middle-life spread .It was a norm. I also had a chance to observe cleaning ladies in my university, because I did it once as a summer job. It was a part-time job for them, most of them lived in villages close to Moscow, arrived by train very early, did the cleaning during 3 - 4 hours and left. They full-time raised some life-stock and vegetables for sale. A lot of physical activity.As I know , their diet contained a lot of bread and potatoes, but was not deficient in meat and veggies. They all were short,had a belly-bulge, wide shoulders and thick middles. Some were
disproportionnaly skinny on the bottom. May be one have to move to Okinawa or join hunter-gatherer society in order to avoid that female curse.
The Wooo's success story is very remarkable. As far as I remember she received her leptin due to the participation in the research study. The substance is not widely available and quite expensive, according to her.If I remember properly, she was the only obese person in the group, the rest were some leptin-deficient thin female athletes. Did you see by chance the report on that study, Evelin? I wish obese people were more tested for the leptin deficiency, especially the bariatric surgery candidates and those like Jemmy Moore, who lost a lot of fat , still has a lot to go, but stack. It could be more people like her.
CarbSane said…
I haven't seen the study Woo was in. I don't doubt her accounts, I do take exception with her running around the internet trashing Stephan and calling him an idiot just because she may well be one of those rare genetically obese. She also "self medicates" these days with a variety of supplements that may or may not have the purported effect or placebo. I wish her well, but the vast majority of obese are not leptin deficient. Galina, Jimmy is not stuck or metabolically damaged or any such thing. Anyone who has ever suffered with eating disorders can spot Mr. Moore's obesotype a mile away!

As for women, I found a study once that showed some 2-300 cal/day swing in women who went through meno vs. not. Also when ovaries shut down the visceral fat wakes up more to take up the estrogen production slack. Not sure that's much consolation!
CarbSane said…
@Matthew: Don't you get it? Calories count if you're LR which is why HCG must be with 500 cal/day. But once you're LS, calories no longer count because you're on a different levee. That's why the reset is magic for these folks. Flip the switch and they can eat 3000 cal/day and not regain the weight because calories no longer count!
CarbSane said…
@FTD, if you're ever in the need of a good chuckle you have to read some of the gems from Dr. Duvet (Quilt) over on PaleoHacks, although his blog has quite a few too. I'm not getting the made up words.
Matthew said…
hehe levees solve everything.

Actually I had to look up levees, they are called dykes over here in Europe.

Having a duvet with lots of dykes on it doesn't sound as good though.
CarbSane said…
At first I thought it was a typo. And WTF is cellular terrior? I'm a math whiz and I can't seem to figure out the magic formula for the reset either:

(QUILT SURVIVABILITY) = (Total Energy – Growth and immunity expense) X (RESOURCES) X (efficiency) X (awareness of our environment)

Stated in levee form where:
Cell longevity = LS – IGF-1 + immunity X Food Quality X leakiness of Mitochondria X environmental cues

Clear as mud now.
Matthew said…
Multiply by "Food Quality"?

I want to know how you put numbers to those ideas and what units they are in? :)

I believe Terrior should be Terroir coming from the French for land. I don't know which is the correct spelling.
I'm so glad I came back to reread the comments. Cracking up!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sorry you missed the hubs. He's hot frisbeeing!
Tonus said…
I can't believe that no one chided Evelyn on the claim that Dr. Friedman is "the founder of leptin." I'd have been impressed enough if he'd discovered it! :)
Terroir --yeah, land. coffee provider. George Howell's Terroir (and Paradise Roasters, too). Insanely wonderful,fresh-roasted per order coffees. Heaven. HEAVEN.
CarbSane said…
Oh bad Tonus! I caught that and decided to leave it and see if anyone noticed. Now I guess I'm stuck with it :p