Much as has been said recently about the health benefits of coconut milk and coconut oil. Coconut milk is a white liquid mixture of water and the white “flesh” of the coconut and is considered a more diluted form of coconut oil a thick clear liquid. Coconut extracts have been used in commercial food products, non-dairy creamers and cooking for many years but lately there has been a burst of publicity for coconut oil and milk as a new form of health-food with beneficial properties including increasing energy, preventing cancer and speeding weight loss. I have seen it being added to ice cream and even bottled water. I want to sound a note of warning here.
Most physicians and nutritionists will advise against having too much fat in the diet for a number of reasons. First, and most obvious, fats have lots of calories. In addition dietary fat can increase the bad cholesterol (LDL) content of the blood leading to increased risk of heart attack and stroke. Among the different kinds of fat that raise LDL the worst are the saturated fats. One tablespoon of coconut oil contains about 120 calories with about 90% of the coconut oil being saturated fat. In fact the saturated fat, palmitic acid, takes its name from the plant that produces coconuts, the palm tree. Compare this to the fat in dark chocolate which is 30% oleic acid, the healthy monounsaturated fat found in olive oil.
Oils which are far more beneficial for preparing foods are unsaturated fats including the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. I like canola, safflower and olive oil due to their high content of these healthier fats.
Coconut oil has many other applications which are useful outside the body. It can be used as a diesel fuel, deodorant, insect repellent, to make soap, and as a moisturizer for hair and skin. My advice is to think twice however, before supplementing your diet with it.
The old saying, “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach” implies there is a deep connection between emotions and eating. My guess is no one is really surprised by this idea. Both men and woman can identify ways in which their mood and appetite are intertwined and it is no mere quirk of man’s personality that this is true.
Evolution tells us that we were born to eat. The earliest creatures in the world’s history were simple eating machines. Their bodies consisted of an entrance for food, a digestive tract and an exit for refuse. In order to become more efficient at getting food creatures developed a system to locate food and to move toward it. This system is known as a nervous system. The first creature to have this ability is the worm. Eventually the nervous system controlling the digestive system (enteric nervous system) began to sprout nodes which were early brains. As time went on and the brain became better developed it split off from the nervous system that controlled the digestive tract. Everything that followed in evolution, has served the purpose of developing increasingly efficient brains (central nervous system) for acquiring the fuel of life.
Another example of how deeply connected the gut and brain are, is to look at the development of the fetus. When a human fetus is still just a lump of jelly, the digestive and nervous systems are one structure. Soon this organ splits into two, one to become our gastrointestinal tract and the other the brain and spinal cord (central nervous system). Even though they become physically separated the chemical signals used by the gut and nervous system remain virtually identical. These chemicals comprise the groups known as neurotransmitters and hormones.
The same chemicals in the digestive tract that cause the intestines to twist and convulse (peristalsis), in the brain stimulate the emotion of anxiety. This explains why people get “butterflies” in the stomach or diarrhea when they are nervous. The brain chemicals involved in depression can cause constipation. The syndrome of irritable bowel disease (IBS) with its cycles of diarrhea and constipation is thought to be a reflection of an emotional rollercoaster. The chemical relationship between mood and appetite is even more complex but no less real. One of the most common side effect of mood altering drugs is increased appetite and weight gain. Just ask anyone who has been on an anti-depressant drug such as Prozac, Zoloft or Abilify. The chemical in marihuana that gets people high is famous for triggering the eating binge called “the munchies”.
Appetite suppressant drugs often have effects on mood and can be the source of major side effects. One new generation of appetite suppressants being developed, Acomplia, failed to be approved by the FDA because it caused severe depression and suicidal thinking.
In the next part of this series we will look at ways we can influence the brain to control our appetite.
Recent information from a 20 year study confirms what Mom told you about fish being good for the brain . Using MRI studies of the brain researchers from the University of Pittsburgh found that the size of certain brain regions crucial to intelligence were bigger in those who ate baked or broiled fish on a weekly basis. In Alzheimer’s Disease these same areas shrink as the disease progresses. Intelligence and memory testing by the researchers confirmed that having more brain volume in these areas correlated with better brain function. For fish eaters the rate of progressing to Alzheimer’s disease during this study was only 8% while non-fish eaters went on to Alzheimer’s 38% of the time. The researchers concluded that the benefit of fish eating probably results from the protective effect of omega-3 fatty acids on the brain. Omega-3 fatty acid contains high concentrations of EPA as well as another benefical nutrient DHA.
Fish oil is known to have other benefits as well, such as reducing certain fats in the blood, particularly triglycerides. In another recently released study those with high triglycerides taking 1.8 grams of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) for twelve weeks showed a 22% reduction in triglyceride levels . The EPA in this study was derived from the omega-3-fatty acids in fish oil. The researchers point out that there is still limited proof that lowering triglycerides leads to a reduction in heart attack risk, although reducing irregular heart beat after heart attack may be reduced by consuming nutrients such as EPA.
For more helpful information on nutrition and health check out my new book, Metabolism.com
In part one of this series we looked at the cause of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and the many complications it causes. Weight gain, acne, excess hair growth on the face and body, high cholesterol and high blood sugar due to insulin resistance are among the problems associated with PCOS. One particular area of concern for PCOS sufferers is infertility due to lack of ovulation. PCOS is the cause of anovulatory infertility in 3 out of 4 cases. Before the acceptance of medical therapy for infertility due to PCOS a surgical approach referred to as a wedge resection of the ovary was performed which allowed patients with PCOS to ovulate and conceive normally. Low success rates with this procedure, complications of surgery and improved medical therapies have all resulted in the end of this type of treatment in most situations. At present, treatment of infertility associated with PCOS generally consists of using a drug to combat insulin resistance known as metformin often in combination with the fertility drug clomid, which has a high rate of success.
Treatment of the excess hair growth associated with PCOS often consists of using the drug spironalactone and the use of birth control pills. Spironalactone is a very interesting drug used for decades as a salt depleting diuretic but also has an effect to block the action of the male hormone testosterone. The action of spironalactone to block testosterone was discovered when it was noticed that men using this diuretic developed tender nipples and breast enlargement (gynecomastia). Oral contraceptive agents are also useful to combat hirsutism because these agents also cause reduce testosterone levels by putting the ovary in a dormant “resting” state. Cosmetic procedures are always another option to treat unwanted hair growth. Laser hair removal appears to be replacing the older modality of electrolysis for this purpose.
Can PCOS be cured? Once PCOS develops it can be controlled but not cured unless the ovaries are removed. At menopause PCOS-related problems diminish as the ovary stops making sex hormones including testosterone which is one of the culprits during the reproductive years. A recent study published this year in the journal Pediatric Endocrinology showed that using metformin treatment in pre-adolescent girls thought to be at risk for PCOS reduces the risk and/or the severity of PCOS in later years. It may do this by blocking fat accumulation in the abdomen and liver which seems to set off the insulin resistance. Metformin is not FDA approved for this purpose and as a generic drug there is little profit potential in developing this treatment. I expect it will be many years before preventive therapy for PCOS will come before the FDA for approval .
This information is strictly for educational purposes. Due to high risk of toxicity of medical therapy in young women who can potentially become fertile under treatment for PCOS, no drug should be taken without the close supervision of a physician. The reader agrees to the Terms of Service of this website, metabolism.com
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) sounds like a rare disorder but it is surprisingly common. This is a disorder with onset in early adolescence effecting up to 10% of young women. Characteristic signs and symptoms include increasing facial and body hair, hair loss from the scalp, muscular or heavy build, acne, thickening and darkening of the skin known as acanthosis nigricans, blood sugar problems including type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and irregular menstrual cycles and infertility. In older women with PCOS coronary artery disease is more common. In severe cases deepening of the voice and enlargement of the clitoris (clitoromegaly) can be seen. Before the underlying hormone disorders were clarified, the main method of diagnosing this disorder was by finding multiple cysts on the ovary. We now understand that the main problem is not the ovarian cysts but metabolic disorders including insulin resistance and elevated male hormone levels (testosterone) in the blood.
Another misconception about PCOS is that it only occurs in overweight women. Obesity is common in PCOS but thin women are also capable of developing PCOS. The underlying hormone problems are complex but are thought to be at least in part due to high insulin levels in the blood resulting from insulin resistance. With insulin resistance the body requires high levels of insulin due to insensitivity of the tissues to insulin’s presence.
What treatments are available for PCOS? There are very few, if any, drugs specifically approved for the treatment of PCOS. This is probably because of the low profit potential for treating this disorder. Drug companies cannot afford to invest millions of dollars in research because almost all of the existing standard therapies are generic drugs. Some of the most useful medications for treating PCOS are drugs used to treat type 2 diabetes because of their effect to reduce insulin resistance. These drugs are metformin and Actos. Metformin is the most popular oral medication for diabetes treatment in the U.S. Actos has been available for about 10 years but due to recent negative publicity about an unproven risk of bladder cancer, its popularity is declining. Neither drug is approved by the FDA for treatment of PCOS but multiple studies confirm the clinical and hormonal benefits of using these medications in this disorder. In 2011 research was published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism suggesting that the generic cholesterol lowering drug, simvastatin may also show benefits similar to metformin for the treatment of PCOS.
In the late 1980’s, I along with Dr. Lester Gabrilove at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York, published our research showing that an anti-fungal medication, ketoconazole, could reverse the hormonal, physical and metabolic problems associated with PCOS. Due to the potential toxicity of ketoconazole this therapy never gained wide spread acceptance. The manufacturer refused to fund additional studies to determine how to more effectively use this drug, due to the low profit potential and liability concerns.
This information is strictly for educational puroses. Due to high risk of toxicity of medical therapy in young women who can potentially become fertile under treatment for PCOS, no drug should be taken without the close supervision of a physician. The reader agrees to the Terms of Service of this website, metabolism.com
One aspect of lifestyle that is often overlooked is time spent sleeping. Getting adequate sleep is often sacrificed due to the demands of job and family. In the Sleep Heart Health Study over 1400 men and women were surveyed about their sleep habits and its relationship to diabetes and prediabetes. It was found that sleeping less than 6 hours per night was associated with increased risk of having diabetes. Interestingly, in those sleeping more than 9 hours per night there was an increased risk of diabetes and prediabetes.The authors of the study recommend trying to get between 7 and 8 hours of sleep per night to minimize the chances of developing blood sugar problems. To learn more about ways of preventing diabetes see pages 90 to 98 in my ebook “Metabolism.com”
Maintaining ideal body weight with diet and exercise is also crucial for avoiding diabetes and prediabetes.In overweight adults for each2.2 pounds(1 kilogram) gained per year the risk of developing diabetes increases about 50% over the next ten years. By losing 2.2 pounds per year the risk of developing diabetes is reduced about33% for the next 10 years (J Epidemiol Community Health. 2000; 54(8):596-602).
Speak to your healthcare professional to find out if you are at risk for developing diabetes and to learn ways you can avoid it.
Gary Pepper M.D.
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