Probiotics contribute to weight loss, researchers say


A new meta-analysis may force us to reconsider the benefits of probiotics on our overall health. A team of researchers from Taizhou, China has conducted a study and found that these helpful bacteria helped participants lose weight and lower their body mass index (BMI) scores.

Probiotics, which can be found naturally in certain foods or in the form of supplements, are generally accepted as being beneficial to overall well-being. However, these findings will likely be viewed as controversial, as the medical community has been somewhat divided on just how helpful they really are.

“To date, quite a few researchers have investigated the effects of probiotics on body weight and BMI, without consistent result,” admits Qingqing Zhang, lead author of the study. However, this study marks the first time that probiotics were shown to contribute to weight loss.

Health benefits

The study combined findings from 25 randomized human trials that analyzed the effects of probiotics on BMI and weight loss. All told, it included information on over 1,900 healthy adults.

The findings showed that taking the probiotics contributed to decreased weight and BMI scores, particularly in participants who were overweight. Additionally, the researchers found that weight loss increased after using these substances for eight weeks. Taking more than one type of probiotic also resulted in increased weight loss.

The researchers admit that the amount of weight lost during the trials was minimal, but they also say that any amount of weight loss attributed to probiotics could lead to enormous health benefits for the general public, especially in combatting weight-related diseases like type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.

The full study has been published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition.

Replacing even one sugary drink with water leads to health benefits


U.S. consumers have many options to pick from when it comes to buying beverages at the grocery store. The number of sodas, juices, and other sugary drinks are almost too many to count, but indulging in them too much can lead to health and weight problems.

However, a new study from Virginia Tech shows that replacing one sugary drink with water can go a long way towards improving someone’s overall health. Even those who drink several 8-ounce servings every day can benefit from this simple transition.

“Regardless of how many servings of sugar-sweetened beverages you consume, replacing even just one serving can be of benefit,” said Kiyah J. Duffey, a Virginia Tech adjunct professor and independent nutrition consultant.

Reduced calorie intake

Duffey and her colleagues tested this theory by analyzing the calorie difference that would occur from replacing an 8-ounce sugary drink with an 8-ounce glass of water. Findings were based on the daily dietary intake of U.S. adults from the 2007-2012 National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys.

With this data, the researchers showed that making this substitution nearly brings daily calories from beverages in line with national standards.

“We found that among U.S. adults who consume one serving of sugar-sweetened beverages per day, replacing that drink with water lowered the percent of calories coming from 17 to 11 percent,” said Duffey. The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans says that consumers should get no more than 10% of their daily calories from added sugar.

“Even those who consumed more sugary drinks per day could still benefit from water replacement, dropping the amount of calories coming from beverages to less than 25 percent of their daily caloric intake.”

Dietary changes

The researchers point out that making small changes to drinking habits can affect the types of foods that consumers indulge in as well. The Beverage Guidance Panel and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans – an index created by Duffey and nutrition researcher Brenda Davy in 2015 – shows that people who consume more sugary drinks tend to have diets that consist of more red meat, processed foods, sweets, starch, and refined grains.

People who drink more water, on the other hand, have been shown to have diets that include more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, and poultry. Following this kind of diet has been shown to lead to lowered blood sugar levels and a reduced risk of obesity.

The full study has been published in Nutrients.

Researchers claim bias in industry-backed artificial sweetener studies


A study by Australian researchers has questioned the integrity of other studies funded by the artificial sweetener industry.

Writing up their findings in PLOS ONE, researchers at the University of Sydney claim studies funded by artificial sweetener companies were nearly 17 times more likely to reach conclusions favorable to the industry.

“It’s alarming to see how much power the artificial sweetener industry has over the results of its funded research, with not only the data but also the conclusions of these studies emphasizing artificial sweeteners’ positive effects while neglecting mention of any drawbacks,” said co-author Lisa Bero.

Bero says the results of these studies can have enormous influence, since they are often used by governments in the development of dietary guidelines.

Conflict of interest?

The researchers also point a finger at the authors of these studies, claiming many had undisclosed conflicts of interest. In fact, they say 42% of the reviews were written by people with a conflict of interest.

“Our analysis shows that the claims made by artificial sweetener companies should be taken with a degree of skepticism, as many existing studies into artificial sweeteners seem to respond to sponsor demands to exaggerate positive results, even when they are conducted with standard methods,” Bero said.

Many consumers turn to products with artificial sweeteners in an effort to reduce sugar consumption. In its analysis of artificial sweeteners, the Mayo Clinic reports there may be some advantages, as well as drawbacks.

Pros and cons

On the plus side, the Mayo Clinic says these sweeteners may help you control weight, and be a good alternative to sugar if you have diabetes. It says artificial sweeteners usually don’t raise blood sugar levels because they are not carbohydrates.

At the same time, the Mayo Clinic acknowledges that there have been health concerns about artificial sweeteners over the years, including possible links to cancer.

“But according to the National Cancer Institute and other health agencies, there’s no sound scientific evidence that any of the artificial sweeteners approved for use in the U.S. cause cancer or other serious health problems,” the Clinic says on its website.

But in recent years, some researchers have questioned artificial sweeteners’ effectiveness in weight control. A 2008 Purdue University study linked artificial sweeteners to weight gain.

More recently, researchers in the UK suggested people who were obese and consumed artificial sweeteners could have complications with glucose management.

Why your diet usually fails

There all kinds of diets and weight loss programs, and while some undoubtedly achieve results for some people, it’s also clear that the majority of people who start a diet soon give up.

Nutrition author Phoenix Gilman says the main reason diets fail is carbohydrate craving, leading to an overwhelming appetite.

“Millions of people still tragically believe in the low fat myth,” she said. “That alone has perpetuated our obesity epidemic, among numerous other diseases.”

Gilman says the simple answer to losing or controlling weight is learning what is healthy to eat and consuming reasonable portions of it. She says it’s also important to understand the role of chemicals produced by the brain.

Gilman works with individual clients to help them lose weight, specializing in women over 40.

“As a woman myself, and one who’s 57, this is a major turning point for women who are now looking in the mirror and asking, ‘What happened?’ Most have devoted their life to husbands, careers and raising children. Their health wasn’t often a priority,” she said.

Laundry list of problems

Gilman attributes a laundry list of problems to poor nutrition — from obesity, diabetes, and addictions, to depression, anxiety, and insomnia. Highly processed foods, she maintains, adjust brain chemicals that often send people running to the refrigerator.

Academic researchers have been onto this for some time. Back in 2007, researchers at UCLA conducted a study that concluded diets lead to temporary weight loss, at best.

“You can initially lose 5% to 10% of your weight on any number of diets, but then the weight comes back,” Traci Mann, UCLA associate professor of psychology and lead author of the study, said at the time. “We found that the majority of people regained all the weight, plus more.”

It’s true, Mann said, that a small minority of dieters were able to sustain their weight loss. It is also true, she said, that the majority regained all their weight.

Mann went so far as to contend that most dieters would have been better off not even trying to lose weight.

Gilman obviously disagrees, with the caveat that sensible portions of healthy, nutritious food is one diet that can work.

High-protein diet doesn’t help prevent type 2 diabetes, study finds

A lot of people go out of their way to eat extra protein. Dieters, in particular, think that eating more protein helps them stave off hunger and prevent the loss of muscle tissue that often comes with weight loss.

But is this really a good idea? In a study of 34 postmenopausal women with obesity, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found that eating too much protein eliminates an important health benefit of weight loss — improvement in insulin sensitivity, which is critical to lowering diabetes risk.

“We found that women who lost weight eating a high-protein diet didn’t experience any improvements in insulin sensitivity,” said principal investigator Bettina Mittendorfer, PhD, a professor of medicine. “However, women who lost weight while eating less protein were significantly more sensitive to insulin at the conclusion of the study. That’s important because in many overweight and obese people, insulin does not effectively control blood-sugar levels, and eventually the result is type 2 diabetes.”

A good marker

In fact, the researchers say, insulin sensitivity is a good marker of metabolic health, one that typically improves with weight loss. In their study, the women who lost weight while consuming less protein experienced a 25 to 30 percent improvement in their sensitivity to insulin.

Many dieters think that consuming extra protein can help preserve lean tissue — muscle, in other words — allowing them to lose fat without losing muscle. But Mittendorfer’s findings don’t support that belief.

“When you lose weight, about two-thirds of it tends to be fat tissue, and the other third is lean tissue,” Mittendorfer said. “The women who ate more protein did tend to lose a little bit less lean tissue, but the total difference was only about a pound. We question whether there’s a significant clinical benefit to such a small difference.”

While the difference in muscle mass loss was slight, the same wasn’t true of metabolism. The women who ate the recommended amount of protein saw big benefits in metabolism, led by a 25 to 30 percent improvement in their insulin sensitivity. That can lower the risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The women on the high-protein diet, meanwhile, did not experience those improvements.

“Very big effects”

“Changing the protein content has very big effects,” Mittendorfer said. “It’s not that the metabolic benefits of weight loss were diminished — they were completely abolished in women who consumed high-protein diets, even though they lost the same, substantial amounts of weight as women who ate the diet that was lower in protein.”

The study included 34 obese women 50 to 65 years old. Although all were obese, none had diabetes at the time of the study. They were placed in three groups for the 28-week study — a control group, a group that ate the recommended date allowance of protein, and a third group that ate more protein.

It’s still not clear why insulin sensitivity didn’t improve in the high-protein group, and Mittendorfer said it’s not known whether the same results would occur in men or in women already diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. She plans to continue researching the subject.

The findings became available Oct. 11 in the journal Cell Reports.

Study explains why aspartame may not help with weight loss


Studies have found that the sugar substitute aspartame — sold under the brand names NutraSweet and Equal — isn’t as helpful in losing weight as one might think, and now researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital have found a possible explanation.

In their report published online in Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism, the researchers show how an aspartame breakdown product called phenylalanine interferes with the action of an enzyme previously shown to prevent metabolic syndrome, the symptoms associated with type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

They also found that mice receiving aspartame in their drinking water gained more weight and developed other symptoms of metabolic syndrome than animals fed similar diets that lacked aspartame.

Gut enzyme

“Sugar substitutes like aspartame are designed to promote weight loss and decrease the incidence of metabolic syndrome, but a number of clinical and epidemiologic studies have suggested that these products don’t work very well and may actually make things worse,” says Richard Hodin, MD, of the MGH Department of Surgery, the study’s senior author.

“We found that aspartame blocks a gut enzyme called intestinal alkaline phosphatase (IAP) that we previously showed can prevent obesity, diabetes and metabolic syndrome; so we think that aspartame might not work because, even as it is substituting for sugar, it blocks the beneficial aspects of IAP.”

Hodin and colleagues have been working on the issue for quite awhile. In 2013, they published a study that found that feeding IAP to mice kept on a high-fat diet could prevent the development of metabolic syndrome and reduce symptoms in animals that already had the condition.

Phenylalanine is known to inhibit the action of IAP, and the fact that it is produced when aspartame is digested led the researchers to investigate whether that could explain aspartame’s lack of a weight-loss effect.

IAP is primarily produced in the small intestine, and the researchers found that injecting an aspartame solution into segments of the small intestines of mice significantly reduced the enzyme’s activity. In contrast, IAP activity remained unchanged in bowel segments injected with a saline solution.

“People do not really understand why these artificial sweeteners don’t work. There has been some evidence that they actually can make you more hungry and may be associated with increased calorie consumption. Our findings regarding aspartame’s inhibition of IAP may help explain why the use of aspartame is counterproductive,” says Hodin, who is a professor of Surgery at Harvard Medical School.

“While we can’t rule out other contributing mechanisms, our experiments clearly show that aspartame blocks IAP activity, independent of other effects,” he said.

How eating more beans and peas could help you lose weight


With the end of the year steadily approaching, some consumers may already be thinking about their New Year’s resolutions. Unfortunately, if you – like many others – will be making the pledge to drop a few pounds, putting up a new calendar won’t make it any easier.

There are plenty of reasons why someone may fail in their weight-loss goal. Going out and getting exercise can be like pulling teeth for some people, and starting a new, healthier diet can leave others still feeling hungry. Luckily, researchers at the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sports may have a remedy for the latter problem.

Professor Anne Raben and her colleagues have conducted a study and found that meals that include beans and peas can be more satiating than those based on meats like veal, pork, or beef. They say that making this dietary change could lead to greater weight loss because consumers won’t feel the need to eat as much.

Feeling full

Many dietary recommendations currently favor diets rich in protein to solve the problem of feeling hungry. That usually means eating more meat, but the researchers say that certain legumes can do the trick just as well.

They conducted a study in which 43 young, male participants were served three different meals consisting of patties; each was made up of either beans and peas or veal and pork. The researchers measured how much food was eaten to satisfy hunger and how much food was eaten at the next meal as an indication of satiety.

The findings showed that the patties made from beans and peas could satisfy the hunger of participants just as well as patties made from meat. Further, participants consumed 12% fewer calories in their next meal when eating legumes compared to meals after eating meat. The researchers believe that fiber content may have been the key.

“The protein-rich meal composed of legumes contained significantly more fiber than the protein-rich meal of pork and veal, which probably contributed to the increased feeling of satiety,” said Raben.

Aiding weight loss

The researchers believe that dieting consumers would benefit from adding more legumes to their diets as opposed to meat. Raben admits that this notion against consuming larger amounts of protein goes against the norm.

“[The research] is somewhat contrary to the widespread belief that one ought to consume a large amount of protein because it increases satiety more. Now, something suggests that one can eat a fiber-rich meal, with less protein, and achieve the same sensation of fullness.”

“While more studies are needed for a definitive proof, it appears as if vegetable-based meals — particularly those based on beans and peas — both can serve as a long-term basis for weight loss and as a sustainable eating habits,” she said.

The full study has been published in Food & Nutrition Research.

Are artificial sweeteners or natural, calorie-free sweeteners better for losing weight?


Consumers who want to lose weight or just control their blood sugar may often be plagued by decisions on what they should be eating or drinking at any given time. When it comes to certain beverages, the decision becomes even trickier.

Some people believe that indulging in a beverage with artificial sweeteners can help reduce appetite and keep them from overeating at their next meal. Others say that choosing a drink with natural or non-nutritive sweeteners (NNS) is better because it cuts down on overall sugar consumption.

So, which option is actually better for you? One study suggests that arguing for one over the other is a moot point in the short-term. Researchers from the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) in Singapore tested four beverages and found that daily energy intake, glucose levels, and insulin levels the blood was the same no matter what. The reason: what calories we avoid by drinking certain beverages is made up by the foods we eat throughout the day.

Energy intake is initially the same

The researchers set out to test four different kinds of beverages for their short-term study: one containing sucrose (sugar), one containing aspartame (an NNS), one made with a plant-derived NNS (Stevia), and one made with monk fruit (Mogroside V).

Thirty healthy male participants were asked to randomly consume one of the four beverages on each day of the trial period, while adhering to a similar daily schedule; each person woke each day and ate a standardized breakfast, drank one test beverage at mid-morning, and ate a lunchtime meal where they were asked to eat until comfortably full and write out a food diary.

After each round, the researchers recorded participants’ blood glucose and insulin levels. Lead author Siew Ling Tey said that the results were “surprising” because the amount of total daily energy intake was the same across all four beverages, meaning that participants consumed the same number of calories regardless of what they drank.

Short-term vs. long-term weight loss

Tey attributes this to participants reducing or increasing meal intake depending on the beverage they consumed earlier. Those that drank the sucrose-sweetened drink tended to reduce the amount of food they ate at lunch, while those who drank an NNS-sweetened beverage tended to eat more at meals.

“The energy ‘saved’ from replacing sugar with non-nutritive sweetener was fully compensated for at subsequent meals in the current study, hence no difference in total daily energy intake was found between the four treatments,” said Tey.

However, the researchers point out that longer-term studies have found that using NNS sweeteners for significant periods of time eventually reduces overall energy intake and body weight. The takeaway, then, may be that quick weight loss is not decided by the type of sweetened beverage we consume, but it should be a consideration when making a long-term diet plan.

The full study has been published in the International Journal of Obesity.

Researchers develop a way for consumers to burn excess fat


Consumers looking to lose weight may have spent countless hours in a sweltering gym trying to burn away excess fat. But is there an easier way to melt away the pounds that isn’t so labor-intensive and time consuming?

Perhaps not yet, but scientists at the University of Bonn believe that they have a potential answer. Dr. Alexander Pfeifer and his fellow researchers have been researching how to burn away fat for years, and a recent study using mice shows that making changes at the cellular level could make it possible.

The process involves converting unwanted white fat cells into brown slimming cells that consume energy. The difference between the cells is that the latter is packed with much more mitochondria, the so-called “power stations” of the cell. These extra reserves of mitochondria take white fat cells and use them to produce thermal energy, effectively burning them away.

During the study, the researchers converted white fat cells into brown slimming cells in mice and found that the subjects lost a significant amount of weight after the process was completed. Additionally, they found that combining this process with certain active ingredients reduced the number of white fat cells and increased the number of brown slimming cells, which accelerated the fat burning process. This gives some hope that this kind of therapy could be used to combat obesity and obesity-related health conditions, such as joint problems, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases.

Problems to work out

While the findings are encouraging, Pfeifer and his team say that there are some complications that need to be worked out with the process, specifically when used with obese subjects.

Currently, the use of the certain active ingredients kicks fat burning into overdrive, but certain types of fat have proven to be more resistant due to inflammation. Specifically, the researchers noted that subcutaneous fat – the kind found closest to the surface of the skin – was affected normally by the therapy, but deeper-lying abdominal fat was more problematic.

The researchers found that subjects with this deeper-lying fat had much more inflammation than those who didn’t, and that inflammation effectively shuts down and blocks the pathways that the therapy uses to turn white fat cells into brown fat cells. Additionally, the risk of this kind of inflammation is already high because it promotes cardiovascular diseases, which makes the problem twice as bad, the researchers said.

While a concrete solution has not yet materialized, researcher and lead author Abhishek Sanyal believes that halting the abdominal fat’s inflammatory response while simultaneously administering the therapy’s active ingredients could be a good starting point for tests.

The full study has been published in Cell Reports.

Loyola study discounts exercise in weight loss


A new study by researchers at Loyola University will no doubt be hailed by couch potatoes everywhere.

After reviewing their latest findings, these scientists are suggesting that losing weight may not depend all that much on getting exercise.

The researchers say they closely followed young adults in the U.S. and four other countries and concluded that neither the amount of exercise they got nor the amount of sedentary time they spent had much to do with gaining weight.

“Our study results indicate that physical activity may not protect you from gaining weight,” said lead author Lara R. Dugas, an assistant professor in Loyola’s Department of Public Health Sciences.

Exercise has its benefits

Dugas and her colleagues want to be very clear. They are in no way advocating a life on the couch watching TV or playing video games. Physical activity, they say, has many health benefits — keeping many chronic diseases at bay while improving mood and mental health.

But there’s a trade-off. The more you exercise the more your appetite may increase. It all seems to even out, they say.

The study may prove to be fodder in the ongoing debate between health advocates and food and beverage manufacturers over the causes of obesity. Business has long pointed out that consumers need to be more active, and if they are then a few extra calories won’t matter that much.

Attack on beverages

Health advocates have been quite vocal in their criticism of this argument, saying Americans are consuming way too many calories, particularly from sweetened beverages. In recent months their attack has been broadened to an attack on calorie-free artificial sweeteners.

Without overtly stepping into the politics of the argument, the Loyola researchers appear to be coming down on the side of not depending on exercise alone to keep from packing on pounds.

So what will help you lose weight? That’s a debate that’s still underway but a report published last year suggested portion control may be a significant factor.

“Participants who were prescribed twice-daily prepackaged meals lost about 8% of their initial weight, compared to participants in the control group – who could select their own diets – who only lost about 6%,” said lead researcher Cheryl Rock, of the University of California San Diego School of Medicine.

A helpful tool in losing or maintaining weight, she said, is removing the guesswork involved in planning and preparing low-calorie meals.