Fat Cell Frenzy – Understanding the Complexity of Obesity

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Each year, American’s spend billions of dollars on weight loss products; dietary programs and new trends “guaranteeing” pounds will come off quickly using their plan.  The desperation to shed unwanted body fat is clear, yet many individuals continue to struggle with their weight.  Why does this remain such a growing problem in America today?  It’s partially due to misconceptions regarding the scientific nature of weight / fat loss coupled with an obvious urgency for people to understand the complexity of obesity, fat storage and fat metabolism at the cellular level.

Extensive studies have shown that excessive body fat / obesity is a widespread, multifaceted disease correlated with a other health problems that negatively affect an individual’s quality of life.  With the overwhelming increases in obesity today, the National Institute of Health, the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists and other organizations invest a tremendous amount of time and money studying this epidemic crisis – specifically the neurological, hormonal, genetic, social andmetabolicorigins of obesity.

Basic biology tells us that dietary fatsand lipids(all fats, oils and sterols) are broken down into structural chains of fatty acids stored in our fat cellsas adipose tissue.  A certain amount of stored body fatfulfills three, essential roles:  Fat acts as our primary fuel reservein the form of triglycerides; chains of fatty acidsare building blocks for key membrane constitutes; and fatty acid derivativesserve as hormonaland intercellular messengers.  Our bodies need essential fat for optimum functioning, however, excess reserves of adipose tissue can have severe consequences.  For example, fat cells can expand three to six times their normal size, with a seemingly infinite capacity to make more of themselves.  When fat cells reach their maximum storage capacity, they can “burst” much like an over-inflated balloon.  The secreted substances (inflammatory chemicals) act like a poison in the body.  Once the cell bursts, new fat cells develop in an effort to store excess fuel reserves and chemical wastes.  As the degree of obesity increases, the duplication of fat cells continues to escalate.

As mentioned, body fat is stored in the form of triglycerides.  Triglycerides(chains of fatty acids) continually circulate throughout the body, but they primarily specializein storage as adipose tissue.  If an individual is consuming more food than their bodies can metabolize, the surplus of calories is deposited in a multitude of fat cells.  Considering that one-pound of body fat stores approximately 3,500 calories, an extra 50 pounds has an excess fuel reserve of 175,000 calories!  To lose 50 pounds of body fat, one needs to “burn” and dispose of the excess reserve through sequential chemical and metabolic processes at the cellular level.  Enzymes and key nutrients pay a significant role.

Triglycerides are broken down by the enzyme lipase. It’s a metabolic system of fatty acid oxidationregulated by hormones, catalytic reactions and a proper balance of key nutrients (proteins, carbohydrates and dietary fats).  Proteins (containing amino acids), carbohydrates (containing carbon chains) and dietary fats (FA’s) have unique nutritional properties to help maintain synergy within the body.  Scientifically, carbohydrates do not need any assistance from fatty acids to help them metabolize, however, fatty acids need carbon chains for hydrolysis (the breakdown of stored body fat).

Carbohydrates usually get a bad rep for causing weight gain, and many people avoid them on a “diet” without realizing that vegetables and legumes are classed as carbohydrates – leafy greens, broccoli, asparagus, fresh green beans, snap peas, etc.  Legumes also contain a good source of fiber – they provide quality nutrients, aid in digestion and the elimination of food byproducts.  The saying “Fat Burns in the Flame of Carbohydrates” bears truth.  Without some carbohydrates in the diet, there is an incomplete breakdown of adipose tissue and a decrease in the rate of fatty acid oxidationat the cell level.

Fatty acid oxidation also has to occur in the “powerhouse” or mitochondria of a cell.  Long chain fatty acids cannot penetrate into the cell membrane without the presence of carnitine, a compound formed from the essential amino acids lysine and methionine. Both of these amino acids are found in animal proteins and complementary vegetarian sources.  Although L-carnitine and other supplements are widely marketed to enhance weight-loss, no conclusive medical evidence supports these claims.  Nutrient intake should come from high quality food sources prior to investing money in supplements that may or may not work.

If asked, do you think fast food burgers and egg-muffins contain a decent supply of essential amino acids and quality nutrients to support fat burning at the cell level?  Would your body respond better with whole food sources in the diet, or perform better with processed foods?  How do you think your body metabolically reacts to a greasy hot-dog over fresh vegetables, baked chicken, fish or legumes?  The obvious answer is to spark your metabolism with nutritious foods in their most natural state.

In the book “Fat Land”, Greg Critser takes us back to several developments in the food industry that have also contributed to the obesity crisis.  Back in the 1970’s, corn surpluses led to the production of high fructose corn syrup found in several food products today – including soda and snack drinks.  Cheap imports of palm oil and kernel oil combined with advances in technology led to increases in the number of convenience foods, snack items and artificial flavorings.  Because our bodies metabolize high fructose corn syrup, palm oil and palm kernel oil differently than “natural food sources”, these additives and preservatives have been shown to prompt fat storage, increase adipose tissue, elevate levels of triglycerides, cholesterol, glucose and insulin, and increase the risk factors for associated diseases.

Controversial Issues with Obesity

  • Obese people are not getting critical chemical signals to their brain to since fullness: Under normal conditions, the hormone, grehlin, signals the brain to tell the body it has had enough to eat, to more or eat less,.  Some studies suggest that obesity is associated with either a transport or interpretation problem with grehlin function.  Other studies suggest that excessive body fat, in itself, triggers an impairment of this gut hormone signaling.  The more adipose tissue an individual has, the greater the impairment becomes.  For example:  Studies have shown that obese mice develop a brain-barrier defect that causes them to eat more and store more body fat with age, but skinny mice stay about the same weight and eat until satisfied (William Blanks; MD).
  • Hormonal Defects and Insulin Resistance Cause Obesity: Hormonal defects and insulin resistance do not specifically cause obesity, however, obesity has been shown to play a dominant role in insulin resistance. Once a person moves into the state of obesity, hormonal balances for fuel metabolism are impaired.  As a result, glucose and insulin levels are compromised.  Left untreated, the risk of Type II Diabetes is inevitable.
  • Fat Deposits are Determined at Birth: We are all born with a certain number of fat cells. However, as discussed earlier, when an adipocyte has reached full storage capacity, hormonal signals drive the process of fat cell multiplication.  If unnecessary calories continue to enter the body, adipocytes will continue to multiply over and beyond what an individual had at birth.
  • Obesity is all Genetic: According to the Harvard School of Public Health, genetics only plays a small role in whether someone will become obese.  If a parent or both parents are obese, a child may be born with a greater number of fat cells, but it doesn’t mean they will become obese. Weight gain is influenced by a combination of environmental and lifestyle factors more than genetic make-up alone.
  • Neurological and Social Environment Trigger Obesity: With billions of neurons firing in complex circuits, scientists cannot measurably peer into your mind and emotions to suggest obesity is caused by a neurological malfunction.  They can, however, measure physical behaviors and the social environment surrounding that behavior.  There are external factors that often prompt poor lifestyle choices and dietary habits. These include: eating out more often; a trend of eating more fast foods; super-sizing meals; spending more time watching TV or playing video games; opting to drive because it’s easier than walking; organizing social events around food; taking the elevator over the stairs, or opting out of exercise because “it takes too much time”.
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Getting Fit for Golf – Are You Ready?

This time of year, amateur and professional golfers alike head outdoors to enjoy the sport.  If off-season and pre-season conditioning exercise programs have been neglected, pains, injuries and physical limitations frequently set-in. The most common include: tight or sore chest muscles; decreased flexibility and range of motion, particularly in the torso; strained shoulders and back discomfort. Professional golfers usually have more repetitive motion injuries from extensive hours of practice, while amateurs are more likely to get injured due to lack of physical conditioning; poor swing technique and improper club grip. Body mechanics and core strength play a key role.

Golf and Core Strength

Golf requires the body to habitually bend and twist (tiresome, repetitive motions) that can eventually strain the back and shoulders and create multiple muscle imbalances that precede an injury. To help prevent injuries while increasing performance, golfers should focus on lumbar stabilization, body alignment, stretching exercises and power to increase rotational strength for the swing. Weight lifting for golf may prove beneficial for over-all strength gains; however, it is of little use without enhanced flexibility and a strong core. Core muscles assist in maintaining balance, improving back health and increasing the safety ability to move the trunk through all planes of motion. For example: If a golfer can utilize the force of trunk rotation instead of brute force from supplementary muscles to drive the ball, the chance of a shoulder or low back injury can be decreased.
Muscle Symmetry
A golfer’s healthy playing stance begins with the maintenance of muscle symmetry and correction of muscle imbalances. Players need collective strength and stability in the upper body, lower body, postural musculature and rotational core muscles in order to enhance muscular symmetry. Asymmetry becomes prevalent when a golfer favors a dominant side. In this case, stronger muscles on one side of the body become too tight, while the weaker side has too much elasticity. When muscle symmetry is improved with conditioning exercises, muscle imbalances decrease and the body is less likely to suffer from unnecessary injuries.

Core Exercises for Golf and Torso Stability

  1. Basic Crunch – Works the entire abdominal wall.
    1. Crunch with knees bent and feet flat on the floor or mat. Hands support the head and neck, but do not lock the fingers behind the head.  Exhale on the crunch. Inhale as you lower.
    2. Increase intensity by elevating heels in a resting position on a bench or large fit ball.  Hands still supporting the head and neck, but fingers are not locked behind the head or neck.
    3. Crunch from side to side; elbows open.
    4. Crunch while lying on a fit ball.
  2. Standing Wood-chops or Wood-chops seated on a fit ball.
    1. Hold a Dumbbell or Medicine Ball with both hands.
    2. Perform a twist from low to high position as you move the dumbbell or free weight in a diagonal motion across the midline of the body.
  3. Plank or Side Plank Variation
    1. Plank in a push-up position or lower to the forearms if it hurts your shoulders or neck. Hold until fatigue.
    2. Side plank with feet stacked or slightly staggered. Forearm option if needed to protect shoulders or neck.
  4. Lying Oblique Twist
    1. Lie with knees bent at 90 degrees. Slowly lower you knees to one side without touching the floor. Return to starting and repeat on the other side.
    2. Variation – you can also do this exercise with straight legs (the more advanced version).
  5. Russian Twists
    1. Sit on the floor with knees bent at 90 degrees. Hold a medicine ball or dumbbell and twist from side to side.
    2. Increase intensity by raising one or both legs off the mat.

Boost Immunity, Reduce Stress and Fight Common Ailments with YOGA

Practicing yoga can help unite the mind and body in a way that fosters health and well-being.  Numerous studies have shown that yoga positively affects the body’s musculoskeletal, circulatory, endocrine and nervous systems.  Yoga can also increase muscular strength, balance , flexibility, precision of movement and tonicity while reducing the risk of injury commonly found in contact sports and high-impact exercise.

Additional good news!  Yoga’s influence on health is gaining increased recognition in mainstream medical circles.  Studies from the Harvard Medical School and University of Massachusetts Medical Center conclusively show that yoga and meditative relaxation boost immunity, reduce stress and aid in the healing of many chronic illnesses.  This is why many prestigious hospitals and wellness centers now offer yoga classes to their patients. Powerful proof that yoga is beneficial to our health!  Ready to give it a try?

Yoga for Immunity and the Common Cold – Downward Facing-Dog

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Yoga helps keep the immune system strong on a day-to-day basis using poses, asanas, to lower stress hormones that compromise the immune system.  It also strengthens your resistance to viral and bacterial intruders that lead to infection.  Recommended asanas (like Downward Facing-Dog, Camel Pose, Child’s Pose, Supported Bridge, Cobra Pose, Back Bends, Forward Bends and Twists) also condition the lungs and respiratory tract, stimulate the lymphatic system to release toxins and bring clean, oxygenated blood to the organs.

Yoga for Insomnia – Standing Forward Bend

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If you have difficulty falling asleep, stress is a likely culprit.  Regular asana practice can reduce tension and help you wind down when it is time for bed.  Calming asanas such as forward bends, twists, simple inversions, lying with your feet elevated or up on the wall and gentle breathing can all help with insomnia.

Yoga for Back Pain – Wide Leg Standing Forward Bend

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When it comes to back pain, consistent stretching of the low back and hamstrings are your best bet.  Backaches can result from injury, overuse or mis-use, but the prime culprit often lies in mis-alignment.  A constant tug-of-war between your abdominals pulling the pelvis forward and the hamstrings counter pulling the pelvis back.  Yoga poses like the Wide Leg Standing Forward Bend give the spine and opportunity to lengthen horizontally while the hamstrings and inner thigh muscles lengthen vertically, thus reducing pressure on the back.  Another good way to stretch the low back is to lie down while drawing your knees into the chest and lifting your nose toward your knees (like giving yourself a big hug).

Yoga for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome – Cobra Pose

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Mild to moderate carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) can be treated with asanas that facilitate wrist rejuvenation and counteract repetitive movements, stress and strain on the upper back, neck, shoulders, hands, arms and wrists.  A regular practice of yoga can strengthen these areas and reduce overall physical stress by teaching you how to be aware of your posture, alignment and breathing – how to sit, lift, stand and stretch – when performing activities that contribute to CTS.

Yoga for Strained Eyes and Blurry Vision – Corpse Pose

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Blurry vision, distorted vision and stinging dry eyes are common in individuals who sit at a computer or mobile device for more than three hours at a time.  It is also common in individuals who study, read or do paper work for extended periods without a break. The best remedy – dim the lights, lie down and take a break.  If you are in an office setting and you cannot lie down, force yourself to get up and stretch at least once for every hour spent at the computer.  Close your eyes, quiet your mind, practice deep breathing and let your mind relax!

Resistance Training for Overweight Youth

Years ago, resistance training for the youth population was often considered unsafe and potentially injurious to the developing muscle-skeletal system.  Particularly so for children under the age of 14 years.  With the global epidemic of pediatric obesity on the rise, new research has emerged.  Over the past decade, numerous studies have shown that regular participation in resistance training programs can improve cardiorespiratory fitness, bone mineral density, blood lipids and total well-being for our youth.  Resistance training can also help children lose excess body fat and improve insulin sensitivity at the cellular level.  These two factors alone can have a huge impact on the reduction of childhood obesity as a whole.

General Program Design and Guidelines for the Overweight Youth

  • Make sure the program is adequately supervised by a qualified instructor / personal trainer.
  • Ensure the exercise environment is safe and free from potential hazards.
  • Begin each session with a 5 to 7 minute, dynamic warm-up.
  • Perform 1 to 3 sets of 6 to 15 repetitions for each exercise.
  • Include exercises for the legs, arms, back and midsection.
  • Focus on technique rather than the amount of weight being lifted.
  • Include a cool-down and stretch period after each session.
  • Strive to resistance train 2 to 3 times / week on nonconsecutive days.
  • Use individual workout logs to chart progress.
  • Periodically vary the resistance training program.