The dark truth about chocolate

Grand health claims have been made about chocolate, but while it gives us pleasure, can it really be good for us?

Chocolate has been touted as a treatment for agitation, anaemia, angina and asthma. It has been said to awaken appetite and act as an aphrodisiac. You may have noticed were still on the letter A.

More accurately, and to avoid adding to considerable existing confusion, it is the seeds of the Theobroma cacao tree that have, over hundreds of years, been linked to cures and therapies for more than 100 diseases and conditions. Their status as a cure-all dates back over 2,000 years, having spread from the Olmecs, Maya and Aztecs, via the Spanish conquistadors, into Europe from the 16th century.

The 19th century saw chocolate drinking become cheap enough to spread beyond the wealthy, the invention of solid chocolate and the development of milk chocolate. Later came the added sugar and fat content of todays snack bars and Easter eggs, which time-travelling Aztecs would probably struggle to associate with what they called the food of the gods.

Recent years have seen chocolate undergo another transformation, this time at the hands of branding experts. Sales of milk chocolate are stagnating as consumers become more health-conscious. Manufacturers have responded with a growing range of premium products promoted with such words as organic, natural, cacao-rich and single-origin. The packets dont say so, but the message were supposed to swallow is clear: this new, improved chocolate, especially if it is dark, is good for your health. Many people have swallowed the idea that its a superfood. Except it isnt. So how has this magic trick-like metamorphosis been achieved?

Its foundations lie in chocolate manufacturers having poured huge sums into funding nutrition science that has been carefully framed, interpreted and selectively reported to cast their products in a positive light over the last 20 years. For example, studies published last year found chocolate consumers to be at reduced risk of heart flutters, and that women who eat chocolate are less likely to suffer from strokes. Consuming chemicals called flavanols in cocoa was also linked to reduced blood pressure. In 2016, eating chocolate was linked to reduced risks of cognitive decline among those aged 65 and over, while cocoa flavanol consumption was linked to improved insulin sensitivity and lipid profiles markers of diabetes and cardiovascular disease risk.

Such studies have generated hundreds of media reports that exaggerate their findings, and omit key details and caveats. Crucially, most recent research has used much higher levels of flavanols than are available in commercial snack products. For example, the blood pressure study involved participants getting an average of 670mg of flavanols. Someone would need to consume about 12 standard 100g bars of dark chocolate or about 50 of milk chocolate per day to get that much. The European Food Safety Authority has approved one rather modest chocolate-related health claim that some specially processed dark chocolate, cocoa extracts and drinks containing 200mg of flavanols contribute to normal blood circulation by helping to maintain blood vessel elasticity.

cocoa
Cocoa pods harvested on the Millot plantation in the north-west of Madagascar. Photograph: Andia/UIG via Getty Images

Prof Marion Nestle, a nutritional scientist at New York University, uses the word nutrifluff to describe sensational research findings about a single food or nutrient based on one, usually highly preliminary, study. She points out that most studies on chocolate and health get industry funding, but journalists generally fail to highlight this. Industry-funded research tends to set up questions that will give them desirable results, and tends to be interpreted in ways that are beneficial to their interests, she says.

Research has repeatedly shown that when food companies are paying, they are more likely to get helpful results. US researchers who reviewed 206 studies about soft drinks, juice and milk, for example, found that those receiving industry money were six times more likely to produce favourable or neutral findings than those that did not. Most nutrition scientists who accept money from industry are in a state of denial, according to Nestle, whose book Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat is due to be published in October. The researchers involved feel it doesnt affect the integrity and quality of their work, she says. But research on drug industry funding shows the influence is generally unconscious, unintentional and unrecognised.

The public are also misled into believing chocolate is healthy through what scientists refer to as the file drawer effect. Two of the aforementioned studies those on blood pressure and markers of cardiovascular health are meta-analyses, meaning they pool the results of previously published research. The problem is that science journals, like the popular media, are more likely to publish findings that suggest chocolate is healthy than those that conclude it has no effect, which skews meta-analyses. Its really hard to publish something that doesnt find anything, says Dr Duane Mellor, a nutritionist at Coventry University who has studied cocoa and health. Theres a bias in the under-reporting of negative outcomes.

Then theres the problem that, unlike in drug trials, those taking part in chocolate studies often know whether they are being given chocolate or a placebo. Most people have positive expectations about chocolate because they like it. They are therefore primed, through the conditioning effect famously described by the Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov to respond positively. They may, for example, become more relaxed, boosting levels of endorphins and neurotransmitters, and triggering short-term physiological benefits.

The responses of study participants can be affected by their beliefs and assumptions about chocolate, says Mellor. Research has also found people who volunteer for studies are more likely to be affected by their beliefs about an intervention than the population as a whole.

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So hard to resist: a chocolate shop in Bruges, Belgium. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

Many of the studies that involve people being given chocolate and tracking their health over time are short and have small numbers of participants. This adds to the difficulties nutritional scientists have in separating out the effects of consuming one food or nutrient from the rest of their diet and other variables and interactions within the body.

So when and why did chocolate companies become so keen on using science as a marketing tool? The answer depends on whom you ask.

During the 1990s, scientists became interested in the French paradox the now discredited observation that heart disease rates were low in France despite a national diet high in saturated fats. One proposed explanation was relatively high consumption of flavanols, a group of compounds found in red wine, tea and cocoa which, at high doses, had been linked to the prevention of cellular damage. US researchers caused a stir when from around the turn of the century they concluded that Kuna people off the coast of Panama had low blood pressure and rates of cardiovascular disease because they drank more than five cups of flavanol-rich cocoa per day.

This undoubtedly stimulated chocolate industry research. However in 2000, a Channel 4 documentary reported on the use of child labour and slavery in cocoa production operations in Ghana and Ivory Coast the source of most of the worlds chocolate. This triggered a wave of media reports and negative publicity.

Some say the industry poured money into science at this time to divert attention away from west Africa. Efforts by many of the large chocolate companies to demonstrate health effects started side by side with the outcry over the use of child labour and slavery, says Michael Coe, a retired anthropologist formerly of Yale University, co-author of The True History of Chocolate. Some of it was legitimate science, but it was stimulated, at least in part, by the need to say something positive about chocolate.

Industry figures strenuously disagree. There was no connection between those two things, says Matthias Berninger, vice-president for public affairs at Mars, Inc, when asked whether Coe is correct. The Kuna story sparked a lot of interest. The level of investment and energy and intensity of research was much more driven by that than it was by the idea of creating a halo around chocolate.

Critics have accused Mars in particular of using nutritional science to cast its products in a good light. Through its scientific arm, Mars Symbioscience, it has published more than 140 peer-reviewed scientific papers on cocoa flavanols and health since 2005.

The family-owned company has traditionally remained tight-lipped about its involvement in cocoa research. However, last month it published its policies on conducting and funding research. Asked whether it had previously been involved in using research to suggest chocolate was healthy, Berninger says: I do believe that that was so tempting, Mars couldnt resist it. If you look back 20 years, there was this idea that this could create huge opportunities for us.

But he says this changed long ago. As a marketing strategy, we have not engaged in that for more than a decade. In 2007, the European Union tightened regulations on nutrition and health claims. Meanwhile, research was making it increasingly clear that health benefits claims for commercial dark chocolate products were unrealistic because of their low flavanol content.

Yet campaigners highlight how chocolate companies, including Mars, have fought public health regulations that might undermine their profits using third parties. US public health lawyer Michele Simon produced hard-hitting reports in 2013 and 2015, documenting how the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) and the American Society of Nutrition (ASN), were receiving large sponsorship fees from major food industry companies. In 2014, the ASN had gone in to bat on behalf of its corporate backers, including Coca-Cola, Mars and McDonalds, against a US government plan for added sugar content to be included on food labels, and questioning the evidence on their negative health effects. A year earlier, the AND stated its support for a total diet approach, and opposition to the overly simplistic classification of specific foods as good or bad. Its about co-opting health organisations, and buying legitimacy among professionals and members of the public, says Andy Bellatti, co-founder of US-based Dietitians for Professional Integrity.

Chocolate manufacturers have also used the classic corporate strategy of using third-party lobbyists to manufacture artificial scientific controversy. Science is, by its nature, about evidence-based probabilities not absolute certainties. The exaggeration of uncertainty was perfected by the tobacco companies in the 1950s, and later copied by the asbestos and oil industries. Chocolate makers have done this through lobbying groups such as the Washington-based International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI), which campaigned against added sugar labelling in the US, and opposed the World Health Organisations 2015 advice that less than 10% of daily energy intake should come from free sugars those added to food and drinks and occurring naturally in honey and fruit juice.

Criticisms of these tactics seem to be hitting home. Mars broke ranks with fellow chocolate-making ILSI members including Nestl, Hershey and Mondelz, which owns Cadbury, in 2016 when it denounced a paper funded by the group questioning research linking sugar consumption and poor health, and related health advice. Last month Mars announced it was leaving ILSI.

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Dont count on it: large quantities of the flavanols found in chocolate need to be consumed before they will have an impact on blood pressure. Photograph: Anthony Devlin/PA

Marss Berninger agrees that the chocolate industry could do more to prevent the spread of health myths. Chocolate is a treat you should enjoy occasionally and in small portions, not a health food, he says. Did we say that loud enough over the last 10 years? I would say no.

Public health campaigners welcome Marss new stance. Some see it as a genuine attempt to do the right thing, while others highlight how large food companies are seeking to reposition themselves in the face of growing environmental and health concerns. Whatever the motivation, the gulf between the chocolate industry and its critics seems to be narrowing.

Children hoping to celebrate Easter in the traditional chocolatey style on 1 April will be reassured to hear the two sides also agree on another aspect of the debate. While chocolate is probably not healthy, its also not harmful when enjoyed in sensible amounts, says Mellor. Chocolate is candy, adds Nestle. As part of a reasonable diet, its fine in moderation.

You can say anything with figures

The role of the media in helping chocolate makers exploit our failure to grasp the complexities of nutrition science was laid bare in a 2015 expos. German television journalists set up a three-week study in which they asked one group of volunteers to follow a low-carb diet, another to do the same but add a daily chocolate bar, a third to make no change to their diet. Both low-carb groups lost an average of 5lb, but the chocolate group lost weight faster. By measuring 18 different things in a small number of people, the spoofers made it likely they would find statistically significant but fake benefits of eating chocolate.

The peer-reviewed International Archives of Internal Medicine agreed to publish a hastily written paper within 24 hours of receiving it for a fee of 600. John Bohannon, a Harvard University biologist and science journalist in on the hoax, put together a press release. Within days stories had been published in more than 20 countries. The Mail Online, Daily Express, Daily Star and Bild were among those that fell for it.

I was just really ashamed for my colleagues, says Bohannon. These are people who regurgitate whole chunks of press releases and almost never call on outside sources. In my book, thats not even journalism. Its just an extension of PR.

Big Food: Critical Perspectives on the Global Growth of the Food and Beverage Industry, edited by Simon N Williams and Marion Nestle, is published by Routledge

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/mar/25/chocolate-the-dark-truth-is-it-good-for-you-health-wellbeing-blood-pressure-flavanols

With AI, Your Apple Watch Could Flag Signs of Diabetes

Before modern chemistry brought doctors blood and urine tests for diagnosing diabetes, they had to rely on their taste buds. Sweet-tasting pee has long been the disease’s telltale biomarker; mellitus literally means honey. Too much sugar in your bodily fluids means your metabolism has gone haywire—either your cells aren’t making insulin or they’re not responding to it.

But a little over a decade ago, a group of researchers discovered a less obvious link. One of the complications of diabetes is nerve damage, and in the cardiovascular system that damage can cause irregular heart rates. Which you can measure, either with electricity or light. So one day soon, doctors might diagnose diabetes with their patients’ wrist bling instead of blood pricks or pee strips. Oh, what difference a few centuries make.

In 2005, heart rate sensors were something only elite athletes and very sick people used. Today, one in five Americans own one. Which is why there’s now a deep learning company trying to make something out of the connection between heart rate and diabetes. On Wednesday, at the annual AAAI Conference on Artificial Intelligence in New Orleans, digital health-tracking startup Cardiogram presented research suggesting the Apple Watch’s heart rate sensor and step counter can make a good guess at whether or not a person has diabetes—when paired with the right machine-learning algorithms, of course.

Apple has been eyeing a career change—from personal trainer to personal physician—for its signature wearable for a while now. In November the company teamed up with health insurer Aetna to give away more than 500,000 Apple Watches as part of a pilot to try to reduce health costs. And it embarked on a study with Stanford to test the watch’s skills at detecting irregular heartbeats, which can lead to stroke or heart attack. This most recent collaboration between Cardiogram—a San Francisco-based startup staffed by former Google engineers—and a landmark UC San Francisco heart health study is just the latest in these moves.

Cardiogram offers a free app for organizing heart-rate data from the Apple Watch and devices with similar sensors—from companies like Fitbit, Garmin, and Android Wear. It uses the same kind of artificial neural networks that Google uses to turn speech into text, and repurposes them to interpret heart-rate and step-count data. On its own, that data is mostly meaningless for detecting disease, and not just because the sensors themselves have significant errors. Training a model that can pick out condition-specific patterns requires labeled data. To learn what a diabetic heart rate signature looks, it needs some diabetics.

That’s where UCSF comes in. In 2013 it kicked off a major heart disease project called the Health eHeart study, aiming to collect massive amounts of digital health data on one million people. As of mid-January, the study had registered 196,000 participants, who each fill out a survey about known medical conditions, family histories, medications, and blood test results. About 40,000 of them have also opted to link that information with their Cardiogram app.

“That’s where we get our labels,” says Cardiogram co-founder Brandon Ballinger, who previously worked as a tech lead on Google’s speech recognition software. “In medicine, your labeled answers each represent a life at risk. Compared to what an internet company is working with, it’s actually a very small number of examples.”

So Cardiogram has had to adopt some tricks from the tech world to train its neural network, DeepHeart, to spot human disease. One of these is a technique called semi-supervised sequence learning, which was originally invented to work on text data like Amazon product reviews. But instead of a sequence of words, they sub in a sequence of heart rate measurements—about 4,000 per week. Some fancy math compresses that information into a single number summarizing the amount of heart rate variability. Then those summaries are what get tied to labeled patient data, and the real training can begin.

Using this method, DeepHeart was able to spot diabetics who weren’t part of the training group 85 percent of the time. The results are on par with the company’s previous work: Last year, the Cardiogram and UCSF released results showing that DeepHeart could wrestle one week’s worth of a person’s Apple Watch data into predictions for hypertension, sleep apnea, and atrial fibrillation with accuracy rates between 80 and 90 percent.

So how do Cardiogram’s algorithms make good guesses without directly measuring the amount of sugar in someone’s blood? Nobody really knows.

“Diabetes is very clearly a cardiovascular condition, but it’s not one with an obvious physiological connection to heart rate variability,” says Mark Pletcher, one of the principal investigators of the Health eHeart study and a co-author on the paper presented Wednesday. When you train machine learning algorithms on data without knowing the mechanisms behind the underlying patterns, you often get a signal without understanding why. “It makes me nervous, frankly. We’ve had a lot of internal discussions about whether this could be picking up medications diabetics use or some other extraneous factor. But we haven’t come up with anything.”

That’s the kind of thing that sends up red flags for Eric Topol, a cardiologist and Director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute, where he’s leading the digital health arm of the NIH’s billion dollar Precision Medicine Initiative. “This combines features of the black box of algorithms and the black box of biology,” he says, of the Cardiogram study. “It’s unconvincing and shaky. At best it would be considered hypothesis-generating.” The hypothesis here being that DeepHeart might be picking up a diabetes signal. But it might be picking up something else.

Ballinger is quick to counter these kinds of criticisms. If your wearable tells you you’re at increased risk for diabetes, and you go to the doctor and get diagnosed by traditional means, then you’re still getting the standard quality of care, he says. So what if it’s a black box that gets you in the door? Still, he recognizes the need for prospective validation to really demonstrate the AI’s accuracy—screening people who have not yet been diagnosed with diabetes, and following them to see if they did in fact develop the disease. He says the company is actively investing in those kinds of future studies.

With the right testing, Ballinger sees business potential in his black box intelligence. Cardiogram’s app for Apple Watch and other devices is free today. But the startup plans to add features that advise a user be tested for atrial fibrillation, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, or diabetes as soon as later this year. To stay on the right side of the US Food and Drug Administration, the app can’t function as a standalone diagnostic, more like some friendly advice. But the kind of advice an insurer might cover if they thought it would get people into treatment earlier and save healthcare costs.

Which leaves them a long way to go, given the evidence that’s currently out there. Or rather, lack thereof. “Setting aside the accuracy piece, which is something the FDA would want to know about, there’s almost no data out there on whether or not these wearables can actually change patient outcomes,” says Brennan Spiegel, a gastroenterologist and the director of Health Services Research at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles. “Creating the tech isn’t the hard part. The hard part is using the tech to change patient behavior. And that’s really hard to do. It’s not a computer science, it’s behavioral and social science.”

Still, if the Health eHeart and Cardiogram studies can say one thing pretty definitively at this point, it’s that people are eager to engage with apps capable of medical-grade measurements, if and when they become available. The question is if a healthier you is truly just a push notification away.

Intelligent Wearables

Fitbit's new smart watch wants to be a personal medical device.

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Don't know the difference between supervised, semi-supervised, and unsupervised deep learning? The WIRED Guide to Artificial Intelligence can help you with that.

Read more: https://www.wired.com/story/with-ai-your-apple-watch-could-flag-signs-of-diabetes/

6 million middle-aged people take no exercise

Public Health Englands research suggests large numbers of adults do not walk for 10 minutes at a time once a month

About 6 million middle-aged people in England are endangering their health by not taking so much as a brisk walk once a month, government advisers have said.

Clinicians said such a lack of exercise increases an individuals risk of prematurely developing serious health conditions including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, dementia and cancer.

Public Health England (PHE) said 41% of the 15.3 million English adults aged 40 to 60 walk less than 10 minutes continuously each month at a brisk pace of at least 3mph.

PHE has launched a health campaign targeting the sedentary middle-aged by encouraging them to walk to the shop instead of using a car and to take up walking on lunch breaks to add many healthy years to their lives.

Health leaders believe that 10 minutes walking a day is likely to be seen as achievable by people who are chronically inactive and that the health benefits include increased fitness, improved mood, a healthier body weight and a 15% reduction in the risk of dying prematurely.

PHE said walking required no skill, facilities or equipment and was more accessible and acceptable than other forms of physical activity for most people. Guidance issued by the UKs four chief medical officers in 2011 instructed the British population on how much exercise they should be participating in each week.

They said that adults should do at least two and a half hours of moderately intensive activity a week.

The PHE report said a quarter of the English population are inactive, doing less than 30 minutes of exercise a week. For some of these individuals 150 minutes may seem an unrealistic aim, according to the PHE report.

PHEs One You campaign is urging those people to take up the challenge of walking briskly for 10 minutes a day. As part of the drive it has released the Active 10 app which will help users achieve the goal and GPs will be recommending it to their patients to help build up their activity levels.

Dr Jenny Harries, the deputy medical director of PHE, said: I know first hand that juggling the priorities of everyday life often means exercise takes a back seat.
Walking to the shops instead of driving or going for a brisk 10-minute walk on your lunch break each day can add many healthy years to your life. The Active 10 app is a free and easy way to help anyone build more brisk walking into their daily routine.

Prof Sir Muir Gray, a clinical adviser for the Active 10 app and the One You campaign, added: We all know physical activity is good for your health but for the first time were seeing the effects that easily achievable changes can make. By walking just 10 continuous minutes at a brisk pace every day, an individual can reduce their risk of early death by 15%.

They can also prevent or delay the onset of disability and further reduce their risk of serious health conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, dementia and some cancers.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/aug/24/around-6-million-middle-aged-english-people-take-no-exercise

Why You Should Stop Sleeping Late On The Weekends

Weve got some bad news: Sleeping a few extra hourson the weekend may actually be bad for you. In effect, by spending a few additional hours in the land of dreams, you are giving yourself social jet lag, according to a new study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.This, they say, can lead to health problems in the long run.

Circadian rhythms, which are also found in plants, animals, fungi and some bacteria, alloworganisms to coordinate their biological activity with the day-night cycle. Although this rhythm is built-in, it is adjusted to the local environment using zeitgebers (time givers), external clues like temperature, light levels and so on.

By changing our sleeping patterns over a short period of time, we are causing our natural rhythm to become out of sync with the surrounding zeitgebers, which in effect is what jet lag is. This new study aimed to investigate this phenomenon in a non-invasive way, allowing the subjects to live their normal lives while the researchers unobtrusively monitored their sleep patterns.

Over the course of the research, 447 peoples sleep patterns were tracked using sleep monitors attached to their wrists, which estimated sleep time based on the movement or lack thereof of the participants. Their health status was also assessed, and several blood samples were taken throughout the study. In particular, the researchers were looking for changes inblood sugar and cholesterol levels.

As expected, participants’ sleep patterns changed over the weekend, with many of the subjects staying up later and sleeping for longer. Worryingly, the researchers found an apparent correlation between this shift in sleeping pattern and the appearance of markers of detrimental health effects. The more dramatic the weekend shift was, the more likely the subject was to show lower levels of good cholesterol and higher amounts of triglycerides (other fatty substances) in their blood precursors to heartdisease in the longterm.

Image credit: Sleeping in on the weekends may be messing up your internal clock. cosma/Shutterstock

Those with a more dramatic shift were alsothe most likely to experience weight gain and exhibit symptoms associates with the onset of diabetes. Although this study did not show that anyone developedheart disease or diabetes, it does imply that sleeping in and staying up far later on weekends, and then switching back to a normal weekday work pattern, may eventually have a negative effect on your health.

However, the study did have some limitations: In particular, the researchers did not explore whether participants with greater social jet lag had different circadian rhythms than those with less. This means that certain people’s own circadian rhythms may have been more suited to the weekend sleeping pattern, whereas others’ may have been more compatible with the weekday sleep schedule.

A similar study, albeit more invasive, was conducted in 2012 by Harvard University. In this instance, the subjects were locked in a laboratory for several weeks, and were only allowed 5.6 hours sleep a night on a 28-hour-long day. Without a doubt, the most significantdetrimental effect was to the subjects metabolism, their ability to convert nutrients into energy.

At the beginning of the study, all the participants were physically healthy; by the end of it, three were beginning to show signs of prediabetes, in that they had incredibly high sugar levels that the body was almost unable to reduce. The others were progressing rapidly towards this state.

Sleep disruption is already known to increase the likelihood of getting heartdisease, diabetes and obesity; this new study, along with others, implies that by snoozing in for longer on the weekend, we are effectively causing our own circadian misalignment and risking our health as a result.

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/health-and-medicine/sleeping-weekends-may-give-you-social-jet-lag

Newly Discovered Enzyme Prevents Sugar Being Stored As Fat

Its January, and many of you are likely scrambling to pick a diet in an attempt to lose some of the post-Christmas weight gain. Your body’s conversion of all the excess sugar consumed into fat certainly didn’t help, but a team of researchers from the University of Montreal may have found a way to regulate this. As reported in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a new enzyme has been discovered that can directly control how your body converts sugar and fats.

Mammalian cells use both sugar (glucose) and fatty acids as their main sources of energy. Much of this glucose is stored in the liver as glycogen, a dense compound that can be mobilized whenever the body requires it for energy production. Those in developed countries tend to have diets that are too sugar-rich, giving themselves far more glucose than their body needs at the time. An excess of carbohydrates will also produce too much sugar for the body to be able to immediately use. Any large glucose excess is converted and stored as fat, and a major build up can lead to obesity.

Insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreatic beta cells, causes the liver to convert glucose into glycogen. Those with type 2 diabetes do not produce enough insulin when required, or they produce ineffective insulin that isnt able to interact with the glucose in the blood, meaning glucose remains in the bloodstream.

Excess glucose in the blood also leads to the over-generation of a glycerol 3-phosphate (Gro3P) within cells. Normally, Gro3P participates in many cellular processes, including the formation of fats (lipids) andthe conversion of glucose into other useful compounds (glycolysis).

However, too much Gro3P is toxic to cells; tissues can be damaged, and the metabolic, glucose, and fat conversion processes are unable to operate properly. The derangement of these can lead to type 2 diabetes and even cardiovascular (heart) disease. Thus, excess glucose in the body is essentially toxic for a variety of reasons.

Cupcakes, of course, will input a fairly high amount of sugar into your bloodstream. Ruth Black/Shutterstock

As this new study details, an enzyme called Gro3P phosphatase, or G3PP, has been discovered, hiding within all types of body tissue. This enzyme appears to be able to regulate both the conversion of glucose and fats into other compounds, and the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the cell’s “energy currency.” This means that G3PP has direct influence over how glucose and fats are used within the body.

Using laboratory rats, the researchers showed that increasing the activity of G3PP within their livers ultimately lowers their weight gain and ability to produce glucose from the liver. Murthy Madiraju, a researcherat the University of Montreal Hospital Research Centre (CRCHUM), noted in a statement that G3PP prevents excessive formation and storage of fat and it also lowers excessive production of glucose in liver, a major problem in diabetes.

This offers a stepping stone for researchers hoping to manipulate this enzyme within humans. By using G3PP to alter how glucose and fats are absorbed and produced, those unable to control this themselves such as those suffering from type 2 diabetes could potentially be treated.

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Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/health-and-medicine/newly-discovered-enzyme-prevents-sugar-being-stored-fat

Sugar is poison. My heart attack has finally opened my eyes to the truth | Giles Fraser: Loose canon

Loose canon: Globally, diabetes has almost quadrupled in 35 years and yet the multibillion-dollar sugar industry is happy to keep us in the dark about why

I am now a member of the zipper club. I know, I thought it sounded rude too. But apparently its the club name for those of us who have a scar right down the middleof our chest. I have one down my leg too, from groin to ankle. And as I spend time recovering from a heart bypass operation mostly doing very little, watching the cricket, reading the paper I have started to reflect on my condition. How did it come to this? How did the arteries of my heart become so clogged with gunk that I may have been just weeks from meeting my maker?

Diabetic, they said. Pah, I thought. I dont feel any different. Ijust get up to pee a bit more at night. Some biochemical medical problem just seemed a bit too elusive, abstract, distant. I mean, when Diane Abbott blamed a bad interview on diabetes, who really took that seriously? Earlier this year, I was sent on a diabetes awareness day and spent the time looking out of the window, bored. They tried to explain it to me but I wasnt concentrating.

Well, now that someone has sliced through my breastbone as they might a Christmas turkey, the whole thing doesnt seem quite so distant. And suddenly and unsurprisingly I am concentrating. All ears to, and pretty evangelical about, the evils of sugar. Sorry to have doubted you, Diane.

Back in September 2016, the Journal of the American Medical Association published papers, discovered deep in the Harvard University archives, that demonstrated how the sugar industry has been manipulating research into heart disease for years. These papers revealed that the purveyors of this white poison in behaviour straight out of the tobacco industry playbook had been paying Harvard scientists throughout the 1960sto emphasise the link between fatand heart disease and ignore the connection with sugar. Since then, Coca-Cola has funded research into the link between sugar and obesity. And the confectionery industry has paid for research which demonstrated that children who eat sweets are thinner than those who dont.

As I write, my son returns from the shops, perfectly on cue, laden with a chocolate bar, a full-fat Coke and a packet of lollipops. I want to tell him that Willy Wonka is a death-dealing drug dealer. But I bite my lip for now. He will think me a crank. Everything he likes has sugar in it. Thats my fault he got hooked on sugary breakfast cereals as a child. As Gary Taubes explained in his remarkable book The Case Against Sugar, published last year, it has assimilated itself into all aspects of our eating experience. Advertisements have normalised the omnipresence of sugar as a part of a balanced diet. And my sons brain has become accustomed to the dopamine it releases. He has become an addict. Most of us are addicts.

In 1996, 1.4 million people in the UK had diabetes. Since then the figure has trebled to over 4 million. Diabetes now gobbles up more than 10% of the NHS budget, with that percentage set to rise steeply in the coming years. The World Health Authority published a major report on global diabetes last year. Its figures show that the number of people with diabetes has gone up from 108 million in 1980 to 422 million in 2014. This is not just a matter of bad individual choices. You cant dismiss this as the aggregate of many millions of singular decisions, each one nothing more than a matter of weakness of will and responsible for itself alone. This has become a global epidemic.

For the last 30 years I have built a pretty effective protective shell against fat-shaming. I would probably have taken losing half a stone if offered, but I wasnt especially unhappy with my body shape. But now I see things differently. Now I see a multibillion-dollar industry that makes its profits by keeping us obese and in the dark about why. After my operation, I cut out sugar and carbohydrates as best I could. I have lost 10 kilograms in the five weeks since. And I plan to lose a lot more. Itsnot a diet I hate diets. Its a form ofprotest. The scales have fallen from my eyes. Beware the candy man.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/belief/2017/jul/13/sugar-is-poison-my-heart-attack-has-finally-opened-my-eyes-to-the-truth

No such thing as ‘fat but fit’, major study finds

Metabolically healthy obese are 50% more likely to suffer heart disease than those of normal weight, finds University of Birmingham study

People who are obese run an increased risk of heart failure and stroke even if they appear healthy, without the obvious warning signs such as high blood pressure or diabetes, according to a major new study.

The findings, presented at the European Congress on Obesity in Porto, Portugal, may be the final death knell for the claim that it is possible to be obese but still metabolically healthy or fat but fit say scientists.

Several studies in the past have suggested that the idea of metabolically healthy obese individuals is an illusion, but they have been smaller than this one. The new study, from the University of Birmingham, involved 3.5 million people, approximately 61,000 of whom developed coronary heart disease.

The issue has been controversial. Obesity is usually measured by body mass index (BMI) a ratio of weight against height. It is generally agreed to be imperfect because athletes and very fit people with dense muscle can have the same BMI as somebody who is obese.

The scientists examined electronic health records from 1995 to 2015 in the Health Improvement Network a large UK general practice database. They found records for 3.5 million people who were free of coronary heart disease at the starting point of the study and divided them into groups according to their BMI and whether they had diabetes, high blood pressure [hypertension], and abnormal blood fats [hyperlipidemia], which are all classed as metabolic abnormalities. Anyone who had none of those was classed as metabolically healthy obese.

The study found that those obese individuals who appeared healthy in fact had a 50% higher risk of coronary heart disease than people who were of normal weight. They had a 7% increased risk of cerebrovascular disease problems affecting the blood supply to the brain which can cause a stroke, and double the risk of heart failure.

Dr Rishi Caleyachetty, who led the study, said it was true that weightlifters could be healthy and yet have a BMI that suggested they were obese. I understand that argument. BMI is crude but it is the only measure we have in the clinic to get a proxy for body fat. It is not realistic [to use anything else] in a GP setting or in the normal hospital clinic. We have to rely on BMI measurements, however crude they may be, he said.

While BMI results for particular individuals could be misleading, the study showed that on a population level, the idea that large numbers of people can be obese and yet metabolically healthy and at no risk of heart disease was wrong.

Caleyachetty said: The priority of health professionals should be to promote and facilitate weight loss among obese persons, regardless of the presence or absence of metabolic abnormalities.

At the population level, so-called metabolically healthy obesity is not a harmless condition and perhaps it is better not to use this term to describe an obese person, regardless of how many metabolic complications they have.

Last August a study from Sweden, which followed 1.3 million men over 30 years, found that those who were the fittest when they were 18 years old were 51% less likely to die prematurely than those who were the least fit. But if the men were obese, that cancelled out the advantage they had from their fitness in their youth.

Professor Peter Nordstrom, who led the study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, said at the time: These results suggest low BMI early in life is more important than high physical fitness with regard to reducing the risk of early death.

Professor Timothy Gill from the Boden Institute of Obesity, Nutrition, Exercise and Eating Disorders at the University of Sydney, Australia, said that there would always be some people who remain healthy in spite of obesity, just as there are some lifetime smokers who do not get lung cancer.

I think you can argue that there are still likely to be some people who are not going to suffer the ill-health consequences as much as other people just because of the distribution of risk, he said.

The World Obesity Federation has this month officially recognised obesity as a disease because of the wide variety of health problems associated with it.

Susannah Brown, senior scientist at World Cancer Research Fund, said the studys finding, emphasise the urgent need to take the obesity epidemic seriously.

As well as increasing your risk of cardiovascular disease, being overweight or obese can increase your risk of 11 common cancers, including prostate and liver. If everyone were a healthy weight, around 25,000 cases of cancer could be prevented in the UK each year.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/may/17/obesity-health-no-such-thing-as-fat-but-fit-major-study

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