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Young Researcher Says There Is 'Strong Interest' In Learning How Low-Carb Diets Treat Obesity, Disease

Posted Sep 12 2008 8:57am

Dr. Matthew Hayes interested in how and why low-carb diets work

I am so encouraged to know there are some absolutely phenomenal talents coming up through the ranks of higher education who are dedicated to looking further into the subject of livin' la vida low-carb. Although low-carb has been battered and beaten insde and out by those who fear it the most--that would be the low-fatties!--it's arguably the most popular subject of nutritional research happening right now.

Working behind the scenes of this low-carb science movement are some especially gifted and intelligent individuals who are literally putting themselves and their reputations out there amongst their peers in the research community because they would dare share positive information as it relates to low-carb diets. I have the greatest respect for so many of these people, especially the young ones who will be around for the next 40, 50, or 60 years adding layer upon layer of evidence to continue proving the veracity of the low-carb lifestyle.

Here are a just a few of the names of young trailblazers you need to know about: Dr. Eric Westman from Duke University, Anthony Colpo from Australia, Anssi Manninen from the University of Kuopio Medical School in Finland, Dr. Alex Johnstone from the Rowett Research Institute in the UK, Dr. Jeff Volek and Cassandra Forsythe from The University of Connecticut.

Now we can add Dr. Matthew R. Hayes from the University of Pennsylvania to that list.

This Atlanta Journal & Constitution story details a new study from Dr. Hayes confirming a low-carb diet is good for people suffering from metabolic syndrome, a condition where obesity, high triglycerides, low HDL "good" cholesterol, high blood sugar, hypertension and insulin resistance leads to a greater risk for diabetes, stroke and heart disease.

We first heard this message before from Dr. Volek and Dr. Richard Feinman from SUNY Downstate in Brooklyn, NY way back in 2005. This new research further solidifies the strong signs that this remarkable way of eating we know and love is indeed what's right for optimal weight and health.

Dr. Hayes, who started this study of low-carb diets on metabolic syndrome while still earning his doctorate degree, and his fellow researchers looked at 20 men and women diagnosed with metabolic syndrome and placed them on a South Beach-styled low-carb diet over a three-month with the following parameters regarding carbohydrate consumption:

PHASE ONE--Two weeks of 10 percent of their calories from carbs
PHASE TWO--Ten weeks of up to 27 percent of their calories from carbs

The average starting weight off the study participants was slightly higher than 200 pounds and the diet itself worked to bring about the expected weight loss as well as total body fat.

"By the end of the study, the subjects weighed about 193, 194," Dr. Hayes noted. "They lost close to 10 pounds during the three-month study."

I always hate seeing such small weight loss results in small studies like this because it doesn't give people the full potential of what livin' la vida low-carb can actually produce in people. Ten pounds lost in three months is ONLY about 3 pounds a month. The same results happened in the infamous Gardner study published in JAMA earlier this year.

What's up with such a LOW amount of weight loss on low-carb? When I started out on the Atkins diet in January 2004, I lost 30 pounds in the first month and then another 40 pounds in the second month. Granted, I was 410 pounds at the beginning, but most low-carbers I know EASILY lose 3-4 pounds a month as a bare minimum when they begin a low-carb regimen. Why is the weight loss so slow for these study participants? Things that make you go hmmmm.

Perhaps what I'm about to share with shed some light on the lower weight loss results.

As with most studies of this type, compliance with the parameters set by the researchers was a problem because the study participants did not follow it exactly as prescribed (why they wouldn't want to is beyond me!). Here's the ACTUAL carbohydrate intake average for those members of the study:

PHASE ONE--25 percent of calories from carbs (15 percent HIGHER)
PHASE TWO--35 percent of calories from carbs (8 percent HIGHER)

Even still, Dr. Hayes said these higher carb counts were significantly LOWER than what they were eating prior to the study--a whopping 47 percent of their calories from carbs. And, more importantly than the weight loss was the impact on their health.

"By the end of the study, about 50 percent no longer had metabolic syndrome," he added.

Can you imagine how much better both weight loss and metabolic syndrome would have been if they did low-carb like they were supposed to? The pounds shed could have been 30+ pounds and metabolic syndrome could very well show a nearly 100 percent improvement in ALL of the study subjects. We need to somehow have a study that mandates compliance so that abnormalities in the data don't reflect poorly on the low-carb diet itself.

As for the weight loss, Dr. Hayes looked at various metabolic markers to find a clue about how low-carb diets treat obesity and disease. This included measuring the hormones in the blood, insulin levels, leptin, and cholecystokinin (CCK). He found there were changes happening in the hormones, including a drop in insulin and leptin levels after PHASE ONE.

"It was fast," Dr. Hayes explained.

In PHASE TWO, insulin and leptin levels came back up, but something interesting happened. While insulin levels returned to the same place they were prior to the study, leptin levels remained BELOW baseline.

Dr. Hayes says this is what may explain why livin' la vida low-carb works.

"These alternations in hormone levels acting together help reduce the amount of food consumed," he revealed. "There's a synergy. Based on the literature already out there, we are speculating that this synergy of hormones may be the mechanism explaining why people are satisfied with less food and [low-carb] results in weight loss."

The results of this stunning new research are published in the August 2007 issue of The Journal of Nutrition.

Of course, Dr. Hayes admits his study is too small to make broad generalizations about using a low-carb diet to treat metabolic syndrome, but it certainly opens the door of opportunity for an even larger, more extensive study for the future. I have a feeling he is probably already in the process of making that larger study happen and I can't wait to see what he finds out.

I was very pleased to see Dr. Hayes talk about the electricity happening within the research circles behind the scenes regarding low-carb diets because I have longed held the belief that the future of low-carb acceptance hinges on the research.

"There is this strong interest in the field in carb-restricted diets in the treatment of obesity," he said. "That [interest] comes from a number of controlled clinical trials that demonstrate overweight or obese people, maintained on low-carb diets, are successful if they adhere to the diet."

This has brought about a "hot debate" in the diet work that shows no signs of cooling off anytime soon, especially with data being promoted by the advocates of a low-fat, vegan diet seeming to capture most of the headlines. Sooner or later, somebody somewhere is gonna have to fess up that their diet is not as healthy as they claim. I'm putting my money on the high-carb, low-fat supporters having to cave.

You can e-mail your support for and comments to Dr. Matthew Hayes about his study on low-carb diets and metabolic syndrome at hayesmr@sas.upenn.edu.

Labels: carbohydrate, carbs, diet, low-carb, Matthew Hayes, metabolic syndrome, obesity, research, study

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