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Could Artificial Sweeteners Cause Weight GAIN?

>> Monday, July 24, 2017



While artificial sweeteners have previously been touted as an excellent way to replace sugar in your diet and help with weight loss, they have in recent years been found to impact our biology in ways that may have adverse effects on our metabolism.  Rather than helping in a quest for weight loss, is it possible that sweeteners could actually cause weight gain and metabolic disease?

A recent systematic review and meta-analysis was recently published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, which collected the currently available evidence to try to answer this question and received worldwide attention in doing so.  They included 37 trials (including 7 randomized controlled trials and 30 cohort studies), looking at a total of over 400,000 individuals (about 1,000 of whom were in the randomized studies).

In their analysis of the randomized controlled trials, over a median follow up of 6 months, they found no significant effect on body mass index (BMI) or measures of body composition.  So, use of sweeteners did not result in weight loss, but there was no weight gain seen either.

In the cohort studies, over a median follow up of 10 years, they found an increase in weight, BMI, and waist circumference, and a higher incidence of obesity, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, and cardiovascular events.

So overall, none of the evidence assessed showed a benefit to weight, and the observational data suggested adverse effects of sweeteners on weight and health - none of which is good news.  And why is there a difference in conclusions between the randomized trials versus the observational (cohort) data?

Well, it's possible that the randomized trials were not long enough or big enough to show a negative impact on health, and that if they had been longer trials, perhaps results would have been different.

On the other hand, observational (cohort) data does not give us as trustworthy of an answer to any research question, because the results can be muddied by other factors. One concern is that these data may be confounded by 'reverse causation' - meaning that people with obesity, or those more prone to develop obesity (eg family history of obesity) are more likely to use sweeteners to help manage their weight (rather than the sweeteners being the cause of weight gain).

Either way, there is research to suggest biological mechanisms by which sweeteners could have an adverse impact on our metabolic health, particularly in relation to changes they induce in our gut bacteria, as well as our neurobiological response to these chemicals.  Further research is clearly needed to better understand their effect on our health.

Remember also that there is no doubt that excess sugar consumption is associated with weight gain and all of the above metabolic complications - so swapping sugar back in is not the answer either.


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Children's Fitness Falls In Summer

>> Monday, July 17, 2017





You'd think that summertime would be a time of peak physical fitness for kids, right?  The weather is great, the days are long, school is out, and there is nothing but time for just being a kid... running, jumping, playing all day long.

Think again.

A study in the UK, which was presented recently at the Congress of the European College of Sport Science, tracked the fitness of over 400 children for just over a year.  They found that at the start of the school year in September, kids were not able to run as far as they could at the end of the prior school term in June.   They also found that body mass index (BMI) climbed between June and September (though BMI percentile would be the more appropriate measure).  The decrease in fitness was particularly evident in kids from areas of lower socioeconomic status.

These findings suggest that kids may be more often spending their summer holidays being inactive, perhaps in front of the TV or video games rather than being active in the great outdoors.  Active child care activities during the summer (eg summer camps) can be costly, so kids from less affluent homes may have less access to organized activities.

If you're having trouble keeping your young ones active this summer, here are some suggestions:

  • Limit screen time.  Kids will find other things to do that are likely more active.
  • Check out your local community facilities, parks and pools to see what is on offer.  
  • Enjoy the warm weather and bright evenings with a family walk or bike ride! 
  • Consider signing your kids up for a race (eg family fun run, or even a kids' triathlon!) and get them engaged to train for it.  


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www.drsue.ca © 2017


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Testing Blood Sugar - Is There A Point?

>> Monday, July 10, 2017







In the management of people with diabetes, we routinely equip patients with glucose meters and ask them to check sugars at home.  While the importance and utility of checking sugars at home for people using insulin is clear, there is much debate about whether this is useful for people with type 2 diabetes who are not on insulin.  A recent study, which got a lot of media hype, tackled this question.

The study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, randomized 450 people with type 2 diabetes and not using insulin, to either a) no home glucose montoring; b) checking sugars once daily; or c) checking sugars once daily plus automated educational/motivational messages delivered to the patient from the meter.

The researchers found that there was no difference in diabetes control (A1C) nor health related quality of life after 1 year, and concluded that glucose monitoring in people with non-insulin-treated type 2 diabetes should not be routine.

I have some major beefs with this conclusion:

1.   Testing once a day does not tell a person very much about their blood sugar.   In order for home testing to be useful, I advise 'paired meal testing': checking before a meal, and checking again 2 hours later.  This can be very helpful to see how certain types of food affect your blood sugar, and can be help to eat mindfully and manage portion control.  I don't necessarily advise doing this every day: checking each of breakfast, lunch, and dinner once per week can be enough.  However, depending on what kind of medication a person is taking, I may recommend more often.  Also, if diabetes control is not great, then checks (in my opinion) should be done more frequently so that we can figure out how to bring down the sugars effectively and safely.

2.  As the authors note, the study was not powered to determine if there are benefits to checking sugars around the time of medication or dose changes.  It is very difficult for a doctor to know what the next best medication may be without knowing the pattern of blood sugars through the day.  Knowing the pattern of blood sugars is extremely important when new medications are added onto sulfonylureas and insulin in particular, because these medications can cause low blood sugar.  For example, if sugars are highest in the morning and lower later in the day, there is a risk of causing low sugars if a treatment is added that brings down sugars in the morning (as sugars later in the day will go down too).

3.  Compliance with sugar checks in the study was poor by one year, declining gradually over the year, with only about 55% of people in the monitoring groups checking sugars each day by the 1 year mark.  Interestingly, the diabetes control (A1C) was better at 3, 6, and 9 months in the glucose monitoring groups, compared to those not monitoring - perhaps the lack of difference in A1C by 1 year was due to the poor compliance with glucose checks by that point in time.

4.  The study team did not engage with patients after their baseline visit - meaning patients were on their own to interpret their blood sugars without help from the study team.  Their family doctors received a copy of blood sugar results, but the study did not collect info on what was done with that data, and these clinicians had minimal interaction with the study team.  

Diabetes is a team sport - an important part of the benefit of checking blood sugars is to discuss these results with your health care team for help in optimizing control.  While the setup of this study was intended to be 'real world', I would submit that what patients perceived as their 'health care team' during the study (their usual doctors plus study investigators) were not working as a team and this may have limited the best possible use of home glucose monitoring.  And perhaps compliance with checking sugars in the study would have been better if that team was working together and more engaged with the patients, as is the ideal model of care.  We are blessed in Canada to be able to say that for most people in our country, the 'real world' does consist of free access to a team to help each individual with their diabetes care.

5.  For any patient on a sulfonylurea (and of course insulin), sugars must be checked before driving.   For a paper to conclude that glucose monitoring should not be routine (in a study where 36% of patients were on sulfonylurea!) is inappropriate.

Unfortunately, the media took hold of this study and has been shouting from the rooftops that people with non-insulin-requiring diabetes do not need to check their blood sugar.    I would be most saddened if patients get the message that they should stop testing their blood sugars, and would strongly advise people to continue to follow their doctor or diabetes educator's recommendations on how frequent of sugar checks is appropriate.

I hope this blog helps to provide some balance and perspective on what I feel is a study full of limitations.

Disclaimer: I have received speaking honoraria from makers of glucose meters.



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www.drsue.ca © 2017







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AMA Says Watch Your Language! Combatting Obesity Stigma

>> Tuesday, July 4, 2017






As blogged previously (see here and here and here and here and here), obesity stigma is a major problem in our society, and sadly, even worse amongst health care providers.  To combat this stigma, the American Medical Association has stepped up and passed a resolution to destigmatize obesity.

Obesity stigma in a medical office can take several forms, which we can categorize as direct, or indirect: 


Direct obesity stigma examples:

  • referring to a patient as an 'obese patient', rather than a 'patient with obesity' (more on this below)
  • using terms like 'fat' or 'morbidly obese'
  • telling a person they are lazy or that it is their fault that they have obesity
  • any other form of 'fat shaming'
Indirect obesity stigma examples: 
  • furniture in the office is not appropriate (eg chairs with armrests that restrict size; exam tables are too narrow; stools to step up on to exam table are too narrow)
  • weight scale maximum is too low
  • magazines in waiting room are promoting of thin body image (eg fashion magazines that often arrive at a doctor's office for free)

To combat these stigma, the resolution, which was authored by members of the Obesity Medicine Association, calls for: 

1.  Use of Person-First Language in all discussions: 'person with obesity', not 'obese person'.  Remember that obesity is a diagnosis, not an adjective to describe a person.

2. Use of preferred terms when discussing obesity, such as 'weight' or 'unhealthy weight', and avoiding stigmatizing words like 'fat'.

3. Equipping the medical office with appropriately sized chairs, blood pressure cuffs, scales, examination gowns etc. 

I hope that with the AMA passing this resolution, that more much needed attention is drawn to the critical need to destigmatize obesity.  Educating health care professionals on obesity is desperately lacking in all aspects of the disease; if health care providers were to better understand the pathophysiology of obesity, this would help to break down the stigma against it.

I am hopeful that editors of medical journals and textbooks will heed and follow this resolution - non-patient-first language still plagues almost all scientific publications and guidelines around the world.  Clearly, more awareness and education is needed to break down the obesity stigma - please feel free to share this blog post to disseminate the word!



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www.drsue.ca © 2017





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Low Carb Diets Part II: What If I Have Diabetes?

>> Sunday, June 25, 2017





In last week's blog post, we talked about low carb diets, definitions, and whether they work for weight management.  Today we'll discuss low carb diets in people with diabetes: Are they beneficial? Are they safe?

As far as potential benefit goes, the available data are not consistent in their findings.  In a review article published by Feinman and colleagues in the journal Nutrition, data is summarized reporting an improvement in blood sugar control, along with a reduction in medications required to control blood sugars.  However, systematic reviews and meta analyses have not consistently shown improvements in blood sugar control.  At least some of the variability likely has to do with adherence - low carb diets are not easy to stick to for many people.

If a low carb diet is going to be embarked upon, the type of medication that a person with type 2 diabetes is taking to control blood sugars is very important to consider.   Medications that can cause low blood sugars [insulin; sulfonylureas such as gliclazide (Diamicron) and glyburide; and meglitinides (eg Gluconorm)] may need to be decreased with the help of your health care provider, in order to avoid low blood sugars.

SGLT2 inhibitors are a class of medications to treat type 2 diabetes, which are associated with a risk of 1 in 1000 people per year developing diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), which is a type of acid buildup in the blood that is life threatening. For people on these medications [canagliflozin (Invokana), dapagliflozin (Forxiga), empagliflozin (Jardiance)], low carbohydrate diets are associated with an increased risk of DKA.  As to whether a mildly low carb diet is safe is not known, as there is very little data available in this area.  One small study did show an increase in ketones in people with type 2 diabetes on an SGLT2 inhibitor on just a very mildly restricted carbohydrate diet (40% calories, as compared to people on a 55% carb calorie diet), but how much this may increase the risk of DKA is not known.

A ketogenic diet should be avoided for anyone with type 2 diabetes on insulin or SGLT2 inhibitors, because of the risk of ketoacidosis.

For people with type 1 diabetes, there is very limited data on which to guide us.  There is some data suggesting that a low carb diet may improve hemoglobin A1C (a marker of blood sugar control).   However, there is a concern that there may be a blunted response to glucagon as an emergency treatment for severe low blood sugar in people with type 1 diabetes following a low carb diet.

A ketogenic diet should be avoided for anyone with type 1 diabetes due to the increased risk of ketoacidosis.

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Low Carb Diets - What Are They... And Do They Work?

>> Monday, June 19, 2017




One of the more currently in vogue weight management approaches is a low carbohydrate diet.  I get asked about this a lot, so I figured it's time to put my thoughts in e-print!  I'm going to take this in two parts.  Today's blog will be about low carb diets in general, and the second will be about the low carb diet in people with diabetes.

So, what is a low carb diet exactly?  Well, they have many names and forms: low carb, lower carb, very low carb, lower carb high/healthy fats (LCHF), ketogenic.  Definitions of each of these vary, making comparisons and scientific study challenging.  However, we can generally categorize these diets as follows:

Low Carb:
  • providing less than 45% of the day's calories, OR
  • less than 130g of carbs per day (= 520 calories)

Ketogenic or Very Low Carb: 
  • maximum carbs of 20-50g per day

LCHF : (low carb, high/healthy fat)
  • the amount of carbohydrate recommended varies, but would fall in the low carb zone as defined above
  • the restriction in carb calories is replaced with healthy fat choices

So, does a carbohydrate restricted diet result in more effective weight management?   When compared to a low fat diet, the studies suggest that while there may be superior weight loss in the short term (eg 6 months), there is no difference after 1 year.   The bottom line of the extensive studies on dietary composition shows that there is no particular macronutrient composition (carbs vs protein vs fat) that is superior to another when it comes to weight loss.  

What is important is finding a permanent lifestyle change that works for each individual, and the composition of that diet is going to vary based on taste preferences, cultural differences and so forth.
I often hear of people feeling that they are being instructed to eat too many carbs, more than they actually want to eat.  Their health care providers are probably following the teachings of Canada's Food Guide (CFG), which many obesity experts (including myself) would argue advises a carbohydrate intake that is too high for many people at up to 65% of total daily caloric intake.   Remember that Canada's Food Guide (CFG) was designed for weight maintenance in adults, but that the majority of Canadian adults have overweight or obesity.  Ergo, the CFG is only applicable to a minority of Canadian adults.  Also, the average woman age 50+, and the average man age 70+, will gain weight following the CFG recommendations.

Most dietary guidelines recommend at least 45% carbohydrate, in order to limit excessive intake of saturated fat.  It is important that the fats in our diet are the healthier unsaturated fats - in fact, the Mediterranean style of eating, which provides 35-47% of calories as fat, has been shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and breast cancer.

For some people, a restricted carbohydrate intake may work well - it eliminates the option of grabbing many high calorie food items on the run (eg bakery, vending machine, coffee shop products and so forth).   There are also some people who may have an addiction-type response in their brain circuitry to high sugar foods, and avoiding these may help to break the cycle of overeating.  But it's definitely not for everyone.  

In terms of weight maintenance and prevention of weight gain after weight loss, there is evidence to suggest that a higher protein, lower glycemic index diet may be better than a lower protein, higher glycemic index diet. 

Stay tuned for part II: Can people with diabetes safely eat low carb?


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www.drsue.ca © 2017



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Diabetes Medication Canagliflozin Reduces Cardiovascular Events

>> Tuesday, June 13, 2017






The eagerly awaited results of the CANVAS trial were just released yesterday at the American Diabetes Association Meeting, and published simultaneously in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The CANVAS program was a cardiovascular outcome trial of the SGLT2 inhibitor, canagliflozin (Invokana).  This program enrolled 10,142 people with type 2 diabetes and high cardiovascular risk, and randomized them to receive either canagliflozin 100mg, canagliflozin 300mg, or placebo, in addition to their usual care.

After a mean of 3.6 years, they found that canagliflozin reduced the risk of a combination of cardiovascular death, non fatal heart attack and non fatal stroke by 14%, with the benefit being particular to those with established cardiovascular disease at baseline.  The individual outcomes above were not significantly reduced when considered separately, but were significant when considered together.   Canagliflozin also reduced the risk of hospitalization for congestive heart failure by 33%, reduced the risk of poor kidney outcomes by 40% (a composite of a sustained 40% reduction in GFR, need for renal replacement therapy, or death from renal causes), and reduced progression of albumin in the urine by 27%.

In terms of risks of canagliflozin, unexpectedly, there was an increase in the risk of amputation, with 3.3% of people on canagliflozin requiring an amputation (most commonly a toe or forefoot) during the course of the trial, vs 1.5% in the placebo group.    There was also an increase in the risk of fracture, with 15.4 fractures per 1000 patient years on canagliflozin, vs 11.9 per 1000 patient years in the placebo group.  There was an increased risk of genital yeast infection, as expected for this class of medications, but no increased risk of urinary tract infection.

The CANVAS program adds to our understanding of the SGLT2 class of medications.   As the EMPA REG trial showed us that the SGLT2 inhibitor empagliflozin (Jardiance) also reduces CV events in people with type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, this is looking more likely to be a 'class effect' of the SGLT2 inhibitors (we still await the DECLARE study of the SGLT2 inhibitor dapagliflozin (Forxiga) to be completed).

In terms of the risks seen in the CANVAS trial, much discussion is underway in the medical and scientific community, and more studies will need to be done to better understand these findings.  As always, the benefit vs risk of any medication must be carefully considered in finding the best medications for each individual patient.


Disclaimer: I receive honoraria as as continuing medical education speaker and consultant from the makers of canagliflozin (Janssen), empagliflozin (Boehringer-Ingelheim and Lilly), and dapagliflozin (Astra Zeneca).  I am involved in research of SGLT2 inhibitors as a treatment of diabetes. 


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www.drsue.ca © 2017

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Are Calorie Equations Accurate In Obesity?

>> Monday, June 5, 2017






Some people who are working on losing weight like the approach of a calorie prescription, which is the daily amount of calories in food/drink that they should not exceed in order to lose weight.

This calorie prescription starts with an estimation of Resting Energy Expenditure (REE), which equals the number of calories we burn at rest over 24 hours, and can be estimated by any of a number of equations that have been developed for this purpose.  These equations incorporate various factors that influence REE, including age, gender, height, and weight.  From there, we typically multiply the REE by an activity factor to calculate the number of calories a person needs in a day, and then usually subtract 500 calories per day in order to achieve an initial rate of weight loss of around 1lb (0.5kg) per week.  

Most of these equations were generated using normal weight individuals, including very few people who carry excess weight.  But are these equations accurate in people with obesity?

A study, published in the International Journal of Obesity, evaluated a number of these formulae in 1,851 people with obesity, comparing the calculations to actual measures of Resting Energy Expenditure (using a technique called indirect calorimetry). 

They found that the accuracy of the equations to predict Resting Energy Expenditure was very low in people with obesity, and were even less accurate in people with a higher degree of obesity (BMI >40), especially females.   Even the Mifflin St-Jeor equation, commonly cited as the most accurate equation, performed poorly. These equations generally underestimated the calorie needs of participants by several hundred calories, with the degree of underestimation increasing with increasing BMI.

As these equations come in low, the calorie prescription ends up being too low.  This could mean that a person with obesity leaves their health care provider’s office with a calorie prescription that is too restricted – for example, that patient may be told that she should take in 1500 kcal per day in order to lose 1 lb per week, when actually her prescription should be 1900 kcal per day to lose 1lb per week.  For her, sticking to 1500 kcal per day would be very difficult – it may cause more rapid weight loss at the beginning but would be very tough to stick with.  

So why would these equations be less accurate in people with obesity? Fat tissue is less metabolically active than lean tissue (eg muscle), so having a higher proportion of fat can reduce accuracy of estimation using equations that were developed in a lean population.  It is also not clear which weight to use in these equations – actual weight, ideal weight, or adjusted weight.

Indirect calorimetry is a much better way to estimate calorie needs than equations, but has a price tag and limited availability. 

Clearly, we are in need of equations that are validated in people with obesity to estimate resting energy needs. 



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Mythbusting Hoodia

>> Monday, May 29, 2017





I'm on the Mythbusting prowl again!  This time, it's about Hoodia, which I was asked about at a speaking engagement recently.  

On the shelf amongst dozens of consumer products marketed as weight loss agents, Hoodia is available in a wide array of pills, bars, powders or teas.




While often referred to as a cactus due to its appearance, Hoodia gordonii is actually a flowering plant unrelated to the cactus family that is native to Southern Africa.  It is traditionally used by the San people of South Africa and Namibia as an appetite suppressant on long hunting trips, or during times of famine.  The active component of Hoodia, called P57, was discovered and patented in 1995, and from there, we have seen an explosion of products touted under the plant's name.

Unfortunately, as for most commercially available weight loss 'remedies', there is little to no data on Hoodia or its chemical components for efficacy nor safety.   The study of Hoodia has been particularly limited due to conflict over the rights to it, which was ultimately settled in an agreement providing for the San people to receive royalties on Hoodia sales (though my understanding is that the San have yet to realize any royalties from this agreement).

The only existing human clinical trial I'm aware of was a small, 15 day randomized controlled study conducted in 49 women, showing no effect on food intake nor body weight, and a host of side effects including increase in some liver tests (bilirubin and alkaline phosphatase), EKG changes (prolongation of PR and QT intervals), increase in blood pressure, heart rate, dizziness, disturbance in skin sensation, dizziness, giddiness, nausea and vomiting.  Yowza.



So, similarly to Garcinia cambogia, raspberry ketones, and green tea extractHoodia does not have evidence as an effective weight loss treatment in humans, and may be dangerous.

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Blueberry Zucchini Loaf!

>> Sunday, May 21, 2017







This May long weekend, I'm sharing a delightful loaf that I concocted in my kitchen one Sunday afternoon.... I had a hankering for a healthy muffin, and I was fresh out of muffin cups after trying out an online recipe that produced something resembling a dough pellet (epic fail!).  I had just been to Costco and had way more zucchinis than I knew what to do with.... sooo... voilĂ !  And it turned out great.

Ingredients:
  • 1.75 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1.5 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup greek yogurt fat free
  • 4 tbsp egg white
  • 2tsp vanilla
  • 1.5 cups shredded zucchini
  • 1/2 cup blueberries

Directions: 

1.  Preheat oven to 350F. 

2.  Mix first 6 ingredients (the dry ones) together in a large bowl. 

3.  Whisk together canola oil, milk, greek yogurt, egg white, and vanilla in a separate bowl until smooth.  Stir into flour mixture until batter is just moistened.  Fold zucchini and blueberries into batter. 

4.  Spray a standard loaf pan (8.5" x 4.5") with non stick spray, and pour batter in. 

5.  Bake 35-40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.


Makes 12 slices.  Per slice: 
  • Calories: 169
  • Fat: 4.8g
  • Carbs: 28g
  • Protein 3.2g

Note: I think this would also be good with half the white sugar (1/4c instead of 1/2 cup) - if you try this, let me know how it tastes (post a comment at the end of this post). 



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Does Intermittent Fasting Work?

>> Monday, May 15, 2017




One of the diet approaches that has really taken off in popularity is Intermittent Fasting.  Essentially, this means that certain days/times you restrict eating (or don’t eat at all) and other days/times, you feast.  This can take the form of Alternate Day Fasting (fast one day and feast the next), restricting on some days (eg weekdays) and feasting on others (eg weekends), or restricting eating to only a few hours each day.

Most studies showing benefit of intermittent fasting have been of very short duration (less than 12 weeks) – and let’s face it, just about anything can work over this very short term.  Now, a one year randomized controlled clinical trial has investigated whether intermittent fasting works.

The study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, is quite a beautifully conducted trial (in my opinion), randomizing 100 people with obesity to one of three groups:

  • Alternate day fasting: 25% of energy needs on fasting days, and 125% of energy needs on non fasting days
  • Daily calorie restriction: 75% of energy needs on all days
  • Control group: no intervention (they received 3 months of free weight loss counselling and a 1 year free gym membership at the end of the study)

Participants followed the above for the first 6 months of the study, which was the weight loss phase. 

For the second 6 months, the focus was on weight maintenance. Calorie needs were reevaluated (because we need less calories to maintain weight following weight loss), and the groups proceeded as follows:

  • Alternate day fasting: 50% of energy needs on fasting days, and 150% of energy needs on non fasting days
  • Daily calorie restriction: 100% of energy needs on all days
  • Control group: no intervention


For the scientists in the audience: Total daily calorie needs were assessed using doubly labeled water, assessed at baseline and again at the start of the weight maintenance phase (t=6 months).  Analysis was by intention to treat.

At 12 months, the rate of dropout from the study was highest in the alternate day fasters at 38%, compared to 29% in the daily calorie restriction and 26% in the control group.

They found that the weight loss between the alternate day fasting and daily caloric restriction were no different at 6 months or 12 months.  Weight loss was 6.0% greater than the control group at one year in the intermittent fasting group, vs 5.3% greater than the control group in those on daily calorie restriction.   Other than a slightly higher bad cholesterol (LDL) in the intermittent fasters, there were no differences in any metabolic parameter.

While the study is small, it is the longest and largest clinical trial of alternate day fasting to date. 


BOTTOM LINE: The results of this study suggest that alternate day fasting is no better than daily calorie restriction for weight loss, and that the likelihood of sticking to the diet is lower with alternate day fasting.


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Let's Take ACTION - Barriers To Effective Obesity Management In Canada

>> Monday, May 8, 2017





Obesity is a chronic medical condition that affects 25% of Canadian adults. As we know from the recently released Canadian Report Card On Access to Obesity Treatment, we are doing very poorly in terms of providing publicly funded access to treatment for obesity.

So what are the barriers that are preventing people with obesity from getting access to obesity care?  In addition to collecting important statistics in the Canadian Report Card, we also need to understand barriers from the perspectives of people living with obesity as well as their health care providers.

The ACTION study is the first nationwide study in Canada to investigate barriers to effective obesity management from the perspective of people with obesity, healthcare providers, and employers who provide health programs or health insurance coverage.  This study aims to generate insights to guide collaborative action to improve care, education, and support for people with obesity, and to provide evidence upon which to change how patients, health care providers, and employers treat obesity.

The ACTION study steering committee (of which I am a member) has been working to construct questionnaires that will be deployed to patients, health care providers, and employers across the country, to gather information on these important topics.

By understanding these perspectives, we hope to improve communication, education, and break down barriers to allow better access and provision of care for people with obesity.

Stay tuned for the results of this study early next year!


Disclaimer: The ACTION study is funded by Novo Nordisk, the maker of anti obesity medication Saxenda (liraglutide 3.0mg). 

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www.drsue.ca © 2017

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Do GMO Foods Cause Obesity?

>> Monday, May 1, 2017






Genetically modified organisms (GMO) refers to any living thing that has had its DNA modified by genetic engineering techniques.  GMO foods have been developed to be resistant to pests and herbicides, and/or for better nutritional content.   With the introduction of GMO foods, we have seen a parallel rise in obesity rates.  Could GMO foods have a role in this?

There is very little data on this issue. One study looking at American food trends and obesity found that consumption of corn products correlates with the rise in obesity.  Most American corn that is grown is genetically modified - so is it an increased calorie intake from corn products, or that it is genetically modified, that may be responsible correlation?  Or is the correlation purely coincidental? More research needs to be done.

A comprehensive review of dietary and policy priorities for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity published in the journal Circulation in 2016 found that existing evidence does not support that GMO food causes harm, but that the data are limited.   They point out that any potential effect of a GMO food on human health (positive or negative) would relate to specific compositional changes in the food, not to the GMO method itself.

As these authors state:

Based on current evidence, whether a food is organic or genetically modified appears to be of relatively small health relevance in comparison with the overall types of foods and diet patterns actually consumed. 


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Breaking News - Canada's Report Card On Access To Obesity Treatment

>> Tuesday, April 25, 2017


Obesity is a treatable chronic medical condition that affects over 25% of Canadian adults.  But how well are we doing at treating obesity in Canada?

Today, the Canadian Obesity Network has released the Report Card On Access To Obesity Treatment For Adults In Canada. This is the first rigorous assessment of the degree to which Canadians with obesity can access publicly funded treatments such as dieticians, psychological counselling/support,  medically supervised weight management programs, medications for obesity, and bariatric surgery.

The Report, not unexpectedly, showed that access to care for obesity in Canada is extremely limited.

  • There is very little publicly funded access to dietary counselling, mental health support, cognitive behavioural therapy, or exercise professionals. 
  • There is no public coverage for anti-obesity medication, and only about 20% of private medical plans offer coverage. 
  • Bariatric surgery is available to only 1 out of every 183 adult Canadians per year who may be eligible for it (this varies widely by province, with the best availability of 1/90 in Ontario, and the lowest availability of 1/1,312 in Nova Scotia).  


So why is access to obesity care in Canada so poor?

1.  Despite the Canadian Medical Association declaring that obesity is a chronic medical condition (and not a lifestyle issue) in 2015, neither Health Canada, nor the federal government, nor any provincial governments have followed suit. This results in a lack of policies that support obesity care.

2.  Medical schools have little to no formal obesity training, and very few Canadian doctors pursue additional obesity training of their own accord.   Only 40 out of 80,544 doctors in Canada have completed certification through the American Board of Obesity Medicine. (there is no formal obesity training equivalent in Canada)

3.  There remains a powerful and pervasive obesity stigma in Canada, which has been shown to be even worse in the medical community than in the general population.  Person-first language is often not used in government resources nor in medical literature - meaning that obesity is used as a description of a person rather than as a diagnosis. (The correct terminology is a 'person with obesity', not an 'obese person'.)

4.  Government programs tend to focus on health promotion and obesity prevention, which is important, yes, but with a lack of attention to helping people who have obesity and need treatment for it.


So, where does this leave us?  The Report recommends:

  • Government, employers and the insurance industry need to adopt the position that obesity is a chronic medical condition and orient their approach and resources accordingly;
  • Government needs to recognize and help break down weight bias and stigma;
  • Obesity training for health care professionals needs to increase;
  • Governments need to increase funding and access to interdisciplinary care, weight management programs, anti-obesity medications, and bariatric surgery; 
  • The Canadian Clinical Practice Guidelines, last published in 2006, need to be updated (and we are starting work on this!)

It seems we have a lot of work to do. 


Follow me on twitter! @drsuepedersen

www.drsue.ca © 2017









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Dangers of Green Tea Extract

>> Monday, April 17, 2017



Unfortunately, in today's society and times, more people are reaching out than ever before for anything to help manage their weight, including naturopathic remedies.  On this list is green tea extract. Sounds like it must be safe, right?  It comes from something natural, after all....

CBC's Marketplace launched an investigation into green tea extract, featuring my colleague in obesity medicine,  Dr Sean Wharton.   They discovered more than 60 documented cases worldwide of liver failure associated with green tea supplements, with at least 2 deaths that may have been related to taking these pills.

Take 20 minutes and have a listen.

The bottom line is this:  Because it's natural does not mean it is safe.




Follow me on twitter! @drsuepedersen

www.drsue.ca © 2017

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Could Yo-Yo-Ing Weight Increase Risk Of Heart Attack?

>> Monday, April 10, 2017




In the effort to manage excess body weight, many people have experienced the 'yo-yo' effect: start a diet, weight goes down... end the diet, weight goes back up (and then some, in many cases).  We already know that this fluctuation in weight is damaging to metabolism, in that our bodies essentially remember the highest weight we have ever had, making powerful hormonal and metabolic changes to drive us back up to our highest weight.  Now, a study in the New England Journal of Medicine demonstrates that fluctuation in body weight is associated with a higher rate of heart attack and death in people who have coronary artery disease.

The study evaluated fluctuations in body weight amongst 9,509 people with heart disease, who were enrolled in the TnT trial of cholesterol medication atorvastatin, taking the opportunity to evaluate whether fluctuations in weight made a difference in terms of risk of having a cardiovascular event.  In a post hoc analysis, they found that the greater the weight fluctuation, the higher the risk.  Specifically, for every 1 Standard Deviation (SD) in weight, there was a 4% increase in risk for any cardiovascular event, and a 9% increase in risk of death, independent of other cardiovascular risk factors.  Among patients in the top 20% for fluctuations in body weight, there was an 85% higher risk of a cardiovascular event and over a double increased risk of death, compared to those in the lowest 20% for fluctuations in body weight.  The risk associated with weight fluctuation was higher in those with obesity or overweight, compared to those of normal body weight. Also, a greater body weight fluctuation was also associated with a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

One wonders whether these findings could simply reflect that people who had wide fluctuations in weight were sicker in general (eg big weight loss with illness), though this clinical trial did exclude people with a poor prognosis. The study also did not assess whether the weight fluctuations were intentional (eg dieting) vs unintentional (eg illness).  

We cannot infer causality from this study - in other words, we can't be sure that the weight fluctuations were the cause of the increased cardiovascular events - but the association between weight fluctuation and cardiovascular events was nevertheless strong.  Given these findings, it seems more important than ever to avoid yo-yo weight changes by making permanent lifestyle changes rather than engaging in temporary solutions/programs to optimally manage weight.


Follow me on twitter! @drsuepedersen

www.drsue.ca © 2017








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A HEARTFELT WELCOME!

I am excited that you have arrived at my site, and I hope you are too - consider this the first step towards a Healthier New You!! As a medical doctor, Endocrinologist, and obesity specialist, I am absolutely passionate about helping people with weight management. Though there is certainly no magic cure for obesity, there IS a successful treatment plan out there for you - it is all about understanding the elements that contribute to your personal weight struggle, and then finding the treatment plan that suits your needs and your lifestyle. The way to finding your personal solution is to learn as much as you can about obesity: how our toxic environment has shaped us into an overweight society; the diversity of contributors to obesity; and what the treatment options out there are really all about. Knowledge Is Power!!


Are you ready to change your life? Let's begin our journey together, towards a healthier, happier you!!




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