2016 In Review

With another year coming to a rapid close, let's take a look back at some of the most influential research studies that deepened our understanding of nutrition during the last year. 

1. Our gut microbiome is incredibly important to our overall health

I love all the research that is coming out focused on our gut health. The health of our gut microbiome is so incredibly important to our overall health- in so many ways! There was a lot of focus on this topic in published research this year. Here are some of my favorite studies related to our gut:

High fat diets can adversely affect your gut flora and promote inflammation and weight gain
Imbalances in your gut bacteria are linked to a range of psychiatric conditions such as depression, anxiety, autism, schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, social anxiety, and more
Early use of antibiotics in children can alter the natural population of microbes, leading to a higher risk of weight gain and asthma later in life

The takeaway: our gut is so incredibly important! More focus in our diet needs to be placed on preserving the diversity of our gut microbiome. 

2. The sugar industry cannot be trusted (duh!)

Just a few weeks back, the Journal of the American Medical Association published a systematic review and meta-analysis of 340+ studies based on one question: Is food industry sponsorship associated with outcomes that favor the sponsor? The answer: yes. Their analysis suggested that industry sponsorship of nutrition studies is definitely associated with conclusions that favor the sponsors. Suggestion is not proof positive, and in research, it is difficult to be definitive, but this study is an addition to the ever growing list of reasons one must be very cautious when looking at published studies. 

a literature review published in the New England Journal of Medicine, which singled out fat and cholesterol as the dietary causes of CHD and downplayed evidence that sucrose consumption was also a risk factor.

This effect is not exclusive to the sugar industry, of course, but the sugar industry has a long history of funding studies in order to promote a result that is in their best interest. We saw this in the 1960's when big sugar funded Harvard researchers to shift blame for heart disease from sugar to fat. This study, and subsequent line of thinking influenced food policy and perception for decades, demonizing fats and spurring years of unhealthy processed carbohydrate consumption, increasing our waistlines and skyrocketing our incidence of preventable disease. 

The takeaway: Just because something is peer reviewed, does not mean it is truthful. There is bias in every study. Look at who is funding the research. Think about whether the outcome makes sense. If it's too good to be true, it probably is!


3. Metabolism slow down after Biggest Loser competition

This was really interesting, a study was published in May looking at why the winners of the NBC hit show The Biggest Loser tend to regain the weight (and sometimes more!) 

Several former participants were included in this study, which saw that, on average, contestants began with 49% body fat (pre-competition), dipped to (average) 28%, and then went back up to an average of 45%. It was expected that their metabolism would change with their weight loss and gain, but that was not the finding. 

Metabolism appears to act like a spring, the more effort you exert to lose weight, the more it stretches out, and the harder it will spring back, regaining and holding onto the fat that was lost.

What was found instead, was that as participants lost weight, their metabolism slowed (this is normal), but when their weight began to creep back up, their metabolism did not increase with their weight. 

This shattered the old mythology that if you exercised enough, you could keep your metabolism high. The body works hard to defend the energy stores (in case of famine). It will want to put the weight back on, making it difficult to maintain significant weight loss. At this point, it is not known how much of this effect is due to the drastic nature of the weight loss competition or if there are other factors at play. 

The takeaway: it looks like drastic weight loss is unsustainable, however, slower and more healthful weight loss may not have the same detrimental effects. 

What other news stories did you find fascinating in 2016?