By Dr. Mercola | mercola
If you have ever struggled losing weight and keeping it off, you already know what a challenge that can be.
Dr. Richard Johnson, chief of the Division of Renal Diseases and Hypertension at the University of Colorado has published hundreds of articles and two books on this topic: The Sugar Fix, and most recently, The Fat Switch, which presents a groundbreaking approach to preventing and reversing obesity.
According to Dr. Johnson, based on his decades of research:
“Those of us who are obese eat more because of a faulty “switch” and exercise less because of a low energy state. If you can learn how to control the specific “switch” located in the powerhouse of each of your cells – the mitochondria – you hold the key to fighting obesity.”
There are five basic truths that Dr. Johnson explains in detail in his new book that overturn current concepts:
1. Large portions of food and too little exercise are NOT solely responsible for why you are gaining weight
2. Metabolic Syndrome is A NORMAL CONDITION that animals undergo to store fat
3. Uric acid is increased by specific foods and CAUSALLY CONTRIBUTES to obesity and insulin resistance
4. Fructose-containing sugars cause obesity not by calories but by turning on the fat switch
5. Effective treatment of obesity requires turning off your fat switch and improving the function of your cells’ mitochondria I highly recommend picking up a copy of this book, which has been described as the “Holy Grail” for those struggling with their weight. Dietary sugar, and fructose in particular, is a significant “tripper of your fat switch,” so understanding how sugars of all kinds affect your weight and health is imperative.
All Sugars are Not Created or Function Equally
As explained by Dr. Johnson, anytime we discuss sugar, we’re talking about ALL forms of sugar, but some types are clearly more hazardous than others, in terms of their effect on your biochemistry:
“Table sugar is also known as sucrose, and sucrose contains one molecule of fructose and one molecule of glucose bound together. We call it a disaccharide. But one sucrose molecule actually has a fructose and a glucose molecule bound to it. Sucrose or table sugar is basically about 50 percent fructose. When you eat this sucrose, the sucrose gets metabolized in the intestines to free fructose and free glucose that you then absorb.
High-fructose corn syrup is the other major source of fructose.
High-fructose corn syrup consists of a mixture of fructose and glucose mixed freely together… (What I mean by free fructose is it’s just fructose and glucose mixed together. They’re not bound together.) There’s a little bit more fructose than glucose. It’s not exactly a 50-50 ratio, and the ratio can vary depending upon which food… [These are the two key ways that people are being exposed to fructose.
... I should mention that natural fruits also have fructose.
In my original book, The Sugar Fix, I was quite concerned about that, because it was another source of fructose. And we can show that fructose does a lot of bad things. But the good news is we’ve done subsequent studies, and we’ve been able to show that natural fruits, although there’s some fructose there… there are so many wonderful things in natural fruits like vitamin C, antioxidants, resveratrol, flavonols, quercetin, and all these things that actually neutralize some of the effects of fructose. Because of that, natural fruits do not seem to carry the same degree of risk.”
That said, keep in mind that large amounts of fruits, as well as fruit juices and dried fruits will typically contain large doses of fructose, so use in moderation. Neither I nor Dr. Johnson recommend drinking fruit juice or eating dried fruits if you’re struggling with your weight. Furthermore, although Dr. Johnson doesn’t specifically mention them here, the term “sugar” also applies to other natural sources such as honey and agave syrup, for example, both of which are very high in fructose.
Surprise: Metabolic Syndrome May Not Be a Disease After All
Dr. Johnson’s book, The Fat Switch, is not just another book about weight loss. No, in it he again reveals why I believe he deserves to be viewed as a true pioneer in this field.
“I’ve realized from my discussions with many people that there’s more than one approach to try to figure out the cause of a disease,” he says. “Most of us as scientists have focused just on pure medical science like molecular biology, physiology, and genetics. These are incredibly important tools and have a critical role in helping us figure out diseases. But actually, there’s a much bigger field to select from that can help us. For example, there is the field of comparative physiology... which means ‘study of animals in nature.’
... For example, most animals have learned how to become fat and how to become thin. They do it in a tightly regulated way... Hibernating mammals will double their weight and fat in the fall in preparation for winter... I realized that I can learn by reading the studies about these animals. As I read them, I had another insight, which had not been appreciated before: That these animals develop all the features of metabolic syndrome that we do. They get fat. They’re visceral fat goes up. They get fatty liver. The triglycerides go up in their blood. They get insulin-resistant... It’s a normal process.
It’s not a disease. This is how animals store fat. It’s part of the fat storage syndrome. I’ve actually proposed (and it’s in press) that the metabolic syndrome really should be called the fat-storage condition, because it’s just fat storage.”
The question, of course, is how do animals do it?
Through his earlier research, Dr. Johnson discovered the method that animals use to gain fat prior to times of food scarcity which turned out to be a powerful adaptive benefit. His research showed that fructose activates a key enzyme, fructokinase, which in turn activates another enzyme that causes cells to accumulate fat.
When this enzyme is blocked, fat cannot be stored in the cell. Interestingly, this is the exact same “switch” animals use to fatten up in the fall and to burn fat during the winter. Fructose is the dietary ingredient that turns on this “switch,” causing cells to accumulate fat, both in animals and in humans!
“The enzyme that makes you fat is turned on in obese people,” Dr. Johnson explains, “and the enzyme that makes you lean is turned off.” This is why the book is called The Fat Switch, because basically there is a switch that turns on and off. It looks to me like it’s universal to all animals. This book is a story of that... [O]nce we realized that there was this switch, we asked, “Why are people becoming obese?” Now we realized it was related to the sugar intake.
… The last part was connecting in with the evolutionary aspects. There’s a very famous evolutionary biologist in London, in the Natural History Museum. His name is Peter Andrews. He trained with Richard Leakey. He’s like a world expert on human evolution. It turned out that there were certain mutations that occurred in our past. For example, we don’t make vitamin C. We also have higher uric acids than most other animals.
When we look at when these mutations occurred, we could see that they actually occurred during periods of human famine, and that these were probably mutations that allowed us to become fatter in response to fructose than other animals. We’re much more sensitive to sugar than most animals, and it’s because of these mutations.