MUSC News Center
MUSC Pilot study shows weight loss leads to great gains
Mikie Hayes | News Center | June 10, 2014
|Michael Hunter joined the challenge to lose weight, improve his health and gain energy. After 12 weeks he has lost 35 pounds and is now much healthier.|
A dynamic fitness commando takes the stage and tells everyone — in no uncertain terms – that their bodies are already in a state of chronic disease. For most that is terrifying news they really hadn’t contemplated in those terms. They knew they had weight to lose; maybe they’d dealt with high blood pressure, possibly elevated sugar. But chronic disease?
She had their attention.
“However,” she continued, “each and every one of you can make modifications in your lives that will not only help you live longer but add quality to those years.”
No, it wasn’t a Denise Austin infomercial at 3 a.m. that people were watching: It was Janis Newton, director of the Healthy Charleston Challenge, addressing 75 new participants at the start of the spring 2014 program.
A 12–week weight–loss, lifestyle–intervention program, the HCC was designed to increase physical activity and provide skills, professional guidance and accountability for developing healthy habits as well as to provide opportunities for partnerships between the Wellness Center and MUSC researchers.
Whether participants had 25 pounds or 225 pounds to lose, Newton explained to them on that evening in January, that being overweight or obese was wreaking havoc on their cells, organs, bones, and joints. Further, that just by being part of the challenge, they would get healthier, have more energy, feel more confident, and literally change the very state of their mitochondria: the all-important powerstations of the cell.
She knew from anecdotal information shared by past participants going back as far as the program’s beginning in 2008, that people were experiencing amazing results from the challenge.
Physicians had reduced or taken many completely off their medications for blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes. Participants, too, had been able to return to sports they once enjoyed and many thanked her as they experienced a marked reduction of pain in their joints. And, over the years, physicians praised her efforts because of the stellar results they’d seen in their patients.
But soon there would be definitive numbers: scientific proof that the HCC was indeed making a difference in people’s health. Newton announced a pilot study being conducted by two MUSC researchers, David Turner, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine in Hollings Cancer Center and Mathew Gregoski, Ph.D., assistant professor in the College of Nursing. This biomarker study would combine forces with the HCC and 20 participants would have an opportunity to take part in it.
The goal of the study was to determine if regular exercise and changes in eating habits would, over the course of the challenge, help to decrease in participants certain disease biomarkers such as advanced glycemic end–products, better known as AGEs. It did, and at rates even higher than Turner and Gregoski expected.
AGEs are a complex group of compounds that form when sugar reacts with amino acids. This is a process that occurs in the body in addition to the fact that AGEs exist in everyday foods like meat, butter and vegetables.
Turner explains it as such: “As our bodies use the sugars that we consume for energy, they generate waste products, or metabolites, including molecules called advanced glycation end-products or AGEs. AGEs naturally accumulate in our tissue, and as we grow older, the body becomes less efficient at clearing these metabolites from our bodies. They have also been implicated in diseases associated with aging such as diabetes, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. They can also cause increased inflammation and the generation of potentially harmful chemicals known as reaction oxygen species, both of which promote cancer.” AGEs, which are intrinsic to many foods, can be increased by the process of cooking. In particular, meats that have been cooked with dry heat — barbequed, fried, roasted, or baked — are very high in AGEs.
Fats and meat products contain the most, while carbohydrates are relatively low in AGEs. Higher cooking temperatures increase AGEs and the same holds true for longer cooking times. Cooking with moist heat reduces AGEs because it cooks at a lower temperature. And processed foods contain more AGEs than natural or homemade foods. For instance, a 100 gram serving of the following foods contain various amounts of AGEs: 2 1/2 stalks of celery contain 43 AGEs and a medium baked apple, 90. A slice of thin-crust pepperoni pizza has approximately 6,825, and 5 slices of fried bacon have 91,577.
There is ample evidence that in addition to chronic diseases such as cancer and diabetes, AGEs play an important role in skin aging and aging in general, making AGEs an ironic and fitting acronym for the toll they take on the body.
Pick up a copy of Prevention, Longevity or Cosmopolitan magazine and it’s clear that the word aging causes dread in the hearts of the American public. Aging has come to represent an inevitable decline in looks, health, energy, and libido. Americans’ insatiable need to stay forever young fuels an anti-aging products and services market that was valued at nearly $262 billion in 2013, according to BCC Research, a publisher of technology market research reports based in Wellesley, Mass. And, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons stated that the number of botulinum toxin (Botox) treatments alone rose 680 percent from 2000 to 2012.
Newton and the researchers know “behavioral medicine” is a much healthier way to address aging than getting injections to deaden facial muscles. While AGEs is one of the major molecular mechanisms by which damage accrues in the body leading to aging, disease and eventually death, the good news, according to Gregoski, is that regular exercise has been shown to attenuate AGE accumulation.
“There are few chronic diseases that cannot be improved by a regular exercise program. In some ways, exercise is more important than medicine; It’s life,” Gregoski said.
And South Carolinians need some good news. “Our state ranks among the worst in the country for the prevalence of these disease states,” Gregoski said. “The higher accumulation of AGEs resulting from the typical Southern diet is a potential contributor.”
According to Newton, the Southern diet has led many an HCC participant, desperate for help, through the doors of the Wellness Center.
Michael Hunter is the perfect example. He and wife, Missy, married 19 years, joined the challenge together to lose weight, improve their health and gain energy. Hunter was tired of hearing the same lecture from his doctor “over and over and over.”
The couple had been thinking of doing something for themselves for a very long time when the challenge presented itself, and they “jumped on it.”
“While we thought AGE levels would be reduced,” Turner said, “we were quite surprised at how significantly they were reduced in the 12 weeks.”
This story originally appeared in The Catalyst.