News Stories

Can You Think Yourself Thin?

Since Valentine's Day is coming soon, when many of us will receive gifts of chocolate, this is something that is important to know. We DO know on the same diet, some people gain weight, while others do not. So why are Americans so fat? New studies show that about half of the US population has a version of a gene that causes them to gain weight.

The Surgeon General has stated that we need 30 minutes of exercise a day to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Can we get in shape by using the placebo effect, to exercise using our minds instead of our bodies? When Harvard researchers asked over 80 female housekeepers who cleaned hotel rooms how much they worked out, they all reported that they were not getting any additional exercise, although they certainly got plenty of it in their daily jobs.

In LiveScience.com, Sara Goudarzi quotes psychologist Ellen Langer as saying, "This is a group of people who by far surpassed the Surgeon General?s recommendation for the amount of exercise one should get. Yet our initial belief, and then confirmed by data, was that they were?rather than healthy as one might expect from all this exercise?less healthy than they should be. If they're getting the exercise why aren't they healthier?"

They decided to find out if changing their minds would change their bodies, so they informed half these women that the daily exercise they got in their jobs was enough to fulfill the Surgeon General's recommendation for a healthy lifestyle. Langer says, "They were taught that their work was exercise and were given specifics. For example, changing linens for 15 minutes burns 40 calories, vacuuming for 15 minutes burns 50 calories, cleaning bathrooms for 15 minutes burns 60 calories and so on." The other half of the housekeeping staff was not given this information.

When they learned the health benefits of the tasks they did every day, the maids began to lose weight. After four weeks, the informed group had lost an average of two pounds, lowered their blood pressure by almost 10% and reduced their percent of body fat. These improvements were not matched by the uninformed group.

A single protein in our brain cells called SH2B1 may control our body's weight-regulating system, playing a key role in the signals that govern fat storage, sugar use, energy balance and weight. Researcher Liangyou Rui says, "Obesity, whether in mice or humans, is the product of an altered balance between energy intake and energy use. The imbalance is linked to alterations in leptin and insulin signaling that lead to excess weight gain and Type 2 diabetes, respectively. SH2B1 appears to play a key regulatory role in this system."

Another recent study confirms findings that about half of the U.S. population has a version of a gene that causes them to metabolize food differently, putting them at greater risk of gaining weight and developing diabetes. Researcher Edward Weiss studied at a relatively common version of a gene called FABP2, which is involved in the absorption of fat from food.

Those people with the variant gene processed fat differently than those who don?t have it. They burned more fat, which may have hindered their ability to remove sugar from the blood stream and burn it. Diabetes is characterized by too much sugar in the blood.

Weiss says, "This study adds to what was previously known about this gene variant by showing that after consuming a very rich milkshake, people with the variant gene process the fat from the drink differently than other people." That does not mean that half of US residents are destined to get diabetes. He says, "While the variation of the gene appears to contribute to the diabetes risk, it does not cause diabetes by itself. Many other genes, some known and some unknown, are involved in a person's overall risk of developing diabetes. Those are things a person can't control. But there are risk factors for diabetes that a person can change?lifestyle factors, such as diet and exercise." And maybe the way we THINK about those things.

Art credit: freeimages.co.uk

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