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THE POTENTIAL CONSEQUENCES OF WEIGHT LOSS

by VRP Staff

Results from the 2007–2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) indicate that an estimated 34.2 percent of U.S. adults aged 20 years and over are overweight, 33.8 percent are obese and 5.7 percent are extremely obese.1Given that health problems associated with obesity are a leading cause of mortality, second only to health problems associated with smoking2, these statistics do not bode well for many Americans. Nevertheless, Americans are nothing if not industrious, and millions of overweight individuals are actively trying to lose weight. This is reflected by the fact that, in 2009, the U.S. market for weight loss products and services was worth nearly $121 billion, and is forecasted to expand at an annual growth rate of 2.2 percent, resulting in a projected market size of more than $134 billion in 2014.3

Most health care professionals would probably agree that achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is highly desirable, and is associated with a reduced risk of health problems and mortality.4 What many health care professionals and most laypeople do not know, however, is that there can also be serious consequences of successful weight management—namely a significant influx of potentially harmful toxic chemicals into the bloodstream. The cause of this influx is the release of fat-soluble toxins heretofore stored in adipose (fat) tissue, and released in the lipolysis of long-term weight management programs.5

Toxins and Fat Tissue Storage

In her 1962 groundbreaking book Silent Spring, Rachel Carson wrote: “For the first time in the history of the world every human being is now subjected to contact with dangerous chemicals, from the moment of conception until death.”6 Of course, humans have always been exposed to potentially harmful chemicals from plants and other sources, but Rachel Carson’s point is well taken. Modern living exposes all of us to an unprecedented number of chemicals on a daily basis. This includes environmental toxins such as heavy metals, pesticides, industrial compounds and chemical byproducts, medications, cosmetic additives, inorganic chemicals, etc. These chemical substances that are foreign to the biological system are referred to as “xenobiotics.”7

Water-soluble xenobiotics can pass through our bodies unchanged and be eliminated in the stool, sweat or urine. Even though they often do not remain in the body for long, they still cause toxic effects when they are present, particularly when we’re exposed to these rapidly clearing compounds daily. One class of quickly clearing compounds are the phthalate plasticizers,8which are used in many personal care products, some medications, and food preservation. Despite their short half-lives in humans (i.e., up to 24 hours in some cases), phthalates have been linked to serious health problems, including weight gain.8

Fat-soluble xenobiotics, however, cannot be excreted without undergoing metabolic transformation (detoxification) in the liver so that they can become water soluble. Furthermore, fat-soluble xenobiotics may be stored in adipose tissue for extended periods of time, even years. This was seen in the National Human Adipose Tissue Survey (NHATS) conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The goal of NHATS was to investigate the presence of key xenobiotics in the environment and their direct effect on our bodies. The results were that almost all adipose tissue samples collected from the general population of 47 metropolitan areas from 1976 to 1987 contained toxins, including organochlorine pesticides, PCBs, dioxins and furans, volatile organics, semivolatile organics, OCDD (a dioxin which is commonly present in dairy and meat products), styrene (a solvent), 1,4-dichlorobenzene, xylene and ethylphenol.9 Likewise a study of adipose levels of chemicals in persons from Texas showed the presence of p,p-DDE, dieldrin, oxychlordane, heptachlor epoxide and para-BHC in 100 percent of all samples.10That study was done on adipose samples taken from autopsies and was from older subjects.

Release of Toxins into Bloodstream, and Ramifications

While it may have taken decades to accumulate so many toxins in fat tissue, their release into the bloodstream may take place at a more rapid pace. This was seen when researchers examined associations between weight change over 1 year and 10 years and serum concentrations of seven xenobiotics in 1,099 adults at least 40 years old. The results, published in the International Journal of Obesity, indicated that serum concentrations of most toxins were higher in those undertaking long-term weight management programs (i.e., over 10 years), compared to those with long-term weight gain. Weight loss over a period of 1 year showed similar but weaker associations, compared with long-term weight loss. The researchers expressed concerns that increases in serum concentrations of toxins after a weight management program may actually result in harmful effects on health.11

In fact, other research suggests that the concerns expressed in the International Journal of Obesity were well founded. A study of 4,331 ambulatory men aged 65 to 93 (at baseline), published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, found older men who lost weight, total lean mass or total fat mass had a higher risk of mortality than men who remained stable.12 While it may not be a surprise that men who lost lean mass had an increased risk for mortality, it is very interesting that those who lost weight or fat mass also had an increased risk. Although no reason was given for the increased risk, it may be that the corresponding release of xenobiotics and previously stored hormones into the older men’s bloodstream was a contributing factor.

This supposition is made more likely when considering a review published by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, in which the authors indicated that physiologic and metabolic limitations arise in older people, and the ability of the body to respond to physiological challenge presented by environmental chemicals is dependent upon the health of the organ systems that eliminate those substances from the body.13 This concept is neatly summarized by the authors’ statement, “Any compromise in the function of those organ systems may result in a decrease in the body’s ability to protect itself from the adverse effects of xenobiotics.”

Of course an increased risk for mortality is not the only risk associated with toxic overload from xenobiotics. In fact, the most common symptom of toxic overload is probably fatigue. Other common symptoms include headache, muscle and joint pain, irritability, depression, mental confusion, gastrointestinal and/or cardiovascular irregularities, flu-like symptoms or allergic reactions including hives, stuffy or runny nose, sneezing and coughing.14-15 Furthermore, some researchers have suggested that toxic overload may contribute to increases in inflammation,16-17 and neurological dysfunction.18

The Metabolic Syndrome and Toxic Burden

Brominated flame retardants, such as polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) or polybrominated biphenyls (PBBs) are a class of chlorinated persistent organic pollutants (POPs), which are commonly found in fat tissue in the human body. Researchers examined 1,367 adults participating in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2003-2004, and found that PBDEs and one PBB were detectable in 60 percent or more of the participants. The environmental contaminants were associated with an increased prevalence of both diabetes and metabolic syndrome.19 This led the researchers to state, “Pending confirmation in prospective studies, lipophilic xenobiotics, including brominated POPs stored in adipose tissue, may be involved in the pathogenesis of diabetes and metabolic syndrome.”

Because both diabetes and the metabolic syndrome are linked to obesity, and because levels of environmental toxins have been found to be high in people with these conditions, diabetics and people with the metabolic syndrome who are undergoing a weight management program may be putting themselves at risk for toxic overload.

Xenobiotic Detoxification

Increased release of xenobiotics into the bloodstream when losing weight is probably inevitable. That does not mean, however, that a concomitant increase in a risk to one’s health is also inevitable. Rather, it indicates that measures should be taken to support and promote the body’s own natural process of detoxifying these xenobiotics.

Fat-soluble toxins cannot be excreted without undergoing metabolic transformation (detoxification) in the liver so that they can become water soluble. Liver cells have sophisticated mechanisms to break down toxic substances. These include both endogenous and exogenous (i.e., xenobiotics) substances. Every drug, chemical, pesticide and hormone is broken down or metabolized via detoxification pathways in the liver called “phase 1” and “phase 2.”20-22

We’ve discussed phase 1 and phase 2 pathways in depth in previous articles but here is a recap of how each pathway works:

Phase 1

Phase 1 utilizes cytochrome P450 enzymes produced in the liver. These enzymes initiate reactions that generally involve exposing or adding a “functional group” to the toxic molecule. This process of making the molecule more reactive is required as the first step in increasing its water solubility for excretion. Some chemicals are already highly reactive and they have functional groups, so they can bypass phase 1 and go right to phase 2. The majority, however, first need phase 1 activation. Unfortunately, phase 1 does generate free radicals, which mean that there is greater potential for oxidative damage at this time.23-24

Phase 2

Phase 2 involves the coupling (attaching) or conjugation of a water-soluble substance, which is endogenously produced or sourced by the body, to the toxin. This makes the toxic molecule more water soluble and therefore less toxic. If the molecule is large, it is then excreted via the bile. Otherwise, it is excreted in the urine.25-26

Certain nutraceuticals are key to the process of supporting the body’s normal process for xenobiotic detoxification. These nutraceuticals either play a direct role as the coupling or conjugating agent in phase 2, or an indirect role by stimulating the production of a conjugating agent. (See Table 1)

TABLE 1. Supplements Supporting Xenobiotic Detoxification

Nutraceutical(s)

Function

Source

Glycine, taurine, and glutamine

Phase 2 as conjugating agents.27-28

Detox 365

MSM or methylsulfonylmethane

Donors of methyl groups. Phase 2 as conjugating agents.29-30

Detox 365

Trimethylglycine or Betaine

Donors of methyl groups. Phase 2 as conjugating agents.32

HepatoGen™

Calcium D-glucarate

Inhibits beta-glucuronidase,31-32 promoting phase 2 glucuronidation pathway.

Detox 365

N-Acetyl L-Cysteine (NAC)

Increases glutathione synthesis,33 promoting phase 2 glutathione conjugation pathway.34

Detox 365 and HepatoGen™

R-Lipoic acid

Increases glutathione synthesis promoting phase 2 glutathione conjugation pathway.35-36

HepatoGen™

Milk Thistle (silymarin)

Protects against glutathione depletion,37 and increases glutathione status,38 promoting phase 2 glutathione conjugation pathway.39 Stimulates production of bile,40which acts a vehicle to excrete toxins into the colon once they have completed phase 2 conjugation.

Detox 365

In addition to the nutraceuticals mentioned in Table 1, another important consideration for promoting healthy detoxification is fiber. Once the conjugated xenobiotics have been dumped into the intestines, there is a danger of their being reabsorbed back into circulation. Consequently, the use of fiber to bind to toxins and facilitate their excretion is recommended. Furthermore, if hydrolyzed guar gum is used as a source of fiber (such as found in EZ Fiber™), research suggests that there will be improvements in intestinal microflora balance41—which is beneficial for healthy bowel function and elimination.

Conclusion

Losing weight promotes the release of potentially harmful xenobiotics. The use of key nutraceuticals, as found in Detox 365, HepatoGen™ and EZ Fiber™, can promote the healthy detoxification of xenobiotics, supporting optimal wellness and maximizing the effectiveness of a weight management program.

References

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