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Food choice stakes are higher than you might expect: Part 2

Published January 14. 2012 09:01AM

I imagine you've heard the comment or one like it nearly as often as I have. It comes from someone chronically chubby witnessing someone eternally thin eating something fattening and calorie-laden like red velvet cake.

The comment: "If I'd eat even the smallest slice of something like that, I'd gain 10 pounds."

I used to think these whiners needed to complain less, exercise more, and possibly buy a new scale. And while I still believe most still need to do the first two, there may be some gravity to their gripe.

It's found in the developmental origins theory.

Last week you read about how the work of professor David Barker in the 1970s led him to believe that your genetic predisposition towards some of the health problems currently plaguing the U.S., like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, may not have developed in our DNA thousands of years ago as previously thought.

Barker's developmental origins theory makes a strong case that your DNA is far more affected by the health and diet of your mother during pregnancy than anything done by any caveman. Last week's column specifically focused on pregnant women and animal research to lend credence to Barker's belief.

This week's column will share other recent research and use Barker's developmental origins theory to explain it.

At the heart of the developmental origins theory is the belief that fetuses growing in the bodies of malnourished women develop DNA designed to hoard rather than expend calories. What has happened to a tribe of native American Indians, the Pimas, is a prime example of this.

Herded onto Indian reservations in the early part of the 20th century, this tribe endured famine when nearby ranchers diverted their water supply. Now the Pimas eat like typical Americans, but that period of famine has altered their DNA to such a degree that they now have the world's highest rate of diabetes.

Your DNA may have also been altered by a period of famine endured by your mother, but this famine wasn't the result of a lack of food. This one, ironically enough, occurred from too much food.

Too much junk food lacking in nutritional value, that is. That's why, according to professor David Barker's developmental origins theory, so many young people today gain weight and suffer from all the overweight-related diseases so much sooner than before.

Doctors, for instance, now treat patients with type 2 diabetes the type that used to be called adult onset diabetes as young as 6.

So if you're the progeny of Pima or a malnourished mother, how do you keep your demented DNA from damaging your health? One bit of recent research suggests you need to eat like a caveman.

Oddly enough, the weight-loss books popular about 10 years ago that advocated eating like a caveman were based upon a notion that the developmental origins theory disputes: that your biology is the same as the hunters and gatherers who roamed the earth 10,000 years ago. But whether or not that is true, this is: imitating the diet of the Paleolithic time period is a great way to eliminate the calorie-dense and nutritionally void foods that make up too much of the contemporary American diet.

In fact, University of California at San Francisco researchers recently revisited the Paleolithic or caveman diet and found that when it was followed by previously unhealthy individuals, it lead lowered blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels. In some cases, according to Robert Lustig, MD, an endocrinologist at UCSF, it cured diabetes.

But the most impressive development from the study came as a result of one woman's curiosity. Dr. Kim Mulvihill, a reporter for CBS, learned of the UCSF results and tried the diet herself.

After seven weeks, she was 30 pounds lighter, her blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels dropped dramatically, and she was no longer labeled pre-diabetic. When other doctors learned that she had done this through what could be called the caveman diet, they advised her to eat that way forever.

Seemingly more support for the developmental origins theory came in November when a panel of experts appointed by the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute urged that all children aged 9 to 11 be tested to see if they have high cholesterol levels. The decree comes as a direct result of autopsy studies that show some children develop signs of heart disease well before they show symptoms.

Since elevated cholesterol levels increase the odds of heart disease, the panel sees early screening as preemptive.

The panel also advised diabetes screening for overweight kids as young as 9 if they have other risk factors, such as a family history of developing the disease.

If you still have doubts about the legitimacy of Barker's developmental origins theory, that's fine. If you want to believe something else is amiss in the world, that's all right.

But please recognize that something somewhere in the way the typical American now nourishes himself is horribly, horribly wrong.

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