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Life Extension Magazine

LE Magazine January 2005
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Heart and Mind

The Dangerous Link Between Heart Disease and Depression By William Davis, MD, FACC

How to Lose Weight Faster

Metabolic syndrome is, in the great majority of cases, a disease of the overweight and obese. If metabolic syndrome leads to depression and other negative emotions that further escalate the risk of heart disease, that is all the more reason to attack metabolic syndrome. Not surprisingly, the most direct, effective way to do so is to lose weight.47 Weight loss might then be a useful path to reducing the risk of both depression and heart disease. Unfortunately, that is easier said than done.

Carbohydrate-restricted programs, popularized by the Atkins and South Beach diets, are helpful weight-loss tools, though the high-saturated-fat, low-fiber approach of the Atkins’ “induction phase” makes it unhealthy for a period any longer than several weeks. In the author’s experience, people with metabolic syndrome respond in an exaggerated manner to these diets, losing weight rapidly. Losses of 10-20 pounds in the first month are not uncommon.

Along with diet, several nutritional supplements can supercharge weight-loss efforts and thereby improve many features of metabolic syndrome. They include:

White bean extract. This supplement blocks intestinal carbohydrate absorption by 66%. Taking 1500 mg twice a day with meals can lead to 3-7 pounds of weight loss in the first month of use.48 Like its prescription counterpart (acarbose), it can cause excess gas, though usually modest. Do not succumb to the temptation to indulge in carbohydrates, since the blocking effect is only partial. You can overcome the effect quite easily, for instance, with a 50-gram carbohydrate load of just two granola bars.

Calcium pyruvate. Doses of 2500 mg twice a day act as a weight-loss accelerator that is safe and ephedra-free. Calcium pyruvate also has the interesting property of “exercise enhancement,” making exercise easier and less taxing, and encouraging exercise that is longer and harder with a smoother recovery.49

Chromium. This trace mineral provides an insulin-sensitizing benefit along with a modest effect of promoting weight loss (see “Chromium: An Element Essential to Health,” Life Extension, August 2004). The dose ranges from 600 to 1000 mcg per day and is best used consistently over a period of several months. Work with your doctor to monitor your blood sugar if you have established diabetes or take medication to lower your blood sugar before you begin taking chromium.

Testosterone. Contrary to popular belief, testosterone supplementation in men is more useful in improving mood than in stoking libido.50 Feelings of sadness, fatigue, anger, and even severe depression may be associated with declining blood levels of testosterone in men in their forties and beyond. Testosterone can often result in dramatic improvement in these symptoms (see “A New, Independent Risk Factor for Heart Disease,” Life Extension, August 2004). Testosterone not only improves the psychological side of the equation, but also can improve many characteristics of metabolic syndrome through its weight-loss-promoting effects.51

Carnitine is a supplement that may be equal to testosterone in its ability to improve sexual function, boost low moods, increase energy, and promote weight loss through its effect on fat and glucose metabolism. A dose of 2000 mg per day of acetyl-L-carnitine has been found effective in most studies.52

DHEA is an adrenal hormone whose beneficial effects include its considerable ability to elevate mood, particularly in men and women with lower blood levels of DHEA-sulfate. Among the most persuasive reports is a 1999 study conducted at the National Institute of Mental Health in which 90 mg per day of DHEA significantly improved symptoms such as anhedonia (loss of interest), loss of energy, lack of motivation, emotional “numbness,” sadness, inability to cope, and worry in men and women aged 45-63.53 DHEA also improves some features of metabolic syndrome by increasing sensitivity to insulin, decreasing constriction of the body’s arteries (endothelial function), and reducing plasminogen activator inhibitor-1, a potent blood-clot-promoting protein.54,55 The most common dose is 25 mg for women aged 45 and older, and 25-50 mg for men aged 40 and older.

PGX™ is a highly viscous fiber blend of glucomannan, xanthan, and alginate that limits sugar absorption and the subsequent after-meal insulin spike. This sugar-limiting effect can occur when taking a relatively low dose of 1-3 grams before each meal. A related benefit is a modest reduction in total cholesterol and LDL. (See “Novel Fiber Limits Sugar Absorption,” Life Extension, September 2004.)

Exercise is another therapeutic tool that simultaneously addresses both metabolic syndrome and risk for heart disease. Exercise is an effective strategy to lose weight, improve insulin sensitivity, and lower levels of stress hormones. Aerobic exercise has the added capacity to improve mood. In fact, 16 weeks of exercise can be as effective as prescription antidepressant medication for depression.56,57

Conclusion

Depression and other negative emotions interact with coronary heart disease risk through a complex web of metabolic pathways. The clinical data are quite clear: depression, anxiety, anger, and other chronic, negative emotions substantially increase the risk of heart disease. They also contribute to development of metabolic syndrome, a potent risk factor for heart disease and diabetes.

Several nutritional supplements can be powerful additions to a program for improving mood and preventing heart disease. Fish oil stands out as the “missing link,” with research demonstrating impressive evidence of its benefits in both improving mood and reducing the risk of heart disease. Homocysteine is another potential link. Data suggest that the use of B vitamins, particularly folic acid, to reduce homocysteine translates into impressive improvement in mood and reduction of cardiovascular events.

Metabolic syndrome is now rampant across the US. This constellation of physiological disruptions triggered by weight gain can generate negative emotions as well as increased risk of heart disease. Weight loss is the most direct way to address metabolic syndrome and thereby reduce or eliminate its ill effects on health.

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