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Life Extension Magazine

LE Magazine November 2005
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The Perricone Weight Loss Program

By Nicholas V. Perricone, MD
Nicholas Perricone, MD

Nicholas Perricone, MD, is the author of the New York Times bestsellers The Wrinkle Cure™, The Perricone Prescription™, and The Perricone Promise™.

A board-certified clinical and research dermatologist, adjunct professor of medicine at Michigan State University’s College of Human Medicine, and long-time member of the Life Extension Foundation, Dr. Perricone has been the subject of a member profile (April 2003) and has shared his expertise in an “Ask the Doctor” column in Life Extension magazine (June 2004).

Much like the Life Extension Foundation, Dr. Perricone focuses on preventing the effects of aging and extending the healthy human life span by applying dietary and nutritional strategies to minimize inflammation, glycation, and oxidative stress.

The following article is excerpted from his new book, The Perricone Weight-Loss Diet (Random House, 2005), which explores the link between inflammation and excess weight, and outlines a detailed strategy for losing fat, preventing wrinkles, and alleviating the effects of aging.

Excerpted from The Perricone Weight-Loss Diet by Nicholas V. Perricone, MD. Copyrighted 2005 by Nicholas V. Perricone, MD. Reprinted by arrangements with The Random House Publishing Group. For more information, visit www.nvperriconemd.com.

Scientists are rapidly acknowledging the role of inflammation in many diseases and chronic conditions. However, I believe this will be the first book that will clearly demonstrate how this subclinical, microscopic, invisible inflammation is responsible for a great number of metabolic problems, resulting in accelerated aging, serious health threats, unwanted weight gain, and obesity.

If this was not bad enough news for adults, there is now alarming new evidence that this diet-related inflammation is also causing weight gain and obesity in young children and adolescents, resulting in diseases and conditions such as type II diabetes and metabolic syndrome, which normally do not manifest until much later in life.

My research has shown that the chief therapeutic intervention to prevent weight gain (regardless of age) is the anti-inflammatory diet. I have observed significant weight loss in thousands of individuals who follow the simple formula of avoiding foods that are pro-inflammatory and choosing in their place foods with anti-inflammatory properties.

What is of particular interest to me is the fact that the same foods (those with anti-inflammatory properties) that fight many diseases, aging, sagging skin, and wrinkling, also cause significant weight loss—and they are safe for everyone, children and adults alike. At the same time, the foods that accelerate aging and put us at risk for disease and the loss of cognitive abilities (the pro-inflammatory foods) also cause weight gain. These foods and beverages also interfere with the body’s natural ability to metabolize foods properly, making it increasingly difficult to lose unwanted weight.

Perhaps the worst dietary craze belongs to the 1980s, which heralded the age of the no-fat diet. Supermarket shelves were flooded with high-glycemic carbohydrate foods, offering little in the way of nutrients, but plenty in the way of empty calories. These foods became dietary mainstays for many people, especially women, who found themselves indulging in snack foods such as reduced-fat “baked” potato and corn chips, and fat-free rice and corn cakes, cookies, pretzels, and crackers. Suddenly millions of Americans were placing themselves in a chronic inflammatory condition. Why? Because eating these foods provokes a pro-inflammatory rapid rise in blood sugar, resulting in elevated insulin levels.

Insulin is an important hormone that helps the body utilize blood sugar for energy or store it as glycogen or fat. But if the insulin is released too quickly, it has a pro-inflammatory effect. After a rapid rise, there will be a precipitous drop in blood sugar, resulting in feelings of hunger, which can lead to a vicious cycle of overeating. This is why a diet centered on breads, baked goods, snack foods, sweets, and other sugary, starchy foods results in unwanted weight gain and great difficulty in losing weight. Ironically, in this instance, it is not the caloric value of the foods causing the weight gain. In fact, a rice cake only has around 40 calories.

However, because it is rapidly converted to sugar in the bloodstream, resulting in the insulin release, it will cause you to store body fat. An insulin release can result in the storage of body fat.

Keeping It Simple

Some scientists and researchers believe that many of the health problems of today are caused by our departure from the hunter-gatherer diet, which consisted of nuts, seeds, berries, wild greens, roots, fruits, fish, fowl, and game. This is a fascinating theory and I do agree with the premise that natural, unprocessed foods are always the best choices.

To be healthy and maintain normal weight, we need all of the food groups—but not those that come from the laboratory. Our protein source needs to be pure, fresh (when possible) wild fish and other seafood, and free-range chicken and turkey that are hormone and antibiotic free. Our carbohydrates need to be fresh fruits and vegetables, preferably organic. And we need good fats, such as those found in salmon, sardines, and other cold-water fish, extra virgin olive oil, nuts, seeds, avocado, and açaí (a Brazilian berry whose fatty-acid ratio resembles that of olive oil). These “good” fats will help us absorb nutrients from our vegetables and fruits, keep our cells supple, our skin glowing and wrinkle-free, our brains sharp, and our mood upbeat. We also need dietary fat to burn fat.

By upsetting the delicate balance with extreme fad diets and ridiculous concepts, whether it is no-carb or no-fat or whatever, we create ongoing physical and mental health problems, including obesity, accelerated aging, and wrinkling, sagging skin. It is no coincidence that the rise of antidepressants such as Prozac® occurred during the nonfat food craze of the 1980s—after all, our brains are comprised mainly of fat, and when we starve our brains of valuable nutrients, we become depressed. Salmon, with its rich complement of essential fatty acids, has been shown to be an excellent treatment for depression. Some studies have shown that it is more effective than powerful drugs in treating depression—without the side effects (moderate regular exercise is also great for depression, especially when combined with the salmon-rich anti-inflammatory diet).

Inflammation 101

Let’s take a look at what I mean by inflammation. Inflammation, which is the response of the body’s immune system to infection or irritation, exists in a very wide spectrum. At the extreme end, it causes visible redness and swelling, such as in sunburn or an injured finger. On the low end of the spectrum, the inflammation is invisible; we can’t see it and we can’t feel it. But it does exist, and it causes a host of health-related problems. The bright red and painful sunburn that exists at the extreme high end is usually present for only a short period of time. Physicians refer to this type of inflammation as “acute inflammation.” The invisible inflammation that exists at the low end of the spectrum is usually present for longer periods of time and is termed “chronic inflammation.”

The question you may be asking is, “If it is invisible, and we can’t feel it, then how do we know that this low-grade inflammation exists?” The answer is simple: some of this inflammation can be detected under the microscope. However, low-grade inflammation can also be invisible even with a microscope because it exists on a molecular level, but it can be detected through chemical tests using special instruments.

Research indicates that the effects of this chronic, low-grade, invisible inflammation is at the basis of aging and age-related diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, certain forms of cancer, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and autoimmune diseases—and even wrinkled, sagging skin.

However, it doesn’t stop there. I am now categorically stating that this same chronic, low-grade, invisible inflammation is at the very basis of excess body fat, out-of-control appetites, food cravings, food addictions, diabetes, and the inability to lose excess body weight.

If that is the case, you may be thinking, “Why don’t I just go ahead and take an ibuprofen tablet and get thin?” Unfortunately, it is not that simple—especially when you consider this inflammation is not just a one-time event reacting to a one-time cause. Our bodies are under a constant barrage, a continual assault of physical insults resulting in this inflammation—beginning with that bag of potato chips and ending with the creation of a veritable factory in our body whose one job is to grow more fat cells and produce more inflammatory chemicals.

The effect of this low-grade, invisible inflammation (also referred to as “subclinical” inflammation) has been at the cutting edge of medical science for the last decade, and it has been the focal point of my own research for the past two decades. After years of either being ignored or relegated to a “by-product” of the disease process, cellular inflammation is finally coming to the attention of the mainstream media, and in fact, was the topic of a cover story in Time magazine.

THE MECHANISM OF A VICIOUS CYCLE

What follows the damage to the cell plasma membrane is a kind of domino effect that, in the end, causes a vicious cycle of increased inflammation. Here’s how it goes:

• The cell plasma membrane is made up of a double layer of fats called a “lipid bi-layer,” and this fragile film is easily and rapidly oxidized by the free radicals. This leads to the breakdown of the membrane that produces a substance known as “arachidonic acid.”

• Arachidonic acid is further oxidized by enzyme systems to produce very active chemical products with pro-inflammatory activity such as “prostaglandins.” Arachidonic acid can also leak into the interior of the cell and get into the mitochondria, the tiny furnace used for energy production.

• Arachidonic acid then disrupts energy production of the cell, which is critically needed for cellular repair.

• The fats in the cell plasma membrane can also become oxidized and mimic chemical messengers in the body, such as platelet-activating factor (PAF), which also triggers a series of inflammatory events on a cellular level.

• All of these events, cumulatively known as “oxidative stress,” lead to increased production of free radicals inside the cell, with the activation of tiny messengers called transcription factors such as AP-1 and nuclear factor kappa B, or NfkB for short. When NfkB detects oxidative stress, it translocates to the nucleus of the cell, which contains the DNA (which in turn contains the master instructions of the cell). NfkB attaches to a portion of the DNA and instructs the cell to make inflammatory chemicals such as interleukins 1 and 6 and tumor necrosis factor, types of cytokines (intercellular chemical messenger proteins released by white blood cells as well as other cells) that create further inflammation and damage.

• When NfkB is activated in skin cells along with another transcription factor called AP-1, it can lead to wrinkles in the skin.

• When NfkB is activated in the brain, it can lead to Alzheimer’s disease, and activated in other organs it can lead to cancer.

• When NfkB is activated in the pancreas, it can lead to the destruction of the B-cells of the pancreas, which are the sole source of insulin, resulting in diabetes.

• NfkB blocks the ability to utilize insulin effectively, which leads to the storage of body fat, causing us to gain weight and have great difficulty shedding the pounds.

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