Why You’re Gaining Weight Suddenly, According to Doctors and Dietitians

Photo by Malte Mueller/Getty Images

It’s understandable when you gain a few pounds after vacation or if you break your ankle and spend six weeks propped on the sofa bingeing obscure British cooking shows (and the chocolate scones to go with them).

But when you can’t zip your jeans for no freaking reason at all — you swear you’re not eating any more or exercising any less — it can feel like there’s some dark magic at play. You may find yourself standing on the bathroom scale, screaming into the void:

“Why am I gaining weight?!”

Deep breath. You got this.

Most likely, there’s something in your life that’s shifted just enough to make a difference, but not so much that you’d notice, says Alexandra Sowa, MD, an obesity specialist and clinical instructor of medicine at NYU Langone Health. “I see this all the time — you may not step on the scale for a while, and you feel like you haven’t changed anything, and all of a sudden you go to the doctor’s office and notice you’ve gained 10 or 20 pounds,” she says.

But that doesn’t mean it’s your destiny to go up another size every year. Here are some of the most likely reasons for unexplained weight gain, and how to stop it in its tracks.

Your insulin levels may be out of whack.

If you’ve been battling weight issues for a while and none of your efforts are moving the needle, make an appointment with your primary care doc or a weight-management physician, who can assess you for insulin resistance or prediabetes. (Your doctor can also test you for hypothyroidism, in which your thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough hormone, slowing down your metabolism and potentially leading to weight gain.)

“Insulin is the hormone that signals the body to pull glucose out of the bloodstream and store it in the muscles, liver, and fat,” explains Tirissa Reid, MD, an obesity medicine specialist at Columbia University Medical Center and Diplomate of the American Board of Obesity Medicine. “But when you’re overweight, the cells don’t recognize the insulin as well, so the pancreas has to pump out more and more — sometimes two or three times the normal amount — until the cells respond.”

(This is also common in women who have polycystic ovary syndrome — a condition in which the egg follicles in the ovaries bunch together to form cysts.) These high insulin levels keep the body in storage mode and make weight loss more difficult, says Dr. Reid. The beginning of this road is insulin resistance — when your pancreas is working overtime, but blood sugar levels are still normal.

All that extra work wears out the pancreas until it can barely do the job of keeping the blood sugar in normal range. Left unchecked, insulin resistance can lead to prediabetes, in which blood-sugar levels are slightly elevated; if that’s not treated, you can develop full-blown type-2 diabetes.

What you can do: The most effective way to reverse this trend is to eat a diet low in refined carbs and added sugars, and to become more physically active, since muscles respond better to insulin after exercise, says Dr. Reid.

She recommends either investing in a fitness tracker or simply using the one that comes with your phone. “People hear you need 10,000 steps each day, which sounds intimidating, but you can also use it just to see where you’re at and make doable increases,” Dr. Reid says. “If you’re at 2,000 steps, try to go up to 2,500 a day next week and continue to increase.”

Swapping to foods with a lower glycemic index (GI) — which means they’re digested more slowly, keeping blood-sugar levels steady — is also important for controlling your insulin levels. Dr. Sowa recommends these lower-GI food swaps: riced cauliflower instead of white rice; zucchini spirals or shirataki noodles (made from plant fiber) instead of pasta; and pumpernickel or stone-ground whole wheat bread instead of white bread or bagels.

Stress and exhaustion are throwing you off.

If you’re up at night worrying about your aging parents, your hormonal teens, and the general crappy state of the world, this can affect your metabolism. “Stress and lack of sleep can cause a cascade of hormonal changes that change your metabolism and affect your sense of hunger and fullness,” Dr. Sowa explains.

Stress pumps up the hormones ghrelin and cortisol, which increase your appetite and can make you crave carbs; at the same time, it dials down the hormone leptin, which helps you feel full. Not surprisingly, a recent Swedish study of 3,872 women over 20 years found that the more stressed you are by work, the likely you are to gain weight. Stress also affects your ability to get a good night’s sleep, and we know that lack of sleep can also throw off your metabolism rates and hunger cues.

What you can do: It’s easy — just fix the world and make everyone around you kinder and more sane.

Hm, maybe not. But you can manage your stress by downloading a free app such as Pacifica, (now Sanvello) which can help you work toward personal goals such as thinking positively and decreasing anxiety by sending you meditations and visualizations to do throughout the day. To sleep more soundly, you already know you should put down your phone, computer, and iPad an hour before bedtime, but new research shows that shutting out all light — including that sliver of moon through your window — can help with both sleep and metabolism.

A study at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine found that after subjects spent just one night of sleeping in a room with dim light, insulin levels the next morning were significantly higher than those who slept in complete darkness, potentially affecting metabolism rates. So consider investing in some good blackout curtains.

Your allergy pills are to blame.

“We’re not 100% sure why, but it’s believed that histamines, chemicals produced by your immune system to fight allergens, have a role in appetite control,” says Dr. Reid. That means that “antihistamines may cause you to eat more,” she says. A large study from Yale University confirmed that there is a correlation between regular prescription antihistamine use and obesity. Dr. Reid points out that some antihistamines such as Benadryl also cause drowsiness, which could make you less apt to exercise.

What you can do: If you suffer from seasonal allergies and are constantly taking antihistamines, talk to your allergist about alternative treatments such as nasal steroid sprays, nasal antihistamines (which have less absorption into the bloodstream, and therefore less effect on hunger), leukotriene inhibitors such as Singulair, or allergy shots, suggests Jeffrey Demain, MD, founder of the Allergy Asthma and Immunology Center of Alaska.

He also says that managing your environment — using a HEPA filter, washing your sheets frequently in hot water, keeping pets out of your bedroom — can help reduce the need for allergy meds. While you’re at it, do an inventory of any prescription medications you’re taking that are known to cause weight gain (including certain antidepressants, beta blockers, corticosteroids, and the birth control shot) and discuss with your doctor if there are equally effective alternatives that don’t affect weight, says Dr. Reid.

Your portions are probably bigger than you think.

Anyone who’s ever sat in a vinyl booth staring down a bowl of pasta big enough for a toddler to swim knows that portion sizes in America are ginormous. But research from the University of Liverpool published last year found that after being served large-size meals outside the home, people tend to serve themselves larger portions up to a week later, meaning supersizing appears to be normalized, says Lisa R. Young, PhD, author of Finally Full, Finally Slim.

Even if your home-cooked portions have crept up only 5% over the last few years, that can be an extra 100 calories a day, which adds up to more than 11 pounds a year, says Lawrence Cheskin, MD, chair of nutrition and food studies at George Mason University. And the official measure of what’s a “serving” isn’t helping.

“The FDA standards for how many ‘servings’ are in a package of food are based on how much food people actually eat, not how much you should eat,” Young explains. For example, to reflect the growing appetites of the American people, a serving of ice cream was increased last year from 1/2 cup to 2/3 cup. More realistic, perhaps, but still more calories than many of us need.

Here’s what to do: First, Young suggests you spend a few days getting a reality check on how much food you’re actually eating at each meal. “When you pour the cereal in the bowl in the morning, pour it back into a measuring cup. What you thought was 1 cup might actually be 3 cups, especially if you’re using a large bowl,” she says.

Also, instead of relying on a government agency (or the chef at your favorite restaurant) at to tell you how much to eat, learn to listen to your own body, says Young. “Serve yourself just one modest portion on a small plate, and when you’re done, wait 20 minutes,” she says. It takes that long for the hormones in your belly to reach your brain and tell it you’re full. If you get to 20 minutes and your stomach is grumbling, have a few more bites.

You’re eating the right thing, but at the wrong time.

Let’s say you switched jobs recently, and dinner is now at 9 p.m. instead of 6:30. Or your new habit of streaming Neflix until the wee hours also involves snacking well past midnight. Even if you’re not eating more, per se, this change might account for the extra poundage.

There’s a delicate dance between your circadian rhythm (the way your body and brain respond to the daily cues of daylight and darkness) and your calorie intake that can mean that same sandwich or bowl of fro-yo that you eat at lunchtime may actually cause more of a weight gain when eaten at night.

A 2017 study at Brigham & Women’s Hospital found that when college students ate food closer to their bedtime — and therefore closer to when the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin was released — they had higher percentages of body fat and a higher body-mass index. The researchers theorize that this is because the amount of energy your body uses to digest and metabolize food drops as your inner clock tells it to get ready to snooze.

What you can do: There are a few life hacks to keep the late-night snacking to a minimum. Dr. Sowa suggests you commit to writing down every bite you eat after dinner: “Whether it’s on a sticky pad or on an app, keeping track of what you’re eating, how much you’re eating, and how you’re feeling when you eat it will hold you accountable for the calories, and it will also help you figure out if you’re truly hungry or just bored,” she says.

She also suggests capping off your evening meal with a brain-and-heart-healthy tablespoon of Fish Oil. “It’s a healthy fat that coats your stomach and makes you feel less hungry later,” she says.

Your “healthy” food is packed with calories.

You could be eating the cleanest, most organic, dietitian-approved variety of plant-based, or ethically farmed food, but that doesn’t mean the calories evaporate into pixie dust when they go in your mouth.

And in fact, research has shown that when you’re eating something healthy — avocados, salad, yogurt, whole grains — part of your attention to fullness tends to turn off. “Even when you’re eating healthy foods, you really have to pay attention to your hunger and satiety signals,” says Véronique Provencher, PhD, professor of nutrition at Université Laval in Quebec City, Canada.

“In several studies we have found that when we perceive a food as healthy it creates a bias in our own judgment, and we think (consciously or not) that we can eat more of it, no problem. We think a salad is healthy, so we feel we can eat as much as we want with as many dressings or toppings as we want.”

What you can do First of all, treat eating like going to the theater, and turn your phone off — and turn away from the computer or TV screen. “We have found when you are eating and working on your computer or watching TV or on a screen you are disconnected from hunger and satiety clues,” says Provencher.

Something else that may help, other experts say, is to become more aware of portion sizes and what’s in your food. Try the Weight Watchers app, which helps you sort out questions like which “healthy” yogurts are full of sugar and calories, and how much avocado you should spread on your toast.

Weight loss, health and body image are complex subjects — before deciding to go on a diet, we invite you gain a broader perspective by reading our exploration into the hazards of diet culture.

Your age might be a factor.

Each birthday you celebrate brings on one undeniable change: your basal resting metabolism (the rate at which your body at rest burns the energy you take in from food) slows down. “It’s not a dramatic drop,” says Dr. Cheskin. “But as you age, you’re probably also getting less active and more tired, and your body tends to lose muscle mass, which burns calories more efficiently than fat.”

So even if you’re eating the exact same amount of food as you did when you were younger, your body is simply not burning it off as effectively as it did during the glory days of your 20s.

Here’s what to do: You can only budge your BMR a little, but there are a few things you can do to make the math work in your favor. The first is to build up your calorie-burning muscle, says fitness expert Michele Olson, PhD, a professor of sports science and physical education at Huntingdon College. “Keep up cardio three times a week for 30 minutes, but add challenging weight training on top of that,” she says.

Olson recommends these exercises that can be done at home. Start with what you can do and build up to 2 sets of 12 of each, every other day.

  • Chair squats: Sit of the edge of a chair with arms crossed; stand up and sit back down for one rep.
  • Triceps dips: Sit on the edge of a chair, supporting yourself with your arms, slide off, walking your feet out in front of you a few steps; with knees bent and body below the seat, bend elbows; press up until arms are straight. (Use a chair without wheels!)
  • Push-ups, from your knees, or full push-ups, if you can.

Another metabolism-boosting strategy: Replace some of the carbohydrates in your diet with proteins, which take more energy to digest, therefore burning off more calories through diet-induced thermogenesis, as well as making you feel fuller for longer.

Dr. Sowa suggests you eat about 100 grams of protein over the course of the day, filling your plate with lean chicken, fish, shrimp, or plant-based proteins such as garbanzo beans, tempeh, and edamame, to give your meals more metabolism bang for your buck. This may only add up to a weight loss of a few pounds a year, but combined with exercise, the cumulative effect can be significant, says Dr. Sowa.

Marisa Cohen is a Contributing Editor in the Hearst Health Newsroom, who has covered health, nutrition, parenting, and the arts for dozens of magazines and web sites over the past two decades.

By : Marisa Cohen  Good Housekeeping

Source: Why You’re Gaining Weight Suddenly, According to Doctors and Dietitians


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The Vital Crosstalk Between Breath And Brain

Neuroscientists have begun to uncover how breathing is coordinated with other behaviors and how its rhythm may influence a variety of regions in the brain....CREDIT: ESTHER AARTS

If you’re lucky enough to live to 80, you’ll take up to a billion breaths in the course of your life, inhaling and exhaling enough air to fill about 50 Goodyear blimps or more. We take about 20,000 breaths a day, sucking in oxygen to fuel our cells and tissues, and ridding the body of carbon dioxide that builds up as a result of cellular metabolism. Breathing is so essential to life that people generally die within minutes if it stops.

It’s a behavior so automatic that we tend to take it for granted. But breathing is a physiological marvel — both extremely reliable and incredibly flexible. Our breathing rate can change almost instantaneously in response to stress or arousal and even before an increase in physical activity. And breathing is so seamlessly coordinated with other behaviors like eating, talking, laughing and sighing that you may have never even noticed how your breathing changes to accommodate them. Breathing can also influence your state of mind, as evidenced by the controlled breathing practices of yoga and other ancient meditative traditions.

In recent years, researchers have begun to unravel some of the underlying neural mechanisms of breathing and its many influences on body and mind. In the late 1980s, neuroscientists identified a network of neurons in the brainstem that sets the rhythm for respiration. That discovery has been a springboard for investigations into how the brain integrates breathing with other behaviors. At the same time, researchers have been finding evidence that breathing may influence activity across wide swaths of the brain, including ones with important roles in emotion and cognition.

“Breathing has a lot of jobs,” says Jack L. Feldman, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, and coauthor of a recent article on the interplay of breathing and emotion in the Annual Review of Neuroscience. “It’s very complicated because we’re constantly changing our posture and our metabolism, and it has to be coordinated with all these other behaviors.”

Each breath a symphony of lung, muscle, brain

Every time you inhale, your lungs fill with oxygen-rich air that then diffuses into your bloodstream to be distributed throughout your body. A typical pair of human lungs contains about 500 million tiny sacs called alveoli, the walls of which are where gases pass between the airway and bloodstream. The total surface area of this interface is about 750 square feet — a bit more than the square footage of a typical one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco, and a bit less than that of a racquetball court.

“The remarkable thing about mammals, including humans, is that we pack an enormous amount of surface area into our chests,” says Feldman. More surface area means more gas is exchanged per second.

But the lungs can’t do it alone. They’re essentially limp sacks of tissue. “In order for this to work, the lungs have to be pumped like a bellows,” Feldman says. And they are — with each inhalation, the diaphragm muscle at the bottom of the chest cavity contracts, moving downward about half an inch. At the same time, the intercostal muscles between the ribs move the rib cage up and out — all of which expands the lungs and draws in air. (If you’ve ever had the wind knocked out of you by a blow to the stomach, you know all about the diaphragm; and if you’ve eaten barbecued ribs, you have encountered intercostal muscles.)

At rest, these muscles contract only during inhalation. Exhalation occurs passively when the muscles relax and the lungs deflate. During exercise, different sets of muscles contract to actively force out air and speed up respiration.

Breathing requires coordinated movements of the diaphragm and intercostal muscles. When these muscles contract, air is drawn into the lungs, where hundreds of millions of tiny alveoli provide a surface where oxygen can diffuse into the blood and carbon dioxide can diffuse out. With each exhalation, these muscles relax, and air is forced back out.

Unlike the heart muscle, which has pacemaker cells that set its rhythm, the muscles that control breathing take their orders from the brain. Given the life-enabling importance of those brain signals, it took a surprisingly long time to track them down. One of the first to ponder their source was Galen, the Greek physician who noticed that gladiators whose necks were broken above a certain level were unable to breathe normally. Later experiments pointed to the brainstem, and in the 1930s, the British physiologist Edgar Adrian demonstrated that the dissected brainstem of a goldfish continues to produce rhythmic electrical activity, which he believed to be the pattern-generating signal underlying respiration.

But the exact location of the brainstem respiratory-pattern generator remained unknown until the late 1980s, when Feldman and colleagues narrowed it down to a network of about 3,000 neurons in the rodent brainstem (in humans it contains about 10,000 neurons). It’s now called the preBötzinger Complex (preBötC). Neurons there spontaneously exhibit rhythmic bursts of electrical activity that, relayed through intermediate neurons, direct the muscles that control breathing.

Over the years, some people have assumed Bötzinger must have been a famous anatomist, Feldman says, perhaps a German or Austrian. But in fact the name came to him in a flash during a dinner at a scientific conference where he suspected a colleague was inappropriately about to claim the discovery for himself. Feldman clinked his glass to propose a toast and suggested naming the brain region after the wine being served, which came from the area around Bötzingen, Germany. Perhaps lubricated by said wine, the others agreed, and the name stuck. “Scientists are just as weird as anyone else,” Feldman says. “We have fun doing things like this.”

A long, deep breath can express many things: sadness, relief, resignation, yearning, exhaustion. But we humans aren’t the only ones who sigh — it’s thought that all mammals do — and it may be because sighing has an important biological function in addition to its expressive qualities.

Pinpointing breath’s rhythm setters

Much of Feldman’s subsequent research has focused on understanding exactly how neurons in the preBötC generate the breathing rhythm. This work has also laid a foundation for his lab and others to investigate how the brain orchestrates the interplay between breathing and other behaviors that require alterations in breathing.

Sighing is one interesting example. A long, deep breath can express many things: sadness, relief, resignation, yearning, exhaustion. But we humans aren’t the only ones who sigh — it’s thought that all mammals do — and it may be because sighing has an important biological function in addition to its expressive qualities. Humans sigh every few minutes, and each sigh begins with an inhale that takes in about twice as much air as a normal breath. Scientists suspect this helps pop open collapsed alveoli, the tiny chambers in the lung where gas exchange occurs, much as blowing into a latex glove pops open the fingers. Several lines of evidence support this idea: Hospital ventilators programmed to incorporate periodic sighing, for example, have been shown to improve lung function and maintain patients’ blood oxygen levels.

In a study published in 2016 in Nature, Feldman and colleagues identified four small populations of neurons that appear to be responsible for generating sighs in rodents. Two of these groups of neurons reside in a brainstem region near the preBötC, and they send signals to the other two groups, which reside inside the preBötC. When the researchers killed these preBötC neurons with a highly selective toxin, the rats ceased to sigh, but their breathing remained robust. On the other hand, when scientists injected neuropeptides that activate the neurons, the rats sighed 10 times more frequently. In essence, the researchers conclude, these four groups of neurons form a circuit that tells preBötC to interrupt its regular program of normal-sized breaths and order up a deeper breath.

The preBötC also has a role in coordinating other behaviors with breathing. One of Feldman’s collaborators on the sighing paper, neuroscientist Kevin Yackle, and colleagues recently used mice to investigate interactions between breathing and vocalizations. When separated from their nest, newborn mice make ultrasonic cries, too high-pitched for humans to hear. There are typically several cries at regular intervals within a single breath, not unlike the syllables in human speech, says Yackle, who’s now at the University of California, San Francisco. “You have this slower breathing rhythm and then nested within it you have this faster vocalization rhythm,” he says.

To figure out how this works, the researchers worked their way backwards from the larynx, the part of the throat involved in producing sound. They used anatomical tracers to identify the neurons that control the larynx and follow their connections back to a cluster of cells in the brainstem, in an area they named the intermediate reticular oscillator (iRO). Using a variety of techniques, the researchers found that killing or inhibiting iRO neurons removes the ability to vocalize a cry, and stimulating them increases the number of cries per breath.

When the researchers dissected out slices of brain tissue with iRO neurons, the cells kept firing in a regular pattern. “These neurons produce a rhythm that’s exactly like the cries in the animal, where it’s faster than but nested within the preBötC breathing rhythm,” Yackle says.

Breathing appears to have far-reaching influences on the brain, including on regions with roles in cognition and emotion, such as the hippocampus, amygdala and prefrontal cortex. These effects may originate from signals generated by the brainstem breathing center, preBötC; from sensory inputs via the vagus nerve or olfactory system; or in response to levels of oxygen (O2) and carbon dioxide (CO2) in the blood.

Additional experiments suggested that iRO neurons help integrate vocalizations with breathing by telling the preBötC to make tiny inhalations that interrupt exhalation — enabling a series of brief cries to fit neatly within a single exhaled breath. That is, rhythmic crying isn’t produced by a series of exhalations, but rather from one long exhalation with several interruptions.

The findings, reported earlier this year in Neuron, may have implications for understanding human language. The number of syllables per second falls within a relatively narrow range across all human languages, Yackle says. Perhaps, he suggests, that’s due to constraints imposed by the need to coordinate vocalizations with breathing.

Setting the pace in the brain

Recent studies have suggested that breathing can influence people’s performance on a surprisingly wide range of lab tests. Where someone is in the cycle of inhalation and exhalation can influence abilities as diverse as detecting a faint touch and distinguishing three-dimensional objects. One study found that people tend to inhale just before a cognitive task — and that doing so tends to improve performance. Several have found that it is only breathing through the nose that has these effects; breathing through the mouth does not.

One emerging idea about how this might work focuses on well-documented rhythmic oscillations of electrical activity in the brain. These waves, often measured with electrodes on the scalp, capture the cumulative activity of thousands of neurons, and for decades some neuroscientists have argued that they reflect communication between far-flung brain regions that could underlie important aspects of cognition. They could be, for example, how the brain integrates sensory information processed separately in auditory and visual parts of the brain to produce what we experience as a seamless perception of a scene’s sounds and sights. Some scientists have even proposed that such synchronized activity could be the basis of consciousness itself (needless to say, this has been hard to prove).

Growing evidence suggests breathing may set the pace for some of these oscillations. In experiments with rodents, several research teams have found that the breathing rhythm influences waves of activity in the hippocampus, a region critical for learning and memory. During wakefulness, the collective electrical activity of neurons in the hippocampus rises and falls at a consistent rate — typically between six and 10 times per second. This theta rhythm, as it’s called, occurs in all animals that have been studied, including humans.

Not only does the respiration rhythm synchronize activity in brain regions involved in emotion and memory, it can also affect people’s performance on tasks involving emotion and memory.

In a 2016 study, neuroscientist Adriano Tort at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte in Brazil and colleagues set out to study theta oscillations but noticed that their electrodes were also picking up another rhythm, a slower one with about three peaks per second, roughly the same as a resting mouse’s respiration rate. At first they worried it was an artifact, Tort says, perhaps caused by an unstable electrode or the animal’s movements. But additional experiments convinced them that not only was the rhythmic activity real and synched with respiration, but also that it acted like a metronome to set the pace for the faster theta oscillations in the hippocampus.

Around the same time, neuroscientist Christina Zelano and colleagues reported similar findings in humans. Using data from electrodes placed by surgeons on the brains of epilepsy patients to monitor their seizures, the researchers found that natural breathing synchronizes oscillations within several brain regions, including the hippocampus and the amygdala, an important player in emotional processing. This synchronizing effect diminished when the researchers asked subjects to breathe through their mouth, suggesting that sensory feedback from nasal airflow plays a key role.

Not only does the respiration rhythm synchronize activity in brain regions involved in emotion and memory, it can also affect people’s performance on tasks involving emotion and memory, Zelano and colleagues found. In one experiment they monitored subjects’ respiration and asked them to identify the emotion expressed by people in a set of photos developed by psychologists to test emotion recognition. Subjects were quicker to identify fearful faces when the photo appeared as they were taking a breath compared to during exhalation. In a different test, subjects more accurately remembered whether they’d seen a photo previously when it was presented as they inhaled. Again, the effects were strongest when subjects breathed through the nose.

More recent work suggests the respiratory rhythm could synchronize activity not just within but also between brain regions. In one study, neuroscientists Nikolaos Karalis and Anton Sirota found that the respiration rate synchronizes activity between the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex in sleeping mice. This synchronization could play a role in making long-term memories, Karalis and Sirota suggest in a paper published earlier this year in Nature Communications. Many neuroscientists think memories initially form in the hippocampus before being transferred during sleep to the cortex for long-term storage — a process thought to require synchronized activity between the hippocampus and cortex.

For Tort, such findings suggest there may be important links between respiration and brain function, but he says more work is needed to connect the dots. The evidence that breathing influences brain oscillations is strong, he says. The challenge now is figuring out what that means for behavior, cognition and emotion.

Controlled breath, calm mind?

For millennia, practitioners of yoga and other ancient meditation traditions have practiced controlled breathing as a means of influencing their state of mind. In recent years, researchers have become increasingly interested in the biological mechanisms of these effects and how they might be applied to help people with anxiety and mood disorders.

One challenge has been separating the effects of breathing from other aspects of these practices, says Helen Lavretsky, a psychiatrist at UCLA. “It’s really hard to distinguish what’s most effective when you’re doing this multicomponent intervention where there’s stretching and movement and visualization and chanting,” she says. Not to mention the cultural and spiritual components many people attach to the practice.

For many years, Lavretsky has collaborated with neuroscientists and others to investigate how different types of meditation affect the brain and biological markers of stress and immune function. She has found, among other things, that meditation can improve performance on lab tests of memory and alter brain connectivity in older people with mild cognitive impairment, a potential precursor to Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia. In more recent studies, which have yet to be published, she’s moved toward investigating whether the breath control methods alone can help.

“Even though I’m a psychiatrist, my research is on how to avoid [prescribing] drugs,” says Lavretsky, who is also a certified yoga instructor. She thinks breathing exercises might be a good alternative for many people, especially with more research on which breathing techniques work best for which conditions and how they might be tailored to individuals. “We all have this tool, we just have to learn how to use it,” she says.

Source: What happens in your brain when you breathe?

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Hydrogel Injected Into Fat Stores Fights Obesity From Within

Next-generation therapies that fight obesity could come in many forms, but one example from Nanyang Technological University that uses a unique combination of light and metabolic function to break down fat has some unique advantages.

The team’s solution consists of a hydrogel that can be injected into fat deposits and subjected to near-infrared light, with obese mice showing up to a 54-percent fat reduction following treatment.

The function of this new technology hinges on a protein called TRPV1, which plays an important role in our metabolism. This protein can trigger the conversion of white fat, the type that stores excess calories in beer bellies and love handles, into brown fat.

This is the type of fat that the body readily burns for energy and warmth, and as such a lot of anti-obesity research focuses on therapies that can initiate this conversion.

TRPV1 activity also promotes the breaking down of fat droplets into fatty acids that can be used by the converted brown fat to burn calories, or be broken down in the bloodstream through a process called lipolysis. Further, the protein stimulates the secretion of a hormone that improves metabolism of glucose and lipids in the liver and muscles, while also improving insulin sensitivity.

Setting out to develop a therapy that targets TRPV1, the researchers created a hydrogel containing copper sulphide nanoparticles that activates the protein in response to light, and a drug approved by the FDA that can stimulate browning of fat tissues.

A biocompatible polymer was also added to keep the hydrogel in a gel-like state after injection, slowly releasing its contents over several days. Obese mice with hallmarks of metabolic disease had the hydrogel injected into their subcutaneous fat, with near-infrared light then shone onto the site of the injection for five minutes.

This took place each day for three days, followed by four days of rest, for a two-week period, leading to a 5.5-percent reduction in the animals’ body weight, compared to a 9.5-percent increase seen among a control group.  The treated mice also showed a 40-percent reduction in subcutaneous fat, a 54-percent drop in visceral fat, a 54-percent reduction in cholesterol and 65-percent drop in insulin resistance.

“Through lab experiments, we found that this approach not only resulted in 40 to 54 per cent fat reduction in obese mice, but also significantly improved their metabolism, which is key to reducing the risk of metabolic conditions such as heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes,” said study author Chen Peng.

“Though this method makes use of heat converted from near infrared light to burn subcutaneous fat, we found no thermal injury to the skin.” The scientists still have much to do to convert these promising results into therapies to tackle obesity and metabolic dysfunction in humans.

However, the early signs indicate that it could come to fill a gap in existing treatments for these conditions that carry a risk of side effects or are prohibitively expensive. “All FDA-approved medications for obesity indirectly act on the brain to suppress appetite or on the digestive system to reduce fat absorption,” said Peng.

Most of them have been withdrawn from the market due to their serious side effects. Procedures performed in clinics to remove fat in targeted areas have shown to be effective, but they come with risks and high cost, and do not improve body metabolism. In contrast, our therapeutic approach focuses on remodeling white fat tissue, which is the root of the evil.”

Source: Hydrogel injected into fat stores fights obesity from within


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