In this blog post, I want to discuss why exercise, diet, and supplements alone are not working for sustainable weight loss and prevention of chronic metabolic disease.
As a medical professional, I have seen many people trying to lose weight with all kinds of diets, supplements, and exercise.
Most of the people only had temporary results or got even worse over the longer term.
The fact that 90% of diets do not work in a time when scientists never knew more about food and energy metabolism made me realise that there must be another part of the equation that I didn’t consider till now.
Why should your environmental conditions play a significant role in a weight loss plan?
Let’s face it! The market for all kinds of diets has never been better! We never knew more about food and exercise. But look at the numbers from the WHO report ” the burden of chronic disease”, where statistics show an exponential increase in obesity and chronic disease despite scientific and technological advances in medicine.
To understand the relationship between environment and our health we must dive a bit deeper into evolutionary biology and the way our body generates make energy for life.
Everything requires energy. Processes, like eating, sleeping, thinking and contracting our muscles, are powered by the energy factories in our cells called mitochondria. They provide us with energy to move around, make our muscles contract, work our brains, in other words, they maintain us alive.
Mitochondria have their genetic code which is inherited from the mother’s side and differs in the various climate zones of our planet. Scientists could reconstruct the origin of mitochondria to a single woman in Africa who founded our species.
During evolutionary history, humans migrated out of Africa in all parts and latitudes of our planet. The genetic code in the mitochondria changed with time and adapted our energy metabolism to the different climate zones and seasonal food availability. What that means is that a human mitochondrion from Africa today does not fit precisely the living conditions from Alaska.
People from Alaska or Northern Europe developed the capacity to produce more heat for better survival in colder living conditions. Scientific research shows that an African mitochondrion is more effective and has the capacity to burn all food into energy without the waste of heat because it was not necessary for these climate zones.
Scientists discovered a link between human migration mitochondria and disease.
What is Circadian Rhythm and why is it crucial for energy metabolism and sustainable weight loss?
Please take a moment and think about the times we are living in now. Globalisation could have a surprising effect on health. In a short period compared to human evolutionary history, we have created artificial living conditions such as constant artificial blue light, central heating and nonseasonal food availability.
All year around we put ourselves and our mitochondria in an unusual context which was not foreseen from mother evolution. The question is could this relatively new living conditions have a negative effect on health?
Today many people are living in a so-called circadian mismatch. The light environment, temperature and seasonal diet pattern have changed, and we can see chronic disease increase exponentially. Our mitochondria scan and react to seasonality which is more and more abolished in modern societies. What can you do with all that information and how can you recognise if you are living in a mismatch or not?
Why knowing your genetic route is so important?
First of all, you can discover your ancestral haplogroup. You can do this with a cheap and straightforward genetic test offered by 23andMe or other providers. With this test, you will understand what climate zone your ancestors evolved, and you can compare that to your current living conditions and habits.
Let me give you an example: If you are an African haplotype L, it means that you burn food into energy in a different way than a haplotype from Alaska. We burn energy dependent on climate and food availability. The Mitochondria from an African haplogroup is very efficient and burn all calories into energy with only a minimum amount of heat which was vital to survival in the hot climate of Africa. Think of who is winning all gold medals in the Marathon. The majority are Africans because the way they use and burn energy is very efficient.
If you are a northern European haplotype, your mitochondria would need to produce more heat to maintain core body temperature to survive in the colder climate. That means that more calories would be required and burned for the same amount of energy to produce heat. In simple words, people living in colder climates can and have to eat more calories during the colder months because they have to burn the calories into heat which was an evolutionary advantage to survive during the winter.
The problem is in modern times we are not exposed to cold anymore because houses have central heating and most of the northern Europeans are not cold adapted any longer. The result of this circadian mismatch is that the extra calories are not burned into heat but stored as fat. If you think about it, a simple measure to prevent disease and weight gain would be cold exposure to burn excess body fat as energy.
An exposure to colder temperatures in the winter months can help you to burn more calories into heat and prevent weight gain. You don’t need to take an ice bath. Cold showers and lower temperatures in the bedroom are sometimes enough to be effective.
Why food seasonality plays a significant role in weight loss?
If we think about a healthy diet we should think first of all about seasonality and food availability: in the colder climates of the Northern Hemisphere, plant-based food was scarce during the winter months. People were on a ketogenic diet(high fat and almost no carbohydrates) because of that’s what was available. Also, people were often in fasting mode burning their fat as fuel for energy and heat. That was a highly efficient way to manage energy when food was scarce. Our northern European ancestors were fat adapted.
Think about food availability today. We can buy all kinds of non-seasonal food all year around. A simple seasonal diet would be a good step in the right direction because the food is not only fuel for energy but information from the environment for your body. What that means for people from northern European is a ketogenic diet during the winter months and a plant-based diet in the warmer months of the year.
If it doesn’t grow, don’t eat it!
In the next blog post, we will deep dive into circadian biology.