B’s Block Smog’s Damaging Effects

B’s Block Smog’s Damaging Effects

Air pollution is bad for you, and while most of us think in terms of coughing, wheezing, and watery eyes; the effects go way beyond this. In fact, exposure to high levels of air pollution are associated with significantly increased rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, asthma, dementia, and cancer. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) air pollution kills approximately 3 million people per year and is considered the greatest environmental risk to health.

While we may not know how air pollution does all its damage on the cellular and molecular levels, we are beginning to understand how it does some of its dirty work – and we’re finding ways to fight back!

A case in point is a new study just published by researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. It showed that at least some of pollution’s harmful effects are the result of inflammation and oxidative stress induced by epigenetic changes made to genes involved in mitochondrial oxidative energy metabolism. (Epigenetics refers to the “turning on and off” of specific genes through the methylation process, and not the mutation, or changing, of the underlying DNA.)

Basically, they exposed ten healthy adults to three different levels of air quality for 2-hour stretches of time while also giving them sham or vitamin B supplementation. First, the subjects breathed clean air and received supplementation placebos. Next, they were exposed to “hazardous” levels of polluted air and again given supplementation placebos. Lastly, the subjects were instructed to breathe polluted air, but this time were given supplements containing three different B vitamins – folic acid, B6, and B12.

So, what did they find out? First, they confirmed that breathing polluted air increased epigenetic changes to the genes controlling mitochondrial oxidative energy metabolism. It seems that compromising mitochondrial function in this way leads to inflammation and oxidative stress. Second, they discovered that giving B vitamins was an effective way to prevent and, in fact, reverse this epigenetic damage.

What does this mean for you?

While it’s certainly true that most of us don’t live in areas with hazardously high levels of pollution, over 90% of the world’s population lives in areas where pollution exceeds the WHO’s recommended level for healthy air. We start from a base of bad quality – Southern California is no exception – and things get worse. If you get stuck in traffic on the freeway, if your office building (or your children’s’ school) backs up to a highway, if you fire up the grill this summer, or if you decide to visit cities in India, China, or Iran (just to name a few); you’re probably way over the limit of safe exposure.

What should you do?

While the best advice is to eat a healthy diet with lots of B vitamins – leafy green vegetables and beans are rich in folic acid, B6 can be found in fish, beef liver and starchy vegetables, and B12 is abundant in fish, meat, eggs and milk – sometimes this isn’t enough. To be on the safe side, especially if you have genetic issues with methylation – you may want to take a high-quality B vitamin supplement. Check with us to see which one suits your specific needs best.

How Much Exercise is Needed to Maintain Weight Loss?

I have some bad news and some good news. But, as always, the bad news comes first.

If you have lost a significant amount of weight, it will undoubtedly be harder for you to maintain your new weight than it is for someone of the exact same weight and body composition who was never overweight.

What do I mean by this? Let’s assume that you’ve just lost 50 pounds and now weigh 150 pounds with 30% body fat – a reasonably “good” percentage for someone your age. Your friend, who may or may not have PCOS, also weighs 150 pounds with the same percent body fat. For ease of comparison, we will assume that you also do the same amount of daily physical activity – you sit, you walk, you sit some more – pretty typical for the twenty-first century.

Let’s guesstimate that your resting metabolic rate (the number of calories you burn, if you’re sitting at rest all day) is around 1500 – we multiply your bodyweight in pounds by 10 for a rough estimate. Then we multiply that by 1.6 to account for the additional calories you burn from a day’s worth of average physical activity for a total of 2400 calories per day.

Here’s the problem. Your friend can eat her 2400 calories per day and her weight bounces up and down the normal 2-3 pounds, but long term it stays the same. You, on the other hand, for reasons we don’t fully understand, can only eat 1900 calories per day to keep from gaining weight. If you eat the same diet as your friend, you’ll gain an extra pound every week (500 calories per day x 7 days = 3500 calories, which is the energy content of a pound of fat) and within a year will have regained every pound you lost.

You didn’t overeat; your body has simply become super-efficient and now under-burns calories. This is exactly what the Persistent metabolic adaptation 6 years after “The Biggest Loser” competition study showed us. Contestant metabolic rates averaged 500 calories per day lower than similar sized people who had never lost weight.

It doesn’t seem fair, but that’s the way it is. This problem is further compounded by the fact that when you’re only eating 1900 calories per day, you will most likely be hungry almost all the time. Except in rare cases, your appetite center doesn’t adjust well to this fact and still expects to consume 2400 calories to maintain your 150-pound body. This is absolutely, unequivocally unfair, right?

So, what can you do? What’s the “good” news promised at the beginning?

It turns out that you can exercise the 500-calorie daily deficit away, rather than starving for the rest of your life. How much? Roughly an hour per day at moderate intensity – oh, come on, it’s not that bad! And the only side effect is that you’ll be even healthier than you ever imagined. In a future post, I’ll show you just how easy this can be.