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Tuesday, October 30, 2007Why French Women Don't Get Fat
The French don’t traditionally wolf down a meal at their desk or while commuting in traffic,” she said. “They sit down with family or colleagues at a table, taking the time to relax and share conversation. When you are talking, you are not eating, and because you are relaxed, the hormones released help in the assimilation of calories, unlike the stress hormones we are riddled with here, which trigger hoarding of fat. In other words, eat 800 calories while sitting at a café in Paris, and they will get spent. Eat 800 calories while sitting in your car in traffic on the freeway, and most of them will settle in your hips or gut.”
Mireille Guiliano, author of the recent bestseller French Women Don’t Get Fat, would no doubt agree with Hauben. In her book, she emphasizes the importance of savoring one’s food and how this directly contributes to a cornerstone of the French diet: portion control. I realize this is a very un-American concept, but it does seem to work. The French way is not about deprivation. Their main dishes are bathed in lush sauces, their desserts are irresistible culinary masterpieces. They make the effort to make sure their food is fresh and flavorful, with the payoff that their satisfaction — and most importantly, their satiation — will come from quality instead of quantity.
According to Hauben, the French Paradox isn’t a paradox at all, but a logical consequence of the traditional French way of life, which is less materialistic, less driven. “We need to slow down, think about our priorities, and ask ourselves what the point is of an expensive kitchen remodel when we don’t take the time to cook, and why we work so hard that we never have time to see the people we love,” she said. “Maybe if we traded some of our discretionary income for discretionary time, that would be the true luxury.”
Taking the time to prepare meals with fresh ingredients, walking to the markets to buy those ingredients, and then actually sitting down with friends and family to savor the meal? Now that’s a start.
“If we want to lose weight, we need to make a choice to enjoy life more,” said Hauben.
Most of the cells in your body are not your own, nor are they even human. They are bacterial. From the invisible strands of fungi waiting to sprout between our toes, to the kilogram of bacterial matter in our guts, we are best viewed as walking "superorganisms," highly complex conglomerations of human cells, bacteria, fungi and viruses.
That's the view of scientists at Imperial College London who published a paper in Nature Biotechnology Oct. 6 describing how these microbes interact with the body. Understanding the workings of the superorganism, they say, is crucial to the development of personalized medicine and health care in the future because individuals can have very different responses to drugs, depending on their microbial fauna.
The scientists concentrated on bacteria. More than 500 different species of bacteria exist in our bodies, making up more than 100 trillion cells. Because our bodies are made of only some several trillion human cells, we are somewhat outnumbered by the aliens. It follows that most of the genes in our bodies are from bacteria, too.
Luckily for us, the bacteria are on the whole commensal, sharing our food but doing no real harm. (The word derives from the Latin meaning to share a table for dinner.) In fact, they are often beneficial: Our commensal bacteria protect us from potentially dangerous infections. They do this through close interaction with our immune systems.
"We have known for some time that many diseases are influenced by a variety of factors, including both genetics and environment, but the concept of this superorganism could have a huge impact on our understanding of disease processes," said Jeremy Nicholson, a professor of biological chemistry at Imperial College and leader of the study. He believes the approach could apply to research on insulin-resistance, heart disease, some cancers and perhaps even some neurological diseases.
Following the sequencing of the human genome, scientists quickly saw that the next step would be to show how human genes interact with environmental factors to influence the risk of developing disease, the aging process and drug action. But because environmental factors include the gene products of trillions of bacteria in the gut, they get very complex indeed. The information in the human genome itself, 3 billion base pairs long, does not help reduce the complexity.
"The human genome provides only scant information. The discovery of how microbes in the gut can influence the body's responses to disease means that we now need more research into this area," said Nicholson. "Understanding these interactions will extend human biology and medicine well beyond the human genome and help elucidate novel types of gene-environment interactions, with this knowledge ultimately leading to new approaches to the treatment of disease."
Nicholson's colleague, professor Ian Wilson from Astra Zeneca, believes the "human super-organism" concept "could have a huge impact on how we develop drugs, as individuals can have very different responses to drug metabolism and toxicity."
"The microbes can influence things such as the pH levels in the gut and the immune response, all of which can have effects on the effectiveness of drugs," Wilson said.
The Imperial College research demonstrates what many -- from X Files stalwarts to UFO fanatics -- have long claimed: We are not alone. Specifically, the human genome does not carry enough information on its own to determine key elements of our own biology.
Elephants can apparently smell and see which humans might be out to get them, research now suggests.
As elephants roam Amboseli National Park in Kenya within sight of famed Mt. Kilimanjaro, they may run afoul of members of the Maasai or Kamba tribes. While the Kamba nowadays threaten only elephants that invade their farmland, Maasai warriors occasionally show off their virility by spearing elephants.
Since elephants face different levels of peril from people depending on their tribe, scientists reasoned elephants might use their senses to distinguish who might be dangerous. For instance, the pachyderms might rely on their eyesight—Maasai traditionally wear red shawls.
The scientists also deduced that elephants might employ their keen sense of smell to distinguish Maasai from Kamba. Their body odors likely differ because Maasai eat substantial amounts of milk and occasionally cattle blood and beef while the Kamba diet consists of vegetables and maize, along with some meat. Also, unlike the Kamba, the Maasai use ochre and sheep fat in body decorations.
The researchers had heard of several instances of elephants reacting "to even faint signals of Maasai, with elephants running away from Maasai men that were several kilometers away," said cognitive psychologist Lucy Bates at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. The pachyderms even stayed away from a vehicle "for several days after Maasai men had been carried in it."
Cognitive psychologist Richard Byrne at the University of St. Andrews, along with Bates and colleagues, tried displaying clean, unworn red and white cloths on bushes in Amboseli. They found elephants behaved significantly more aggressively toward the red cloths.
"We think that this is the first time that it has been experimentally shown that any animal can categorize a single species of potential predator into subclasses based on such subtle cues," Bates said.
The researchers also presented elephants with red clothing that had been worn for five days by either a Maasai or a Kamba man. The pachyderms reacted with greater fear toward the Maasai-scented clothing—they moved faster away and farther away, fleeing toward tall grass for cover, and took significantly longer to relax after they stopped running.
The differences the researchers saw between elephant responses to sights and smells might relate to the amount of risk the pachyderms sense. "With any scent present, fear and escape reactions seem to dominate anything else," Bates said.
Future research can focus on "what cues in the garments the elephants are attending to—what specific smells signal Maasai and Kamba? What aspect of the red cloths do the elephants respond to—the brightness, the hue?" Bates said.
Moreover, "we don't know how many ethnic groups the elephants can discriminate, or how elephants respond to females of these groups—both of which would be interesting questions to answer," she added.
The scientists, collaborating with the Amboseli Elephant Research Project, detailed their findings online Oct. 18 in the journal Current Biology.