NYIT: Quick consequences of ‘fast’ American food

All American: You are what you eat, USA -- and a new NYIT study suggests even a little exposure to the typical "western diet" can lead to big health problems.

With all that Halloween candy about and 15 pounds worth of holiday season set to brutalize your belly, the New York Institute of Technology shares these cheerful tidings: The “average American diet” is basically a shortcut to diabetes.

Researchers at NYIT’s College of Osteopathic Medicine in Old Westbury have gathered “compelling evidence” that exposure to a typical “western diet” – featuring relatively super-sized levels of fat and sugar – significantly increases the risk of developing diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

In a recent study funded by the American Heart Association, NYITCOM researchers Maria Carrillo-Sepulveda, an assistant professor of biomedical sciences, and Benjamin Kramer, a fourth-year NYIT medical student, exposed female laboratory rats to a supplement “resembling the ingredients of the typical American diet,” according to NYIT.

The supplements, containing excessively high levels of fat and refined sugars, have already been shown to cause metabolic syndrome – aka “prediabetes” – in male rats. Carrillo-Sepulveda and Kramer were out to determine if the western diet has the same negative effect on female rats, which possess hormones that specifically protect against cardiovascular diseases.

After five months of consuming the supplement pellets – which have “an appearance and scent similar to fast-food French fries,” according to NYIT – the females’ blood vessels were damaged and their blood pressure elevated, common symptoms for diabetics.

The rats also developed four times more abdominal fat – a type-2 diabetes risk factor – than their control-group counterparts, which were fed a normal-maintenance diet.

Also scary: The “westernized” female rats did not appear outwardly obese, nor did they display typical warning signs of diabetes, such as an increase in blood glucose levels. Essentially, eating like Americans fostered prediabetes long before traditional biomarkers could spot it.

Maria Carrillo-Sepulveda: Diet pan.

With the obesity epidemic worsening in the United States – the AHA says 91 million Americans are losing the battle of the bulge, including 13 million children – the research is a slap in the all-beef patty, according to Carrillo-Sepulveda, who notes that even short-term exposure to a western diet “can put individuals at risk for developing vascular damage long before the tell-tale signs of diabetes are present.”

“This may explain why some diabetics who successfully manage their blood glucose still experience other cardiovascular diseases, like hypertension, even while receiving treatment,” the assistant professor added.

Kramer, recipient of the 2017 American Heart Association Student Scholarship in Cardiovascular Disease, said the study reinforces the value of an osteopathic medical education, which trains physicians to consider the overarching consequences of being sick – including impact on care and lifestyle – rather than focusing only on treatment.

“This experiment reminds us that focusing solely on one aspect of disease does not adequately tell the complete story of one’s health,” Kramer said in a statement. “Without the presence of traditional biomarkers, there were still multiple indications suggesting the onset of prediabetes.

“We would have been unaware of dire medical conditions had we simply been looking for the conventional signs.”

The study also has the potential to expand on those cultural aspects by making a case for physicians to address their patients’ environments as part of their treatment, the medical researcher added.

“The problem is the food our patients are eating,” Kramer said. “If we can educate and encourage them to make better food choices, we can play a key role in the prevention of the development of diabetes.”

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