By Dr. Mercola
About one-third of Americans are considered obese, but the latest data shows that when other methods of measuring obesity, such as body fat percentage, are factored in with body-mass index (BMI), that number may be closer to 60 percent.i
As rates of overweight and obesity continue to climb, so has the use of weight loss surgery, which has increased 10-fold since 2000.ii
In the short-term, weight loss surgeries may produce greater weight loss compared to lifestyle modification alone, but they have many negative long-term health consequences, including a significant risk of premature death.
Now researchers are looking into another type of bariatric surgery, which they say not only helps you lose weight and lowers your risk of obesity-related diseases, but does so with fewer side effects than the more common weight loss surgeries like gastric banding and bypass — but is this really a wise solution?
Is This Hot Pepper Ingredient the Future of Weight Loss?
Capsaicin, the substance that makes chili peppers spicy, was the “secret weapon” used by a team of researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Their animal study involved two surgeries:
- Vagotomy: The surgical cutting of your vagus nerve, the tenth cranial nerve that runs from your brain stem down to your abdomen. The vagus nerve is the primary route your gut bacteria use to transmit information to your brain, and it plays a role in appetite stimulating brain hormones like ghrelin.
Past research has shown an average of 18 percent weight loss following the procedure, with few serious side effects.iii However, a commentary in Digestive Diseases and Sciences notes that the procedure may result in “gastric stasis and ”dumping” of food from the stomach to the intestine, causing unpleasant sensations, including nausea.”iv In the current study, researchers noted the procedure significantly reduced total body fat and visceral abdominal fat.v
- Vagal de-afferentation: Rather than severing the vagus nerve completely, researchers used capsaicin to selectively destroy nerve fibers that transmit information from the gut to the brain. This procedure reportedly has fewer side effects than vagotomy, but it had a less significant impact on weight loss. That said, researchers still noted that this procedure had a “remarkable” impact on weight.
“Truncal vagotomy led to significant reductions in both diet-induced weight gain and visceral abdominal fat deposition. Vagal de-afferentation led to a more modest, but clinically and statistically significant, reduction in visceral abdominal fat. As increased visceral abdominal fat is associated with excess morbidity and mortality, vagal de-afferentation may be a useful adjunct in bariatric surgery.”
Should You Destroy Your Vagus Nerve to Lose Weight?
It may sound tempting to opt for a minimally invasive procedure that may help you lose weight, including dangerous visceral fat, but the long-term effects of this procedure are very much unknown. Severing your vagus nerve, or even selectively destroying nerve fibers that transmit signals from your gut to your brain (while leaving those that transmit from your brain to your gut intact), could have serious long-term implications on your health.
Recent research shows that beneficial bacteria in your gut have a direct effect on brain chemistry, transmitting mood- and behavior-regulating signals to your brain via the vagus nerve.
For instance, the probiotic Lactobacillus rhamnosus was found to have a marked effect on GABA levels in certain brain regions and lowered the stress-induced hormone corticosterone, resulting in reduced anxiety- and depression-related behavior … this is but one pathway that might be severed using vagotomy or even vagal de-afferentation, with unknown consequences.
Using capsaicin as a surgical tool to destroy nerve fibers seems like a drastic and potentially dangerous step, particularly when there are so many other weight loss options available – including adding capsaicin to your diet instead.
The Potential of Thermogenic Foods for Weight Loss
It turns out capsaicin may be effective when added to your diet, as opposed to your surgery! Studies have shown the substance may help fight obesity by decreasing calorie intake, shrinking fat tissue, and lowering blood fat levels, as well as fight fat buildup by triggering beneficial protein changes in your body.vii Again, this was when capsaicin was used as a dietary addition … with no surgery required.
Part of the benefit may be due to capsaicin’s heat potential, as it is a thermogenic substance that may temporarily increase thermogenesis in your body, where your body burns fuel such as fat to create heat, with beneficial impacts on your metabolism and fat-burning potential. Research suggests that consuming thermogenic ingredients may boost your metabolism by up to 5 percent, and increase fat burning by up to 16 percent.viii It may even help counteract the decrease in metabolic rate that often occurs during weight loss.
Capsaicin is only one example of a thermogenic substance. Others include turmeric (curcumin), caffeine and different teas such as green, white and oolong tea. One study even found that a combination of capsaicin and green tea helped suppress hunger and improved feelings of satiety.ix
Before You Go Under the Knife – Do This First
If you’re significantly overweight, you may feel you’d be willing to do anything to get the weight off, even resorting to surgery. But you have to understand that nearly 40 percent of patients who undergo weight loss surgery experience major complications, including loss of limbs, liver failure, malnutrition and even death.
Many weight loss centers will also require that you make lifestyle changes, such as exercise after the surgery, and prior to the surgery that you stop smoking, drinking soda and eating fast food. Many will also require you to lose weight prior to the surgery!
If you can lose weight for that, you can continue on and reach a healthy goal weight without any type of medical intervention whatsoever. Since success depends on your ability to modify your behavior anyway, why not simply modify your behavior without going through the surgical procedure and taking all those health risks? At the very least, before you decide that weight loss surgery is your only option, use this dietary strategy that is remarkably effective for weight loss:
Strictly limit your fructose consumption!
If you are serious about losing weight, you have got to strictly limit the amount of fructose in your diet, as evidence is mounting that excess sugar, and fructose in particular, is the primary driving factor in the obesity epidemic. So cutting soda from your diet is essential, as is limiting fructose found in processed foods, fruit juice, excessive fruit and so-called “healthy” sweeteners like agave.
Ideally you should keep your total fructose consumption below 25 grams per day and this includes fruits. This is especially true if you have insulin resistance and are overweight, have high blood pressure, diabetes or high cholesterol.
In addition to eliminating or severely limiting fructose, it will be vital to eliminate all grains and milk (even raw) in your diet. Milk has a sugar called lactose, which has been shown to increase insulin resistance so it will be wise to avoid it if you are seeking to lose weight. Refined carbohydrates like breakfast cereals, bagels, waffles, pretzels, and most other processed foods also quickly break down to sugar, increase your insulin levels, and cause insulin resistance, which is the number one underlying factor of nearly every chronic disease and condition known to man, including weight gain.
As you cut these dietary troublemakers from your meals, you need to replace them with healthy substitutes like vegetables and healthy fats (including natural saturated fats!). Your body prefers the carbohydrates in vegetables rather than grains and sugars because it slows the conversion to simple sugars like glucose, and decreases your insulin level. When you cut grains and sugar from your meals, you typically will need to radically increase the amount of vegetables you eat, as well as make sure you are also consuming protein and healthy fats regularly.
I’ve detailed a step-by-step guide to this type of healthy eating program in my comprehensive nutrition plan, and I urge you to consult this guide if you are trying to lose weight, and especially if you are considering any form of weight loss surgery. The foods you choose to eat will be the driving force behind successfully achieving your weight loss goals — high-intensity, short-burst-type exercises, such as my Peak Fitness Program, two to three times per week, combined with a comprehensive fitness plan, is important too, but be sure you’re targeting your diet as a primary weight loss tool.
- i PLoS One. 2012;7(4):e33308. Epub 2012 Apr 2.
- ii BMJ August 26, 2010 Aug 26;341:c4296
- iii USA Today July 2, 2007
- iv Digestive Diseases and Sciences Volume 57, Number 5 (2012), 1115-1117
- v Digestive Diseases and Sciences Volume 57, Number 5 (2012), 1281-1290
- vi Digestive Diseases and Sciences Volume 57, Number 5 (2012), 1281-1290
- vii J Proteome Res. 2010 Jun 4;9(6):2977-87.
- viii Int J Obes (Lond). 2010 Apr;34(4):659-69. Epub 2010 Feb 9.
- ix Clin Nutr. 2009 Jun;28(3):260-5. Epub 2009 Apr 3.