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Eating fitness

Posted 27/03/2013 by sevans

We are what we eat, so the old adage goes, but apart from having an impact on our overall health, can what we eat have other implications? One group of scientists believes so, and they have come to the conclusion that what we eat can have an effect on the way we respond to surgery.

Doctors at Brigham & Women’s Hospital, a teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School in the US, believe that the last few meals consumed before surgery can affect a patient’s recovery from their operation. 

They have focused on fat (adipose) tissue, which is one of the major components of the body that is always traumatised during surgery. It is believed that this trauma affects the chemical balance of the fat tissue and that these chemical changes have an effect on organs that are in close proximity as well as those in more distant parts of the body.

Studies in mice have shown that those animals on a typical Western diet that is high in fat, with 60% of calories coming from fat, show a greater and more exaggerated and imbalanced response than those on a more restricted lower-fat diet, with 10% of the calories coming from fat (Surgery, 2012,  153, 4 , 584). The exaggerated response included increased inflammation and decreased specialised fat hormone synthesis.

The researchers have shown that even just changing to a low-fat diet in the three-week period before surgery can reduce these effects. Now, these results have been obtained during mouse studies and no equivalent study has been made in humans, but they are difficult to ignore.

With the current interest in the two-days out of five fasting regime that is gaining much attention at the moment, these results show that we are still a long way from understanding how what we eat really affects the way our bodies work. 

The fact that the increasing prevalence of obesity in the Western world is having an impact on health from the rise in diabetes to increased levels of skeletal problems has been well documented in terms of the knock-on impact on healthcare systems, but these latest results suggest there is much more to be learned, including the effect on recovery from surgery and the length of hospitalisation.

So the old adage had it right all along – moderation in all things that we consume would appear to be a sensible approach for all of us.

Neil Eisberg - Editor

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