The age of obesity: what you can do

It’s official: Canadians are getting bigger. Between 1985 and 2001, obesity rates increased from 7% to 14% among women and from 6% to 16% among men. The same report found that obesity rates among women increase with age, peaking between 55 and 59, then declining. This same pattern is seen in the Canadian male population, with the peak at 50 to 54 years of age.

Obesity is considered a disease and is defined as a body mass index value (BMI) of over 30. (For a quick online BMI calculator, go to www.halls.md.) More simply, obese people have too much body fat. Aside from the many social and psychological hardships, an obese person is at high risk for many serious health problems, including heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, osteoarthritis, high cholesterol and diabetes.

Research into nutrition and natural health options for obesity has identified many helpful substances that can accompany key diet and lifestyle changes; however, two stand out in terms of effectiveness and quality of research.

Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA)

Research on CLA has scientists thinking it may be a key obesity-preventing nutrient. This fatty acid properly transports dietary fats into cells, where they can be used to build muscle and produce energy. In one animal study, CLA-enriched diets reduced body fat 43 to 88% in mice. In another human study, exercising individuals taking CLA lost more body fat after 12 weeks than did a similar group taking a placebo. Our beef and dairy products once contained about 3% CLA, but not any more. Changes to how cattle are fed and our reluctance to use whole milk has reduced CLA in our food supply by about 70%. Some researchers suggest this change in CLA intake is one of the reasons we’ve become fatter.


A precursor to the neuro-transmitter serotonin, 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan) has been shown to reduce appetite and to promote weight loss. According to Dr Michael Murray, ND, there’s evidence that many obese people are predisposed to low serotonin levels. Since serotonin is needed to regulate hunger signals, these people don’t get the message to stop eating until they’ve consumed more than necessary. By supplying 5-HTP, the serotonin deficiency is addressed and hunger is literally turned off. Dr Murray reports on a number of positive research studies, as well as the successes of his own patients, one of whom “lost 17 pounds and went down three dress sizes within three months” while taking 5-HTP. Another lost 26 pounds in six months on a higher dosage.

Ask about CLA and 5-HTP at your local natural health products retailer.

Sources: Women’s Health Surveillance Report, Can Inst for Health Info, 2003; Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine (2nd Ed) by M Murray and J Pizzorno, Prima:1998; Dr Murray’s Total Body Tune-Up by M Murray, Bantam:2001