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Physician’s Guide: Using Blood Test Findings To Safely Induce Weight Loss

June 2009

By William Faloon

Restoring Youthful Metabolic Parameters From the Inside

At this point, the patient has erected a multi-pronged barrier to impede the excess absorption of unwanted calories. These include:

  1. Reducing their intake of simple carbohydrates, saturated fats, omega-6 fats, and trans fats.
  2. Impeding glucose absorption by inhibiting the alpha-glucosidase and alpha-amylase enzymes.
  3. Suppressing the insulin spike by slowing carbohydrate absorption with soluble fiber taken before each meal.
  4. Inhibiting fat absorption by taking the lipase inhibitor orlistat.

For many people, sticking to the above program for the time period we suggest should provide optimal fat-loss benefits. As discussed already, we prefer that patients not use orlistat for more than 60-90 days because it may interfere with the absorption of fat-soluble nutrients like vitamins D, E, and K. It will also impede absorption of critical omega-3 fatty acids. Certain patients, however, who are successfully benefiting from orlistat may continue it longer.

The 60-90-day program we have suggested thus far will dramatically reverse many of the metabolic imbalances that are underlying causes of excess fat accumulation and increased vascular disease risk. Overweight and obese patients expect to see a rapid reduction in body weight and abdominal inches. The 60-90-day program outlined so far will help facilitate immediate fat-loss results and provide substantial patient incentive to follow a reduced-calorie regimen that involves Mediterranean diet-type food choices along with plenty of dietary fiber.

The long-term objective is to restore a more youthful metabolic pattern that will last a lifetime. This most often requires hormonal balancing and enzymatic modulation at the cellular level. For men, replacing free testosterone lost to normal aging is usually required. Women deficient in estrogen are encouraged to restore estrogen to more desirable ranges. Both sexes should maintain TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone) and T3 (tri-iodothyronine) thyroid hormone levels in the optimal ranges described later in this article.

Normal aging results in reduced insulin signaling throughout the body that disrupts healthy glucose metabolism. The prescription drug metformin helps correct several mechanisms involved in glucose impairment by increasing insulin sensitivity, enhancing peripheral glucose uptake in energy-producing cells, decreasing intestinal absorption of glucose, and suppressing excess glucose synthesis from the liver.69-71 Metformin also increases a satiety hormone called glucagon-like peptide 1, thus helping to induce a long-term appetite-suppressing effect that will better enable patients to adjust to a life-long reduced-calorie diet.72,73

Natural and Pharmaceutical Methods to Reduce Postprandial Lipemia
Natural and Pharmaceutical Methods to Reduce Postprandial Lipemia

Overweight and obese individuals demonstrate chronically elevated fat levels in their blood long after meals are ingested. This postprandial lipemia is a significant risk factor for degenerative disease and can sabotage efforts to reverse type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and obesity.

Saturated fats, like those found in butter, shortening, and fried foods, are especially potent inducers of excess postprandial lipoproteins. Because postprandial disorders cause fats to linger longer, avoiding unhealthy fats is doubly important. Minimizing these fats is advisable for other reasons, such as reducing LDL, blood pressure, inflammation, and cancer risk. While avoiding saturated fats will not eliminate postprandial lipids and lipoproteins, it will help reduce them.45 A polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acid derived from safflower also raises postprandial lipid and lipoprotein levels, just as saturated fats do.46,47

Although the immediate cause of persistent and increased postprandial lipoproteins is an unhealthy fat-containing meal, two varieties of fat reduce postprandial lipoproteins:

• Monounsaturated oils, like olive oil, modestly reduce postprandial lipoproteins. Monounsaturated oils may thus be a preferable form of oil for cooking and everyday use.47,48

• Polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids reduce postprandial lipoproteins dramatically. It is not uncommon to see omega-3 supplementation significantly reduce abnormal postprandial patterns.46 Sources of omega-3 fatty acids include fish oil, flaxseed oil, and walnuts.

If undesirable saturated fats lead to increased postprandial lipoprotein particles, does a low-fat diet reduce postprandial lipoproteins? Paradoxically, it does not. All too often, low-fat diets can evolve into diets rich in processed carbohydrates, which cause postprandial lipid and lipoprotein particles to multiply out of control.49 Diets that are rich in monounsaturated fats, omega-3 fats, fiber, and lean proteins, and low in saturated fats and processed carbohydrates, are effective tools in reducing postprandial lipoproteins.50

The following strategies can reduce triglycerides dramatically, and help reduce or eliminate elevated postprandial fats:

  • Weight loss can greatly reduce triglycerides and postprandial lipids and lipoproteins, particularly when it is accomplished with a diet that is low in fiber-poor, refined carbohydrates and high in fiber, lean protein, and monounsaturated fats. Cutting out processed carbohydrates (such as breads, crackers, breakfast cereals, bagels, and pretzels made with refined, processed white flour) alone can yield a 30% reduction in postprandial lipoproteins.51,52 Increasing intake of yogurt, cottage cheese, and other low-fat dairy products, raw almonds and walnuts, and fish, chicken, turkey, and other sources of lean protein will also yield substantial reductions in postprandial lipoprotein particles. Weight loss restores the insulin responsiveness lost in metabolic syndrome, which also reduces postprandial lipids and lipoproteins.53
  • Omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil exert powerful effects in reducing postprandial lipoproteins. Ingesting just 1,200 mg of EPA/DHA from fish oil can easily lower postprandial fat remnants by 50%, and higher doses can produce even greater reductions. When fasting triglycerides are higher than 80-99 mg/dL, higher doses of fish oil may be indicated to fight excess postprandial lipids and lipoproteins. Omega-3 fatty acids decrease the liver’s production of artery-damaging very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL) by 30% or more.54,55 Fish oil can safely augment the cholesterol-lowering effects of statin drugs such as Lipitor®, yielding dramatic improvement in triglycerides, VLDL, and postprandial lipoproteins.56
  • Soy protein (20 grams per day) from tofu, soy milk, soy protein powder, and other sources can lower LDL by 10-20 mg/dL and reduce postprandial lipo-proteins by 10%.57 We suggest that soy be used as part of a healthy diet in which soy is substituted for unhealthy fats found in meat.
  • Green tea contains catechins (flavonoids) that can decrease postprandial lipids and lipoproteins by up to 30%.58 Approximately 600-700 mg of green tea catechins are required to achieve this effect, the equivalent of 6-12 servings of brewed tea. Nutritional supplements provide green tea catechins at this dose. Green tea’s effectiveness in accelerating weight loss may in part relate to its ability to reduce postprandial lipids and lipoproteins. For green tea to be effective, it should be taken immediately before meals to help block the absorption of fats and sugars. Use decaffeinated green tea extract supplements if caffeine bothers you. A new green tea phytosome (described on page 30 of this issue) has demonstrated remarkable weight loss and triglyceride-lowering effects at a dose of only 300 mg a day.
  • Vigorous exercise can reduce postprandial lipoproteins by 30%.59
  • Niacin in doses of 2,000 to 3,000 mg a day will significantly lower triglycerides, and provide beneficial changes in HDL while changing LDL particles to a less atherogenic form.60,61 Niacin can cause a skin “flushing” side effect that can be mitigated by taking niacin with aspirin and a meal. Some people cannot tolerate this flushing effect on a daily basis and choose other options to lower triglycerides.
  • Diabetes treatment (with insulin or oral hypoglycemic drugs) significantly reduces postprandial lipoprotein levels.62,63 The thiazolidinedione drug Actos® may be especially effective for its postprandial lipid-suppressing effects.64 The drug metformin also reduces fasting and postprandial triglycerides by 25%.65 (Caution: Like other thiazolidinediones, Actos® can cause fluid retention, which may lead to or exacerbate heart failure. Actos® should be discontinued if any deterioration in cardiac status occurs.)
  • Statin drugs such as generic simvastatin, Crestor®, and Lipitor® not only lower cholesterol, but can reduce postprandial lipoproteins by 30-80%.66
  • Fibrates (cholesterol-lowering drugs such as Lopid® and Lofibra®) can reduce postprandial lipids and lipoproteins by 70%. They can be a useful second-line strategy if fish oil, weight loss, and nutritional efforts fail to do the job.67 Clearly, choosing the right foods and supplements should be the patient’s first choice in controlling a postprandial disorder. Fish oil is safe, inexpensive, and easy to take, yet it provides an extraordinary array of benefits, including reduced risk of sudden cardiac death, stroke, and depression.68 Weight loss, exercise, soy protein, and green tea can all increase the patient’s likelihood of success.

Effects of Sex Hormones on Adipose Tissues

Sex hormones are involved in the metabolism, accumulation, and distribution of body fat. Adipocytes (fat cells) have receptors to bind testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone, thus enabling these sex hormones to exert a direct action.

Effects of Sex Hormones on Adipose Tissues

Sex steroid hormones carry out their function in adipose tissues by both genomic and non-genomic mechanisms.74 In the genomic mechanism, the sex steroid hormone binds to its receptor on the adipocyte and can regulate the transcription of genes involved in obesity. Leptin is a hormone secreted from adipocytes that regulates appetite and induces beneficial triglyceride breakdown in adipocytes. Lipoprotein lipase is an enzyme that breaks down circulating triglycerides into free fatty acids that are readily stored in adipocytes (fat cells). Both leptin and lipoprotein lipase exert control over adipose (fat) tissues and are genomically regulated by sex hormones.

In the non-genomic mechanism, sex hormones can activate certain hormone-sensitive lipases, ultimately leading to lipolysis (fat breakdown). In the presence of certain sex hormones, a normal distribution of body fat exists. On the other hand, with an imbalance of certain sex hormones (as occurs with aging), there is a tendency towards an increase in abdominal obesity: a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease,75,76 type 2 diabetes,77 and cancer.76,78-80

Since sex hormones regulate the amount and distribution of adipose tissues, they are key elements of a comprehensive program to eliminate obesity. When properly prescribed, bioidentical hormone replacement therapy in postmenopausal women and older men often reduces the degree of abdominal obesity.74,81-83

Testosterone Prevents Triglycerides From Accumulating in the Male Abdomen

In men, a testosterone deficit is often accompanied by visceral obesity. When deficient men are supplemented with testosterone, the result is a region-specific decrease in the visceral (abdominal) adipose tissue mass.74,84 This suggests that testosterone is exerting its effects by inhibiting lipid uptake and/or enhancing lipid mobilization from adipocytes, particularly abdominal fatty tissues.

Testosterone Prevents Triglycerides From Accumulating in the Male Abdomen

To assess the effect of testosterone on fat mass, a study was done using labeled triglyceride fatty acids and measuring their incorporation into adipose tissues in two different regions of the body. The study subjects were all abdominally obese and divided into three groups. Group one received topical natural testosterone cream, the second group received a testosterone metabolite called dihydrotestosterone, while the third group was given a placebo cream. After two months, the testosterone group exhibited a 34% reduction in triglyceride uptake and increased turnover rate of triglycerides in abdominal adipose tissue.85

Interestingly, the uptake of labeled triglyceride at baseline was 20% greater in abdominal fat compared with upper leg fat, which helps explain why so many men suffer expanding waistlines as they age, especially in the presence of less than optimal testosterone. This study shows that testosterone replacement diminished triglyceride uptake by fat cells in the abdomen, while simultaneously promoting a more rapid release of abdominal triglyceride stores.85

The underlying mechanism proposed by the study’s authors was a significant 47% decrease in lipoprotein lipase activity in the abdominal region. As discussed earlier, lipoprotein lipase is involved in the deposition of triglycerides in adipocytes, thus causing fat cells (and people) to become bloated.

Triglyceride is the predominant form of fat that bloats adipoctyes. Excess fat in the bloodstream after eating (postprandial lipemia) is often described as postprandial hypertriglyceridemia. Interestingly, testosterone supplementation can reduce blood triglyceride levels by increasing their breakdown in the liver (via increased hepatic lipase activity). Testosterone also improves insulin sensitivity and can facilitate a reduction in postprandial hyperglycemia.86 Several additional mechanisms have been identified that enable testosterone to reduce triglyceride levels in abdominal adipocytes (fat cells) of men.85,87

A number of studies document a reduction in belly fat after men with low testosterone are supplemented with testosterone.88-90 If a blood test reveals less-than-optimal testosterone level (below 20 pg/mL), consider prescribing the patient a topical testosterone cream after first ruling out prostate cancer using a PSA (prostate-specific antigen) blood test and digital rectal exam. (Refer to the sidebar "How to Safely Restore Youthful Testosterone in Aging Men" below for prescribing information.)

Some men will convert (aromatize) too much of their testosterone to estrogen. Optimal estradiol levels in men range from 20 to 30 pg/mL of blood. Excess estradiol can be easily suppressed by prescribing an aromatase-inhibiting drug like Arimidex® in the dose of 0.5 mg two times a week.

Make sure that estradiol levels are not lowered below 20 pg/mL of blood as this may disable testosterone’s ability to induce abdominal fat loss. Some studies suggest that the decrease in abdominal lipoprotein lipase that occurs in response to testosterone replacement therapy may have to do with the conversion of some of the testosterone to estrogen.91 These studies are contradicted when observing abdominally obese men whose blood tests reveal low free testosterone and excess estradiol. These overweight men often present with enlarged breasts (gynecomastia) induced by this excess estradiol. Since much of the excess estradiol in these aging men is a result of the aromatization of testosterone to estradiol in abdominal adipocytes, it is difficult to comprehend that testosterone’s benefit in reducing belly fat is reliant on significant aromatization to estradiol.

These subtle nuances, which vary considerably amongst individuals, are why regular blood testing to ensure optimal free testosterone and estrogen levels is so important.

How to Safely Restore Youthful Testosterone in Aging Men

The use of topical testosterone creams has skyrocketed over the past decade in response to a plethora of positive research findings and endorsements from prominent physician-scientists. While balancing sex hormones in women is challenging, it is quite easy to achieve optimal hormone balance in aging men. What follows is a simple protocol to optimize a male patient’s free testosterone levels:

  1. Testosterone Prevents Triglycerides From Accumulating in the Male Abdomen
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    Have the patient’s blood tested for free testosterone, estradiol, and PSA, along with complete blood counts and blood chemistries. These blood tests are all included in the comprehensive Male Blood Test Panel that most Life Extension® members have performed annually.
  2. If these blood test results reveal free testosterone below 20-25 pg/mL, consider prescribing natural testosterone cream.
  3. To enable the patient to obtain natural testosterone cream at the lowest price, consider writing a prescription for compounded natural testosterone cream. A sample prescription for a two-month supply of natural testosterone cream appears in the next column.
  4. The approximate testosterone dose is based on the blood test results and body mass. After 45-60 days, have the patient’s blood retested in order to prescribe a more precise testosterone dose. Each patient may vary slightly based on their rate of absorption and internal metabolism. These blood tests also help rule out prostate cancer and guard against excess red blood cell production and excess estradiol conversion, as well as ensure that liver enzymes are in normal ranges. Digital rectal exams can help to further rule out existing prostate cancer. Testosterone is contraindicated in men with existing prostate cancer.92 Please know that the published scientific literature shows that testosterone does not cause prostate cancer.93
  5. If your patient’s estradiol level is over 30 pg/mL, consider prescribing a very low-dose aromatase-inhibiting drug such as 0.5 mg of Arimidex® twice a week. This will usually bring estradiol into the optimal range of 20-30 pg/mL. Do not reduce estradiol below 20 pg/mL as this may interfere with the ability of testosterone to induce abdominal fat loss.

Life Extension® members will often have their blood drawn ahead of time so their doctor can properly prescribe testosterone during their first visit. Your patients can also order the Male Panel Blood Test that includes all these blood tests and more by calling 1-800-208-3444.

Compounded testosterone cream can be obtained for as little as $40 for a 60-day supply, as opposed to around $450 for a 60-day supply of conventional testosterone gels.

Low Estrogen Promotes Weight Gain in Women

Menopause causes a large decrease in estrogens and progesterone with a corresponding increase in total and abdominal obesity. Several studies show a reduction in abdominal obesity in women in response to estrogen replacement therapy.74,83

Analogous to the way testosterone reduces male abdominal fat mass, estrogen in females reduces lipoprotein lipase activity in abdominal adipocytes. Lipoprotein lipase converts circulating triglycerides into free fatty acids that are readily stored in adipocytes (fat cells).

Low Estrogen Promotes Weight Gain in Women

The control of lipoprotein lipase is very complex and involves several hormones. In women, cortisol,94-96 testosterone,97,98 and insulin99 promote lipid accumulation in adipocytes by increasing lipo-protein lipase activity, whereas growth hormone and estrogen decrease lipoprotein lipase (and thus facilitate abdominal weight loss).12,98,100,101

Conventional estrogen drugs list side effects that include weight gain. One reason for this is that until recently, the most commonly prescribed estrogen drugs were Premarin® and Prempro®, which are horse urine-derived compounds that are not identical to the estrogen naturally produced in a woman’s body. The dose of these drugs was seldom individualized, meaning that women often received too much (or too little) estrogen to meet their particular needs.

With the advent of bioidentical estrogen drugs that are individually dosed, women whose blood tests reveal low estrogen can precisely restore estrogen levels to a range that may induce a reduction in abdominal fat mass, along with other benefits.

Natural estrogen compounds are available by prescription from compounding pharmacists. These types of estrogen are bioidentical—this term means that the hormones are chemically the same as the natural estrogen produced in a woman’s body. The types of estrogens commonly used in bioidentical hormone replacement therapy are estradiol and estriol.  

Bioidentical estrogen drugs are prepared using different percentages of estriol and estradiol compounded into a topical cream. The most popular compounded bioidentical estrogen used today is bi-estrogen or bi-est. It is prescribed as a topical cream that may consist of 80% estriol and 20% estradiol, or a percentage ratio individualized to the patient’s need. Based on a women’s estradiol blood test reading, and the body composition changes that occur, the dose of estradiol and estriol in bi-est may be increased or decreased.

An individualized approach to bioidentical hormone restoration is best. A woman will need to carefully monitor and assess her individual responses and report them to her prescribing physician so that adjustments can be made to her hormone regimen. In general, experts in the field of bioidentical hormone restoration suggest that most women feel their best when estradiol blood levels are in the range of 90-250 pg/mL, a range of estradiol that is common during the majority of the menstrual cycle for most healthy young women.

In addition to natural estrogen, natural progesterone is an important hormone for women. Natural progesterone cream or ointment is available as a compounded prescription or OTC (over-the-counter) product. The benefit of using a topical product over an oral form is that the topical form avoids the ‘first pass’ effect of metabolism through the liver, and therefore the dosage is lower (than oral forms).

Progestins such as Provera® are not natural progesterone. Provera® is a type of chemical that bears some similarity to natural progesterone but is chemically distinct. Natural progesterone is believed to be a safer option for women seeking hormone restoration.

There are studies showing increased risks of certain cancers in response to estrogen drug therapy and higher estrogen levels.102,103 Many of these studies used Premarin® or Prempro®, drugs that many women today avoid because of the lethal risks that were revealed. In response to concerns about estrogen and cancer, Life Extension® compiled an article titled “Is Fear of Cancer a Reason to Be Deprived of Hormones?” This article discusses healthy dietary and lifestyle alterations that have been shown to substantially reduce the risk of estrogen-induced cancers. Anyone contemplating estrogen replacement therapy should review this article at Refer to the sidebar on the page 3 (How To Prescribe Bioidentical Estrogen Drugs to Aging Females) for specific information prescribing bioidentical female hormones and blood levels to strive for.

Some obese women have elevated testosterone levels.104,105 Studies show that certain subgroups of obese women (for example, obese women suffering from polycystic ovary syndrome [PCOS], characterized by excess visceral body fat, insulin resistance, and high levels of testosterone) can improve metabolic profiles, reduce visceral fat accumulation, and reduce testosterone levels with a combination of metformin and low-dose flutamide, a specific anti-androgen drug available by prescription.106,107 For example, a study in 40 obese women suffering from elevated testosterone levels and insulin resistance treated with metformin (850 mg twice daily) and flutamide (250 mg twice daily) showed decreased visceral fat, total cholesterol, and low-density lipoprotein (LDL), and reduced excess testosterone concentrations.108 If a blood test reveals excess free testosterone in the presence of excess visceral fat in a woman, consider prescribing 250 mg of flutamide twice daily with concomitant metformin treatment in addition to a low-calorie diet and physical exercise.