Fat monkeys = healthier humans?

February 21, 2011 · 2 comments

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I don’t know if I should laugh or cry. On the front page of Sunday’s NY Times (2-20-11), there was an article about the research on obesity in monkeys. The researchers are actually inducing obesity in the monkeys in order to study weight loss in humans. They are using monkeys for the obvious reasons that they reflect human physiology better than rats and they also display some human eating habits, such as, eating when bored even when they are not hungry. In one study, at the Oregon National Primate Research Center, scientists are trying to “…induce the couch-potato style…we believe that mimics the health issues we face in the United States today.” Apparently, due to the obesity epidemic, these obese monkeys, used for research, are in hot demand. “This is a booming industry in China…[t]hey have colonies of thousands of them” said Dr. Grove of the Oregon National Primate Research Center. Pharmaceutical companies, quick to jump on the band wagon, are using these monkeys for research for, you guessed it, medications for weight loss.

The diet of these monkeys consists mainly of dried chow pellets, about 1/3 of which being fat, adequate protein and other nutrients. The author of the NY Times article does not explain which fats are used and I tried to access information about this study, but was unsuccessful. Please comment if you find out which fats the author of this article is talking about, because saying fats are the problem, is the real problem. This is exactly what happened in the 1970′s when saturated fat was lumped together with trans fats in research—what lipid biochemist Dr. Mary Enig was brave enough to try to fight against at that time, because she understood then that trans fats were the bad fats, not saturated fats. The researchers in this article say that this diet for the monkeys is similar to a “typical American diet.” The monkeys can eat as many pellets as they want and they can also snack on a 300 calorie chunk of peanut butter. They are also sometimes “treated” to popcorn or peanuts. The monkeys are also given a fruit flavored punch with high-fructose corn syrup (the equivalent of one can of soda a day). Here is one possible conclusion that may be significant for humans: “Dr. Grove and researchers at some other centers say the high-fructose corn syrup appears to accelerate the development of obesity and diabetes. ” Thank you, Dr Grove! (Let’s see if they actually publish that conclusion.) This is something nutritionists and real foodies have been saying for several years. “It wasn’t until we added those carbs that we got all those…changes in body fat” said Anthony Comuzzie, who helped establish an obese baboon colony at another location.

However, Barbara C. Hansen of the University of South Florida said “to suggest that humans and monkeys get fat because of a high-fat diet is not a good suggestion.” She had a monkey named Fat Albert, who was at one time the world’s heaviest rhesus monkey. And guess what, he ate “nothing but an American Heart Association-recommended diet.” Are you laughing yet? Or crying?

In my last blog post, I talked about the new, stricter USDA Guidelines for fat and salt. This is a timely article, on the heels of the new guidelines, because guess where the American Heart Association gets their guidelines? You got it! From the USDA. It is the typical high-carb (grains), low-fat, low-salt diet; the same as they use to fatten livestock in confinement farming and the same used to fatten these monkeys. On this diet, the monkeys also displayed the belly fat that is associated with heart disease and diabetes. And one monkey did have a heart attack!

Aside from the ethical considerations in using these monkeys for research, is the laughable(?) concept behind this entire effort to fatten these monkeys. Why not just feed them the food they are supposed to have, let them live the life they are supposed to live (with adequate exercise) and then see how they do? Eating a diet that a species traditionally is supposed to eat will ensure good health. Feeding monkeys a diet that does not reflect in any way their natural diet (pellets, peanut butter and high fructose corn syrup) will clearly create health problems, just as they do in humans. Let’s teach people how to eat real food and see them regain the vibrant health they should have. And then, they won’t need pharmaceutical companies researching new medications for weight loss.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Laurinel Owen March 11, 2011 at 4:52 pm

It is good to read sensible, thoughtful advice from an expert who cares. Many thanks!


2 Jill March 11, 2011 at 6:06 pm

Thank you Laurinel. I’m glad you enjoyed the article.


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