I’ve been dealing with a neuroma in my left foot for several months, so I finally went to see a doctor. He recommended that I get some of those new ‘toning shoes’ to take the pressure off my toe joints. These shoes move your weight back toward the heels. A few of the patients I see have been using these shoes for various reasons, one of which is to burn more calories. I didn’t buy a pair but thought I’d look into whether these shoes had any of the purported benefits: improved posture, less back pain, improve caloric expenditure, etc. Here’s what I found.

A presentation in June at the American college of Sports Medicine’s annual conference, reported that muscle activation and caloric expenditure were almost identical in women whether they wore regular walking shoes or Shape Ups (a toning shoe). Another study done last year at the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse also found that muscle activation and calorie burning were the same in subjects whether they wore ordinary athletic shoes or any of three different brands’ toning shoes.

The disappointment with the performance of the shoes has percolated to the general public, with several lawsuits filed against the manufacturers, alleging the shoes had not delivered  benefits as promised, or had even caused injury. My patients reported no noticeable improvement in strength, but one woman said that it did relieve some of her back pain. All said they would feel exhausted after wearing them for the better part of a day.

My take on the shoes? If wearing them gets people up off their rear ends and get active, it’s a good thing. As for me, I’ll pass.

A July 11, 2011 article in the New York Times, written by Tara Parker-Pope, addresses some recent research articles looking at why people respond the way they do to high fat foods and snacks. For years, most thought that they urge to eat high-fat foods was a matter of willpower; persons with less willpower couldn’t or wouldn’t to coin a phrase “eat just one.” Researcher done in California and Italy suggests that it’s more than willpower; there are deeper biological forces at work. In these studies, when rats given fatty foods, their bodies immediately began to release natural marijuana-like chemicals in their guts that kept them craving more.

The findings are sure to add some dialog to the obesity debate, suggesting that certain foods set off powerful chemical reactions in the body and the brain. Ms. Pope says “it’s still true that people gain weight because they eat more calories than they burn, but those compulsions may stem from biological systems over which the individual has no control.”

The Italian study was to measure how taste alone affects the body’s response to food. Among rats given liquid diets high in fat sugar, or protein, the ones who got the fatty liquid had a striking reaction: As soon as it hit their taste buds, their digestive systems began producing endocannabinoids, chemicals similar to those produced by marijuana use.

Endocannabinoids regulate mood, stress response, appetite, and movement of food through the GI tract. Notably, they were released only when the rats tasted fat, not sugar or protein. The findings were published online last week in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. This research reveals something I think most people may already know; the body’s brain reward centers are strongly affected by the foods we eat. I love salads-I eat one most days, but I don’t ‘feel’ as satiated as if I’d eaten mac ‘n’ cheese.

The next question is whether some people are born more responsive to certain foods, or whether a lifetime of overeating leads to brain and body changes that promote a stronger food response. For me, I’ll still enjoy the mac ‘n’ cheese, the pizza, the burgers. But, I keep consumption to two days/week. The rest of the week I eat a mostly fruit and vegetable diet. By scheduling two ‘cheat’ days, I find that I don’t crave those high-fat foods.

Speaking of fruits and vegetables, they are now recommended for persons with diverticular disease. For years the dietary recommendation for that disease was to stay away from high-fiber foods including salads, nuts, and seeds. No more.

I’ve been hearing some good things about a new, natural anti-inflammatory liquid called Nopalea, manufactured by TriVita. Nopalea is made from cactus, and I’d known for some time that edible cactus is a powerful anti-cancer food. I know one of the owners of TriVita, and he is sending me a bottle of Nopalea to try. I have plenty of inflammation for it to work on. Reduced pain and inflammation are reportedly felt after only three weeks. If it works for me, I’ll let you know.

Stay well, John R Blilie, M.S.