Saturday, February 16, 2008

Super Size Me - the Swedish Experiment

A research from Linkoping University, Sweden, published in the medical journal "Gut", showed that regular indulging in fast food caused, in less than 4 weeks, a pathologic rise in the level of a liver enzyme, alanine aminotransferase (ALT) in the blood. The fast food experiment subjects aimed for a body weight increase of 5-15% by eating at least two fast food-based meals a day with the goal to double the regular caloric intake in combination with adoption of a sedentary lifestyle for four weeks. They limited their daily exercise to less than 5000 steps for 4 weeks. The authors suggested that an increased flow of monosaccharides to the liver could induce the production of the enzyme in the liver cells. The authors, therefore, recommended that physicians should include not only questions about alcohol intake, but also recent excessive food intake, when evaluating reasons for a new elevation of ALT.

An article in the Guardian gave a little history how the Dr. Fredrik H Nystrom's Swedish experiment design was influenced by Morgan Spurlock's 2004 documentary "Super Size Me", in which Spurlock ate nothing but McDonald's food for a month. You may remember that doctors urged him to abandon his experiment after getting the results of blood tests which show that his liver is so badly damaged it looks as though it is the result of heavy drinking. The results of the Swedish study did document liver enzyme test abnormalities, but those were not as dramatic as Spurlock's.

It is actually not necessarily a matter of whether the food is consumed from McDonald's, a family restaurant, or cooked at home. It is not entirely a matter of whether the food is "fast food" or a fully served multi-course meal in a fancy restaurant. The central issue is all about choices. How many calories, how many of those are proteins, how many are from carbs, and how many are from fat. Wherever you eat, you have to make the best choices regarding the portions and the quality of food. Stay healthy!


Fast food based hyper-alimentation can induce rapid and profound elevation of serum alanine aminotransferase in healthy subjects. Stergios Kechagias, Åsa Ernersson, Olof Dahlqvist, Peter Lundberg, Torbjörn Lindström, and Fredrik H Nystrom. Gut 2008 Feb 14; [Epub ahead of print] PMID: 18276725