Metabolism, Diet, and Disease Conference

Well, it’s  Back to the Better-Late-Than-Never…

There’s an interesting conference starting Tuesday the 29th in Washington – today –and I should have written about it months ago. It’s the Metabolism, Diet and Disease conference being held at the Georgetown University Conference Center. The editors of BioMed Central, a British open-access science publishing company, are the organizers. They contacted me in October 2010 to tell me they had read the British version of Good Calories, Bad Calories The Diet Delusion – and found it compelling. They were particularly struck by the notion that there are many disciplines involved in the science of obesity, diabetes and their associated chronic diseases, but they don’t read the same journals and they don’t tend to interact in conferences. So their idea was to put together a conference that would solve this problem. Between us, we recruited a first-rate executive board – including the two Nobel Laureates, Michael Brown and Joseph Goldstein – and put together a conference that, as I see it, includes most of the major issues revolving around and feeding into insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome.

The original idea – if you’ll pardon the cliché – is that insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome are the elephant, and we would get all these people in one room, who were studying the legs, the trunks, the tail, the ears, etc., and may not have realized quite what the whole elephant itself looked like. As the recruiting of speakers started, the conference evolved and took on a life of its own. Much of the original idea still exists, but there’s a fair share of the latest esoteric research ideas, for good or for bad (sirtuins, irisin, etc.), which may or may not have anything to do with the elephant itself. But we still have some of the leading researchers in the world talking about everything from the epidemiology of insulin resistance to the pathologies that associate with it – diabetes, heart disease, cancer, aging, etc. – and the pathways and mechanisms that link them all together.

One session, which I’m chairing on Thursday morning, is called “Dietary factors in metabolic diseases,” and the speakers are all addressing the carbohydrate issue.  We have Luc Tappy, the leading fructose biochemist in the world, talking about the role of fructose in metabolic disorders, and then Jeff Volek and Eric Westman talking about the effects of carb-restricted diets, suggesting that the carbohydrates (refined grains, of course, and sugars in particular) might be the fundamental problem. It will be interesting to see how the mainstream researchers take this, as they’re used to thinking about carb-restriction as quackery and now it will be presented as potentially mainstream itself.

On Saturday, I’m in Scottsdale Arizona talking at the National Lipid Associations annual convention. This, too, should be interesting, as I’ll be presenting my Why We Get Fat lecture an hour after Robert Eckel speaks. Eckel is a former president of the American Heart Association who is on record saying that he doesn’t even think low-carb-high-fat diets should ever be tested, that it’s unethical, because they’re so dangerous. After I speak, I’ll get to hear Rob Lustig and Peter Havel talk about sugar and fructose. As I said, it should be an interesting day and an interesting week.