“Fad diet” is a term that gets thrown around a lot these days, often referring to a possibly questionable dieting program that quickly rises in popularity only to completely falter once more evidence-based information is produced about its effectiveness. It’s interesting then that what is often referred to as one of the earliest fad diets, the Zone Diet, has been around for over twenty years and continues to remain popular and pertinent. Could it be that unlike other fads, this one actually works? WellWell spoke with the man who started it all, Dr. Barry Sears, to discuss how The Zone Diet is effective and its numerous benefits, as well as how it continues to adapt and grow.
Your first book, Into The Zone, sold over 2 million copies and appeared on The New York Times bestseller. You’ve written a few variations and it continues to be relevant. Why do you think the diet has had such longevity?
Well for one, it’s basically not a diet. It was developed as a program to reduce inflammation. To my understanding, it was the first anti-inflammatory diet ever developed. Now why is that important? Because it’s inflammation that drives virtually all chronic diseases.
I think inflammation is a term a lot of people hear and know it’s important but aren’t exactly sure what it is. So what is it and what causes inflammation?
There’s two parts to inflammation, good and bad. We think of the inflammation as something that’s dangerous but actually without inflammation, microbes would find us easy targets to attack and our physical injuries would never heal. But we have to also turn off that initial inflammatory response and that’s done through diet. This phase I termed the resolution response. Essentially, you also need to turn off that same inflammation you turned on to survive injuries or microbial infections to then repair the damage caused by it to remain well.
You’ve often spoke about the importance adding Omega-3 to diets to decrease inflammation, what influence does Omega-3 have on the body?
The real role of Omega-3 fatty acids is to help build a powerful group of hormones called resolvins. These hormones resolve inflammation and that’s one of the first steps in the resolution response. They basically turn off the activity of the inflammatory response to give the body a chance to heal.
So the resolution response primarily impacts our body’s abilities to heal?
That is correct. And more importantly, it’s under very robust dietary control. That’s the whole aspect of understanding the complexity of nutrition. There’s no one magic solution in nutrition. It’s a complex orchestration controlled by hormones and gene transcription factors, all of which were under our dietary control either to enhance or inhibit.
Your programs have been used extensively with athletes. Does this recovery lend itself to physical injuries as well?
Absolutely. Any injury can cause inflammation. It could be caused by a viral infection, microbe or physical injury. I first started developing this 30 years ago. My first group of human guinea pigs who were struggling with injuries were world class athletes and the reason I choice them was that they live in a world with inflammation by choice. That first test group we had was in the 1992 Olympics and their team went on to win 7 gold medals.
The program has been linked to managing diabetes. How does managing inflammation that help managing diabetes?
Diabetes can be viewed as an inflammatory disease. It starts out as insulin resistance, and that insulin resistance indicates inflammation in the cell is causing disturbances in the resolution response. As that unresolved inflammation increases, new mediators of inflammation begin destroying the beta cells and when that happens, you have diabetes. So again, if we want to treat diabetes, we have to not only focus on keeping inflammation under control but also optimize the resolution response to encourage proper healing and restoration of a normal function of the beta cells.
How has The Zone Diet evolved over the last 20 plus years that you’ve been developing it?
The Zone Diet and the resolution response have really evolved into 3 distinct phases, the reduce, the resolve and repair. The Zone Diet was developed to reduce inflammation, to reduce the hormones that cause inflammation. But I came to realize I was only touching on a piece of the puzzle. I was only looking at how to reduce inflammation but not resolve it. That’s why I began focusing more on Omega-3 fatty acids. These are the fatty acids help the body generate another group of hormones that resolves or turns off the inflammatory process. That’s fine except you haven’t got it closer to the repair process. That finally led me to the resolution response.
Will this approach, your work, continue to develop?
Let’s hope so. There is always room for growth.
About Dr. Barry Sears
Dr. Barry Sears started the field of anti-inflammatory nutrition in 1995 with the publication of his New York Times #1 best-seller, The Zone. Dr. Sears’ dietary insights on inflammation have continued to evolve through an additional 16 additional books that have explored the impact of his dietary technology on the resolution of diet-induced inflammation and the repair of its damage to the body. His books have sold more than six million copies in the United States and have been translated into 23 languages. He is the President of the non-profit Inflammation Research Foundation.
Learn More At www.drsears.com