Alan Espinosa, SM ’22, is striving to point out how meals and way of life adjustments may enhance Mexicans’ well being
April 28, 2021 – Alan Espinosa first realized the connection between weight loss program and well being as a young person, when his household moved from his native Mexico Metropolis to the town of Mérida on the Yucatan Peninsula. “I encountered a really various tradition of meals,” he stated concerning the metropolis, a melting pot of Mayan and Spanish affect. Many residents, nevertheless, relied on a weight loss program excessive in fatty corn oil, sugar, starch, and processed meals, and lived sedentary life. “There was a excessive prevalence of noncommunicable illnesses, comparable to weight problems, kind 2 diabetes, and hypertension,” he stated.
The lesson was pushed dwelling when Espinosa attended highschool in Belgium, the place the inhabitants ate a more healthy Mediterranean-like weight loss program, cooked most of their meals at dwelling, and walked and biked in every single place. “Weight problems was a lot much less prevalent, and folks had been residing longer and more healthy lives,” he stated.
Seeing the stark distinction in well being and way of life between the totally different populations impressed Espinosa to review how what he referred to as the “Mexican weight loss program” may create such dramatic variations. At Harvard T.H. Chan College of Public Well being, Espinosa is concentrating in dietary epidemiology, pursuing analysis into how meals and way of life adjustments would possibly enhance well being outcomes in Mexico.
Over the previous few years in Mexico, as an undergraduate learning diet on the Marista College of Mérida, Espinosa has printed analysis on the well being impacts of utilizing non-nutritional sweeteners as an alternative of sugar; examined the influence of weight loss program on erectile dysfunction; studied the prevalence of diabetes amongst Mayan populations; and analyzed the diets of Mexican vegans. He’s now persevering with his work at Harvard Chan College, hoping to develop suggestions to enhance well being each in Mexico and past. “Realizing my work is being learn and serving to folks improve public well being diet world wide is a unbelievable feeling,” he says. “I’m wanting ahead to persevering with on this path and hopefully having an influence on folks going through dietary challenges by their diets.”
An ideal storm
Whereas an undergraduate, Espinosa labored with college mentors in Mexico to analysis the connection between the Mexican weight loss program and prevalence of continual illness. Whereas extra widespread in some components of the nation than others, that weight loss program has supplanted a lot of the native delicacies and, mixed with an more and more sedentary way of life and a genetic predisposition to weight problems, “is an ideal storm to advertise nutrition-related illnesses,” he stated.
He was first writer on two research printed in 2019. In a single, he discovered that even vegans in Mexico had been much less wholesome than their counterparts in different international locations, their bloodstreams filled with unhealthy triglycerides from an over-reliance on carbohydrates and easy sugars from delicate drinks and processed meals. Primarily based on that analysis, he helped to create suggestions to enhance well being for Mexican vegans. They included supplementing the vegan weight loss program with vitamin B12, lowering refined carbohydrates, and growing using olive oil and different wholesome vegetable oils. He and his colleagues introduced the findings at a number of conferences, in addition to in articles and ebook chapters. Within the different examine, he discovered that switching to a Mediterranean weight loss program considerably improved erectile perform in males, even with out treatment.
For his analysis on non-nutritive sweeteners (NNS), he helped conduct a complete systematic assessment and meta-analysis of 20 randomized trials that checked out how NNS impacted weight achieve in contrast with sugar, water, and placebos. Whereas folks usually eat or drink meals with NNS with the intention to reduce weight, medical doctors and scientists have debated whether or not they would possibly really result in weight achieve by inflicting folks to develop a style for sweets and overindulge in sugar. In truth, the assessment by Espinosa and colleagues discovered that diets containing NNS had been related to a considerably decrease physique weight in comparison with diets containing sugar, particularly amongst individuals who weren’t consciously limiting energy. The findings point out that NNS may very well be various to sugar to take care of wholesome weight—a proven fact that may very well be highlighted to sufferers by their well being suppliers or included on meals packaging, stated Espinosa.
Past conducting analysis as an undergraduate, Espinosa additionally began an organization. He partnered with two business-major associates to create a low-cost dietary complement aimed toward serving to fight deficiencies in nutritional vitamins and different vitamins associated to poor weight loss program, particularly these associated to anemia. The complement, referred to as Kiikter, is a vitamin-rich gel that may be eaten instantly from the container. Espinosa continues to collaborate within the firm as co-CEO in the present day, working to distribute the complement by each business shops and authorities applications. “I don’t sleep that a lot,” he confessed.
Espinosa is aiming to proceed his analysis on NNS at Harvard Chan College, working with Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and diet, and utilizing knowledge from the long-running Nurses’ Well being Research II, which Willett co-leads.
He plans to go on to earn his PhD and to implement a examine in Mexico that’s modeled after the Nurses’ Well being Research—which depend on periodic questionnaires about meals and way of life—with the intention to generate knowledge to gauge the long-term results of that nation’s distinctive weight loss program. “To be able to assess the long-term results of any dietary interventions at a inhabitants scale, it’s not possible to conduct a randomized managed trial, and as an alternative, we depend on epidemiological research to grasp the connection between weight loss program and illness,” he stated. “Coming to Harvard, and particularly to this explicit program, has supplied me with the instruments and coaching to implement and conduct high-quality core research.”
Espinosa hopes that his analysis will proceed to focus on dietary suggestions that might assist folks dwell longer, more healthy lives. “I’d love to mix scientific apply with analysis,” he stated. “Selling well being by incorporating the very best proof out there from well-designed research is a singular vocation—that’s my greatest ardour and my true objective.”
– Michael Blanding
photograph: Kent Dayton