Obesity is a topic very much on the radar of health professionals across North American. Combating this grave health condition could mean saving millions of dollars in health care costs, never mind improving the lives of those who find themselves carrying around too many extra pounds.
It’s well known evidence now that obesity is a risk factor for diabetes, heart disease, and other metabolic conditions. But exactly how does obesity trigger these adverse changes in the body?
Researchers hope that by tracking down exactly how fat tissue causes diseases in the body, treatments for obesity could be developed.
Recently, a research team from the Obesity Institute at the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., discovered that some fat tissue develops an inability to store new fat cells. Instead, new fat cells get sent to the liver or muscle tissue where they can trigger symptoms like inflammation and insulin resistance. Fat cells shouldn’t be stored in the liver or other organs because they cause harm to the body.
The Washington researchers took this discovery a step further and found that obesity causes disease in the body, not only by sending off fat cells to places in the body where they shouldn’t be, but also by creating small sacs called exosomes which carry disease-causing signals to the organs.
Shutting down these two adverse behaviors could help reverse some of the more serious symptoms associated with obesity. In fact, some people, the researchers were able to determine, have fat cells that don’t engage in disruptive, disease-causing behavior. Certain individuals who are obese show no signs of inflammation, insulin resistance, or diabetes.
What makes some people predisposed to metabolic dysfunctions and others resistant to it? The research team determined that it all depends on the type of excess fat you have, as well as the location of the fat. Visceral fat, which collects around the organs in your abdomen, is very unhealthy because it doesn’t like to store new fat cells. Instead, it signals these new fat cells to head to your liver where inflammatory proteins are then produced.
On the other hand, subcutaneous fat that lies under the surface of the skin in the legs or lower body actually stores energy and protects the liver. Subcutaneous fat is a big improvement over visceral fat but there’s a third type of fat that’s even more desirable. It’s known as brown fat because of its darker color. Brown fat burns energy and calories, making it much healthier for your body.
The researchers are conducting experiments to figure out if it’s possible to change visceral or subcutaneous fat into brown fat. It may very well be that exercise is one of the simplest ways to create more brown fat. Evidence suggests that exercise causes fat cells to change in color, becoming more of a “beige” shade. If this means that exercise can actually change visceral fat into brown fat, then exercise is one of the easiest ways to protect yourself from disease.
This is an interesting field of research and one which could potentially help millions of people avoid the health complications associated with obesity.