As sci­en­tists dis­cover over­weight peo­ple strug­gle to shift kilo­grams be­cause their fat cells are dam­aged, Maria Lally finds out how we can heal them.

Geraldton Guardian - - Healthy You -

As we are now into the back-to-busi­ness month of Fe­bru­ary, we’re look­ing back at the real rea­sons your Jan­u­ary diet didn’t work.

There are few things more frus­trat­ing than a dry-and-detoxed Jan­u­ary re­sult­ing in barely a kilo or two of weight loss.

Or, worse, you ac­tu­ally man­age to lose a few ki­los, only to gain it all quickly back by Fe­bru­ary.

Now sci­en­tists have dis­cov­ered many of us may have been swim­ming against the weight-loss tide all along.

Re­searchers from the Uni­ver­sity of Ex­eter have found the fat cells of over­weight peo­ple be­come dis­tressed, in­flamed and scarred, mean­ing they don’t re­spond and work in the same way as healthy fat cells. So peo­ple who are al­ready over­weight or obese may strug­gle to lose weight, no mat­ter how much they diet.

“We now know that over­weight and obese peo­ple can suf­fer scar­ring of their fat tis­sue,” says Dr Kata­rina Kos of Ex­eter Uni­ver­sity, an ex­pert in obesity-re­lated disor­ders.

“Th­ese fat cells are less able to store ex­cess calo­ries, and so may cause fat to move into and wrap around or­gans such as the liver.”

This can lead to peo­ple stor­ing fat within the deep lay­ers of the stom­ach and around im­por­tant or­gans so they have dis­pro­por­tion­ately large tum­mies, which can lead to obesity-re­lated con­di­tions such as fatty liver dis­ease, di­a­betes and heart dis­ease.

“It ap­pears the fat cells in over­weight peo­ple can’t do their job prop­erly,” says Dr Kos.

“We’ve known this for a while,” says Dr Robert Lustig, an obesity ex­pert at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia and au­thor of book Fat Chance: The Hid­den Truth About Sugar, Obesity and Dis­ease.

“Re­searchers have demon­strated that at a cer­tain point, fat tis­sues lose their abil­ity to be able to be reg­u­lated by in­sulin.

“And when this hap­pens, the en­zymes creat­ing fat keep work­ing, and gain of en­ergy in­side fat cells ap­pears to be­come in­de­pen­dent.

“There very well may be a point of no re­turn.”

Dr Lustig says when fat cells be­come huge — in other words, a per­son be­comes over­weight or obese — in­flam­ma­tion in the fat tis­sues be­comes so se­vere the cells be­come un­re­spon­sive to at­tempts to shrink the fatty el­e­ments.

“The enzyme re­spon­si­ble for lift­ing en­ergy out of fat cells ap­pears not to be stim­u­lated in the same way, so you reach a point where you can’t get the fat out,” he says.

“The fat ba­si­cally takes on a life of its own.”

Dr Lustig says th­ese find­ings give hope, and some re­as­sur­ance, to those peo­ple who strug­gle to lose weight, de­spite try­ing to diet.

“For a long time, it’s been thought that over­weight peo­ple can’t lose weight be­cause they’re lazy, or greedy or not re­ally try­ing,” he says. “But we sci­en­tists know the real story: it re­ally is much harder for them to do so.

“And while over­weight peo­ple used to be in the mi­nor­ity, they’re now be­com­ing the ma­jor­ity.

“And it’s not sim­ply be­cause the whole world is slowly turn­ing into a lot of sloths and glut­tons.

“It’s not sim­ply a case of calo­ries in and calo­ries out. Say­ing ‘it’s all their fault they’re fat’ is a ruse and a di­ver­sion pro­mul­gated by the food in­dus­try to as­suage their cul­pa­bil­ity in all of this.”

“All of this” be­ing the world’s obesity rate, which has dou­bled since 1980.

The US, where Dr Lustig is based, has the high­est rate of obesity of high-in­come coun­tries, with 33 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion con­sid­ered obese.

The Aus­tralian In­sti­tute of Health and Wel­fare re­ports al­most two in three Aus­tralian adults are over­weight or obese and one quar­ter of Aus­tralian chil­dren fall into the same alarm­ing cat­e­gory.

Re­search from Har­vard Uni­ver­sity re­cently found more than half of Amer­i­can chil­dren grow­ing up to­day may be obese by mid­dle age.

Nearly 30 per cent of UK women and al­most 27 per cent of Bri­tish men are over­weight, with ex­perts warn­ing it has be­come nor­mal to be vastly over­weight.

In Oc­to­ber, the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion said “wide­spread” ac­tion was needed to tackle the planet’s weight prob­lem.

Of course, over­weight peo­ple can and do lose weight, but the Ex­eter re­search may go some way to ex­plain the count­less stud­ies that show around 95 per cent of di­eters re­gain most, if not all or more, of the weight they lose.

Of­ten, this is be­cause they go back to old eat­ing habits, but could this dam­age to fat cells also be to blame? And if so, what can you do?

“There may be the po­ten­tial for a drug to be de­vel­oped to heal scarred fat cells,” Dr Kos says. “Un­til then, stick to con­trol­ling your calo­ries where pos­si­ble.

“Re­search has also shown a walk af­ter meals may help pre­vent fat cells from scar­ring fur­ther, along with burn­ing ex­tra calo­ries.”

Dr Lustig, a vo­cal and early op­po­nent of sugar who, in the past, has called for laws to re­strict its use in food and the way it is ad­ver­tised, in much the same way as al­co­hol and to­bacco, says there are three ways to help heal your fat cells.

“There’s medicine, diet and ex­er­cise. Sci­en­tists are work­ing on a drug for the obese that was ap­proved for use for asthma in Ja­pan back in the 80s,” he says.

Af­ter a 12-week trial in­volv­ing Type 2 di­a­bet­ics tak­ing the re­pur­posed asthma drug Am­lex­anox, re­searchers from the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia San Diego School of Medicine and the Uni­ver­sity of Michi­gan found a sig­nif­i­cant re­duc­tion in blood glu­cose.

“How­ever, that’s for the se­verely obese,” Dr Lustig says.

“So next comes diet. Cur­rently, food man­u­fac­tur­ers can put what­ever they want in their prod­ucts and say, of grow­ing obesity: ‘Hey, it’s not our prob­lem. It’s yours’.

“The more over­weight you are, the harder it is to lift the fat out of your fat cells be­cause they’re in­sulin-re­sis­tant.

“So the first thing is to get your in­sulin down. How? Don’t let it go up. What makes it go up? Re­fined car­bo­hy­drates and white food.

“That means white bread, rice, pasta, sugar you put in your tea, and so on. A field of wheat is, as the patriotic Amer­i­can song goes, ‘am­ber waves of grain’. When it’s turned into bread, this am­ber colour and the fi­bre is stripped out, which af­fects how your blood in­sulin rises. A low-sugar, high-fi­bre diet re­duces in­sulin. So what helps heal dam­aged fat cells and low­ers in­sulin? Get­ting peo­ple off white, pro­cessed food and on to real food. “And lastly, ex­er­cise.” How­ever, we’re mov­ing less than ever. The Heart Foun­da­tion Aus­tralia re­ports in 2014-15, 65.3 per cent of Aus­tralians aged 15 and over were seden­tary or had low lev­els of ex­er­cise — that is 12 mil­lion Aus­tralians not ex­er­cis­ing nearly enough.

Again, be­ing over­weight in the first place may al­ready put you at a dis­ad­van­tage.

“High in­sulin changes your en­ergy lev­els, which makes you feel less like ex­er­cis­ing,” Dr Lustig says. “But rather than be­ing lazy, it’s your body’s bio­chem­istry driv­ing your be­hav­iour. But if you get your in­sulin down and ex­er­cise, be­ing ac­tive also im­proves your in­sulin sen­si­tiv­ity and is ab­so­lutely essen­tial in the fight against obesity.

“So if you’re strug­gling to lose weight, it may not be your fault. But there’s still plenty you can do.”

Pic­ture: Getty Im­ages/iS­tock­photo

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