There are at least three serious conditions associated with obesity – diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure – a combination that doubles the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
If you have these conditions then you have something called metabolic syndrome and you could be unable to store fat normally because your fat stores are already full.
The body turns excess food into fat and tries to store it in fat tissue. But if there’s not enough fat tissue, the fat is stuffed into other organs, such as the liver and heart, as well as the muscles and pancreas where it poisons the body, causing metabolic syndrome.
Fat people develop metabolic disorders because their brain is driving them to eat more food than their bodies can store as fat. Their fat (adipose) tissue has reached its limit.
“People traditionally thought of adipose tissue as this inert storage, this white amorphous blob,” says Dr Sam Virtue, of the University of Cambridge. In fact, he says, “it is a very dynamic organ”.
It turns out that fat is anything but a benign white blobby tissue. It’s very active and, as we’re learning, it’s a poison-making factory, producing vicious chemicals which destroy our tissues.
Now researchers are taking their investigations on to the next phase, trying to identify the poisons in fat which are causing all these problems and to find a way to block them.
Their results seem to implicate at least two chemicals.
Dr Gerald I Shulman, a professor of medicine at Yale University in the US, has focused on diacylglycerol, made from the food a person eats, and is deposited in places such as the muscles and liver instead of in fat tissue.
He found that diacylglycerol stops insulin from working, which leads to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
“Diacylglycerol is the culprit,” he says. “One sure way to get rid of it in liver and muscle cells is to lose weight – to stop providing the body with more calories than its fat tissue can handle.”
Other poisons made by fat are ceramides. They, however, are produced from fat cells floating in the blood which are unable to get into fat tissue for storage or break down. These ceramides also cause insulin resistance.
All the researchers are looking for the best drugs to block the production of these fatty poisons. These new drugs will first be tried in animals before moving on to patients.
Let’s hope they work. What a breakthrough that would be.