Being Overweight Doesn’t Necessarily Means you are Unhealthy

Like calories, fat is not all alike and is only bad when stored in the wrong places


 


Fat is a nutrient essential for normal body function. It supplies energy and makes it possible for other nutrients to do their job. Fat is stored inside fat cells which are repository of energy and is vital for survival, especially in times of famine. Fat cells are also protective; they act as a cushion for the vital organs. They provide protection from the cold which and are especially important for the new born, but they are more than that.

Fat cells are active participants of our metabolic system. In the end of the day, you need your fat cells. Fat cells can be the difference between going through illness and make it OK or wasting away miserably. But it all depends where fat is localized. When fat is in the wrong places and in large amounts you’re in trouble.

When found in the wrong places, body fat is your biggest health risk. Nothing has more associations with diabetes, cancer, and heart disease than your body fat when is localized in your inner organs; around your heart, in your liver and guts – visceral fat.

Right now the majority of Americans have a BMI over 25 which puts them in the overweight category but that is not entirely bad news. Studies show that on average a BMI between 25-30 leads to the longest lifespan. BMI’s are only partially true and it can be misleading because they don’t tell us where body fat is. The attention is always on the butt, flabby belly or subcutaneous body fat that is visible and everyone hates and is desperately trying to get rid of but fat in these areas is hardly a health concern.

Subcutaneous fat only in rare cases have created health problems. It’s your middle shape you should be worried about. It all comes down to your belly, better yet is what makes your belly bulge; the fat inside and around your internal organs is that matter. So BMI is a inaccurate tool say the least and you have to work much harder to find out if you do have the killer fat. It is also important to understand that visceral fat and adipose tissue fat have a relationship too.

Belly FatAdipose fat and visceral fat have an intimate relationship. Firstly, adipose fat contains leptin a hormone involved in cell-signaling and vital for the regulation of appetite, food intake and body weight. The absence of leptin can lead to uncontrolled feeding and weight gain. The body protects leptin by making it difficult to lose adipose tissue fat, that’s too bad. The good news however is that the body goes after to the visceral fat which is more readily available form of energy, so you can be very healthy and have a lot of adipose fat be killing yourself trying to lose it thinking you are not healthy; and you can also be pretty sick and just because you don’t show any adipose fat think you are OK. So be a kinder to your adipose fat, if you didn’t have any you would be really sick. The inner fat is much harder to be measured and only specialized MRI imaging or liver ultrasound can detect it. Chronic metabolic disease starts when fat deposits are found in organs such as muscles and specially the liver. Here’s why visceral fat is a killer.

Visceral cells are actually larger in size then adipose fat but you just don’t see it. They are so big that they actually atrophy themselves at a certain point producing a constant stream of cytokines which are hormones known to cause inflammatory processes. They promote tumor growth, aging, oxidation, hypertension and cardiovascular disease.

These biochemical’s are also thought to have deleterious effects on cells’ and sensitivity to insulin. Research suggests that abdominal fat cells are biologically active. We can think of them as being an endocrine organ in itself. They produce hormones and many other substances that can profoundly affect our health. While scientists still not 100% certain about what these substances they all agree that excess visceral fat disrupts the normal balance and function of hormones in our metabolic system. Another reason excess visceral fat is so harmful could be for its location near the portal vein, which carries blood from the intestinal area to the liver. Substances released by visceral fat, including free fatty acids, enter the portal vein and travel to the liver, where they can influence the production of blood lipids. Visceral fat is directly linked with higher total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol, lower HDL (good) cholesterol, and insulin resistance. The good news is that visceral fat yields fairly easily to exercise and diet. But actually how do we know if we have visceral fat? The scale lies you are right.

Standing on a scale is the symbol of being vigilant with your health but in actuality it doesn’t tell you much at all and it is particularly useless to find out how healthy you are. It does not let you know whether you are at risk for metabolic disease. The reason is simple; it can’t distinguish between you musculature, bones and inner compartments, subcutaneous fat, and visceral fat. At the doctor’s office or at the health fair anyone can quickly get their BMI but we still don’t know much. What we need to know is the health status of your waist circumference and how that correlates with morbidity and risk for death. A waist circumference that resembles an apple tips doctors off to the risk for diabetes, stroke, heart disease, and cancer. Another simple method for determining your metabolic status is to look at the back of your neck, armpits, and knuckles. What you’re looking for is acanthosis nigricans, or a darkening, thickening, and ridging of the skin. You might also see skin tags in these areas. Both of these are visible signs of insulin resistance and predict future risk for chronic metabolic disease. Loosing weigh and eating less is what the doctor will tell you in about 15 minute visit but they don’t tell you how to do it, and they don’t tell you this little story you just read. How you lose weight and keep it there is the holy grail of health and that involves so much more than just following a diet plan…but that is the subject of my next post.

Image credit: flickr.com

Resources

  1. A Transgenic Model of Visceral Obesity and the Metabolic Syndrome

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