While the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) still stick to the idea that both overweight and obesity problems result from eating more calories than those burnt, and that there are genetic, metabolic and cultural factors causing weight gain, recent progress in biology shows that fat cells are not merely energy-storing cells.
Fat cells secrete a variety of hormones, cytokines, growth factors, and other bioactive substances that regulate appetite and accumulation of fat in the body. And this is very good news, because you can modulate the productions of those substances through lifestyle changes that are totally under your control.
Since the CDC red-flagged us about obesity becoming an epidemic in the United States, health departments, school systems, and many associations – new and old – have responded by promoting research, creating coalitions, studying the causes, and organizing educational events.
However, here we are ten years later and not only the obesity rates are at their highest, but also, new research has shown that the Body Mass Index (BMI) – used so far as the parameter to determine if a person is obese – might definitely not only be the best measurement. The numbers would go up by a significant amount if obesity is measured according to body fat percentage and not BMI. Worrisome!
Psychotherapists treating people with anorexia and bulimia have expressed that the proliferation of information on this issue can be counterproductive, leading to an increase in body image distortions and food disorders. But we need to keep talking and researching until our lifestyles translate into fitness.
No, we’re not just moving from an obesity epidemic to an obesity-phobia epidemic. It seems we finally are getting to understand the body.
Recent research has unveiled the complexity of the elements involved in gaining weight and why even if you reduce calories and exercise consistently you might still be putting on some pounds.
Some of the latest developments
As you may know, obesity increases your risk of suffering diabetes type 2. Research on causes and solutions for diabetes led to the discovery of adiponectin among other interesting hormones, produced by the fat tissue.
Low levels of this hormone are associated with weight gain, metabolic syndrome and diabetes. The ‘catch 22’ is that a large accumulation of fat in the body decreases the production of adiponectin and so a person who is already dealing with being overweight might find it difficult to increase the levels of the hormone that would help them reduce fat tissue.
Magnesium, used by hundreds of enzymes in our body to regulate blood-sugar metabolism, boosts the levels of adiponectin.
Ghrelin and Leptin
Levels of another hormone called ghrelin increase in the blood before meals and decrease after meals. High levels of ghrelin seem to increase your appetite while high levels of Leptin make you feel satiated.
What do you do to regulate the levels of these hormones? It’s as easy as getting your eight daily hours of good sleep!
Insulin resistance – metabolic syndrome
When you eat carbohydrates, they break up into sugars and other basic substances that are then absorbed and carried around in your bloodstream. The pancreas responds to an increase in blood sugar by secreting insulin, which ‘pushes’ sugar inside the cell, where it is used to generate energy.
When a person becomes insulin resistant, less sugar goes inside the cell and the pancreas keeps responding to high levels of sugar by producing more insulin. Insulin indirectly stimulates accumulation of fat in adipose tissue. An increased amount of insulin then result in the accumulation of more fat in the body.
Stress hormone and obesity
An association between cortisol – one stress hormone – and obesity has been often described in the medical literature. Psychosomatic medicine reports a study that concluded that psychological distress predicts metabolic syndrome.
However, research is not conclusive. Does cortisol cause obesity? Or is it that people who have higher levels of cortisol have other features that predispose them to gain weight?
While more answers reach us, we can compensate stress through eating plenty of antioxidant foods (your fresh veggies and fruits). You might also take some time for a massage or Reiki session, and don’t forget to laugh, rest enough, and play!