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New Studies Show Fat Causes Inflammation

New Studies Show Fat Causes Inflammation

For many years, the conventional wisdom about fat was that it was essentially just the body's fuel storage facility: inert, convenient and pretty cute on babies.

But too much of it on grownups, and we tend not to reverse our decision that fat is cute. Recent research has shown that it's not so inert, either. Your body's fat isn't just passively storing energy until you need it. It turns out there are other things going on in there, sinister things that could be causing you health problems.

Everyone knows that excessive weight aggravates, and even causes, many unhealthy medical conditions, including bone and joint disorders, cardiovascular disease, pulmonary problems, and diabetes.

Fat's role in some of these problems has often been attributed to what might be called the physical effects of the excess weight: the wearing burden of weight on bones and joints, the buildup of plaque that reduces blood flow through major arteries, the crowding of fat around critical body organs, causing strain on those systems.

But it's the role that fat plays at the chemical level that is of growing interest today, because one of the most important revelations to come from recent studies: fat is actually producing chemicals that cause inflammation, a key player in most dangerous diseases.

Integrated systems

Weight problems are typically regarded as issues of the metabolic system, while inflammation has been seen as a function of the immune system. In its normal role, inflammation is a protective device, defending the body against outside invaders. It becomes an unhealthy condition when it reacts excessively, or in extreme cases, mistakenly attacks healthy tissues, as with rheumatoid arthritis.

The metabolic and immune systems are actually bound together. This bond has created certain problems through most of human history, because when people are malnourished or starving -- which remains a problem in undeveloped portions of the world -- their metabolism slows down, trying to conserve every bit of energy it can. This, in turn, suppresses the immune system which is then less able to fight off disease.

But here in the United States, we're facing a problem at the other end of the scale. With roughly two thirds of the population now overweight, a different set of complications and problems has emerged from the immune/metabolic relationship. The most prominent is excess inflammation.

Fatty tissue is made up of adipose cells, which increase in size, but not in number, as more fuel is presented to the body for storage. These cells produce something called cytokines, small, secreted proteins that among other things, produce and regulate immunities and inflammation. As adipose cells grow larger, they produce more cytokines, leading to more inflammation.

Crowding in amongst the fatty adipose cells are other cells called macrophages, which also produce cytokines. There are normally a few macrophages in the fatty tissue of even slim people, but as people become heavier, gradually at first, and then at an increasing rate, the proportion of macrophages in fatty tissue increases.

Now, you wouldn't want to be without macrophages -- they serve as the immune system's first line of defense, patrolling the body for infection and cleaning up after cells as they naturally die off. So you want -- actually, need -- a normal number of these little guys distributed throughout your tissue.

But it turns out that in overweight people, most of the inflammation promoting cytokines in fat are coming not from the adipose cells themselves, but from these macrophages!

So there you have it, the truth about the relationship between excessive body fat and the increased risk for developing diseases related to inflammation. The simple solution to our fatty problem: lose the fat! When you are ready to shed a few pounds, give BistroMD a call.

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