The Science of Fat

This is a fascinating article in Outside Magazine on fat and muscle.

Not everything about fat is bad, of course. Fat tissue under the skin, known as subcutaneous fat—the kind that makes young people look succulent and ripe—is essentially padding that protects the body from injury, and it also helps fight infection and heal wounds. “Sub-q” fat produces an important hormone called adiponectin, which appears to help control metabolism and protect against certain cancers, notably breast cancer.

The bad news is that, as we age, we gradually lose this good fat, which is one reason why our hands get bonier. Instead, men and women alike tend to build up blobby fat on our midsections. Over the past decade or so, Kirkland and other scientists have discovered that this so-called visceral fat infiltrates our vital organs, bathing them in a nasty chemical stew that wreaks havoc in the body. Visceral fat produces an array of cell-signaling proteins called cytokines, including interleukin-6 (IL-6), which causes chronic inflammation, and TNF-alpha, for tumor necrosis factor, which has been linked to cancer.

Kirkland and other researchers have come to believe that, in addition to the problems associated with diabetes and heart disease, fat may actually help accelerate the aging process. In a 2008 experiment, scientists at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University surgically removed abdominal fat from obese lab rats and found that the rodents lived significantly longer than their chubby cousins. In a more recent study, not yet published, the Einstein team found that surgical fat removal prevented some colorectal cancers in mice that were genetically predisposed to those tumors.

I had no idea there was such a system in place in the human body:

One newly discovered myokine even tries to convert fat itself into an energy-consuming system like muscle. In 2012, a Harvard-based team identified a hormone called irisin, secreted during exercise, that tricks plain, blobby, “white” fat—and even deep visceral fat—into acting like “brown” fat, a far less common form that is dense with mitochondria and burns energy just like muscle does. Bruce Spiegelman, the Harvard scientist who led the team that discovered irisin, is now looking for a drug compound that might trigger its release.

Worth reading in entirety.

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(via Paul Kedrosky)

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