Researchers know that your body-fat is not simply a storage place for excess calories, but is in fact an active tissue that secretes multiple compounds.
It communicates with other tissues, including the liver, muscles, pancreas and the brain.
In a “normal” person, communication between body-fat and other body tissues helps to optimize metabolism keep body weight stable.
However, in obese individuals:
- Fat cells become stressed as they over-grow in order to store the increasing amounts of fat
- This excessive cell growth may cause decreased oxygen delivery into the tissue;
- Individual cells may die (at least in mouse models),
- And fat tissue inflammation ensues.
This leads to mis-communication between fat cells and the other body tissues responsible for metabolism.
And this mis-communication leads to lifestyle diseases like type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
To understand this cellular mis-communication better, the researchers began by collecting fat samples from people undergoing abdominal surgery.
Utilizing their giant brains, the scientists were able to identify a signalling pathway that is operational in intra-abdominal or belly fat.
They compared this signalling pathway with the pathways found in samples collected from:
- lean individuals
- and subjects whose body-fat was classified as peripheral or subcutaneous.
The researchers discovered that the signaling pathway was more active depending on the amount of fat accumulation in the abdomen, and that it correlated with multiple biochemical markers for increased cardio-metabolic risk.
Moreover, the expression of one of the upstream signaling components, a protein called ASK1, predicts whole-body insulin resistance (an endocrine abnormality that is strongly tied to diabetes and cardiovascular disease), independent of other traditional risk factors.
Researchers also demonstrated that although non-fat cells within adipose tissue express most of this protein in lean persons, the adipocytes themselves increase its expression by more than four-fold in abdominally-obese persons.
In lean persons, a normal cellular signaling process works as nature designed.
In obese persons, that signaling process is all screwed up and often leads to insulin resistance, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
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