It's January, and that means we're hearing more talk about weight loss and fitness goals than any other time of the year. And while we'd all like to think that eating more vegetables and stepping it up at the gym will lead to the effortless shedding of pounds—it's not always that simple.
The reality is that the more we know about weight management and the current obesity epidemic, the more complicated it becomes. For years researchers at the University of Bonn have been studying the nitty-gritty details of human metabolism and weight loss, and they recently found how and why the inflammation in your body will directly block your weight loss efforts.
You have to convert cells to lose weight.
Various studies in mice have shown that weight loss is aided by the conversion of cells—specifically white fat cells to brown cells. Brown cells are capable of burning fat and converting it to energy; so basically, more brown cells means more weight loss. The "browning" of white fat cells is thought to be initiated by things like exercise, exposure to cold temperatures, and our sleep hormone melatonin.
Published in the journal Cell Reports, this new research shows that this cell converting mechanism relies heavily on a major signaling pathway in the body involving a specific messenger called cGMP. They also found that fat creates inflammation that directly interferes with this signal pathway; essentially, inflammatory factors produced by inflammation suppress cGMP, blocking the pathway and our ability to convert cells and shed fat.
Not all fat is the same.
It's not something we often think about, but there are different types of fat in the human body. The first is subcutaneous fat, which most of us are familiar with and forms an extra layer of padding just below the skin. The second is visceral fat and this stubborn belly fat lies deep inside your body, surrounds your internal organs, and has been linked to high levels of inflammation and a higher risk of stoke, cardiovascular disease, and hormonal disruptions. This is the type of fat that interferes with cell conversion.
Fat produces inflammation and inflammation sabotages your ability to burn fat.
This study demonstrates a snoball effect and shows how the inflammatory response in overweight people actually blocks their ability to burn fat and lose weight by converting white cells to brown cells. It also clearly shows that the inflammation that comes with visceral fat causes major health problems and is much more difficult to get rid of. Thankfully, these same researchers are working on a way to overcome this unfortunate connection.
The mechanics of fat burning and weight loss are important to remember as we all try to achieve optimal health through lifestyle change. The body is so complex and there are truly an unknown number of factors playing a role in our ability to maintain our ideal weight. This is a good reminder that inflammation is a key player, and that it's something we all need to pay attention to and work to keep in-check.