Wellness

Six things you need to know about your body fat

Find out what fat really does to your body when you've got too much of it.

Photo by Peter Dazeley/Getty Images

Photo by Peter Dazeley/Getty Images

Fat is a living, breathing thing that affects your hormones, inflammation and even the level of toxins in your body. While it’s tough to stick with healthy eating and exercise every day, this info, about what fat really does to your body, is a great motivator when you need help sticking to your diet and improving your body composition.

1. Extra pounds = more inflammation
I’ve written about how inflammation can fuel fat gain (after all, obesity is characterized by low-level chronic inflammation) – however the opposite is also true. Fat cells can instigate an inflammatory response and lead them to act diseased.

In a recently published paper, ScienceDaily reports that, “In overweight mice and humans the fat cells, or adipocytes, are issuing false distress signals — they are not under attack by pathogens. But this still sends local immune cells into a tizzy, and that causes inflammation.”

The study’s lead researcher, Willa Hsueh, M.D. says, “the bottom line is, you’re feeding and feeding these fat cells and they’re turning around and biting you back. They’re doing the thing they’re supposed to do — storing energy — but reacting negatively to too much of it.”

Bottom line: Shedding those last 10-20 pounds will drop your levels of inflammation and do more for your health than just getting you into your skinny jeans. Your body’s immune system will also thank you for it.

2. Fat increases your risk of osteoporosis
Obesity was once thought to be protective against bone loss but recent research has found this to be untrue. One of the body’s obesity-related hormones, adiponectin, has been linked to osteoporosis and risk of fractures.

A new study states that visceral fat — the fat you can’t see that lives around your organs — may be detrimental to your bones. The study found that obese people, with higher levels of fat in their liver, muscle tissue and blood, also have higher amounts of fat in their bone marrow, putting them at risk for osteoporosis. While many people associate osteoporosis with women, men with belly fat are also at risk. Scientists discovered that obese men with a lot of visceral fat had significantly decreased bone strength compared to obese men with low visceral fat, even at a similar weight.

Bottom line: It’s not just what the scale says, but how big your waist-to-hip ratio is too.

3. Fat is horrible for your hormones
Where there’s excess belly fat, you can guarantee there’s a slew of hormonal imbalances not far behind.

Research has shown that the level of human growth hormone (our fountain of youth) tends to decrease with greater accumulation of fat around our midsection. Testosterone is also found to be elevated with an increase in visceral fat. Scientists from the University of Virginia Health System found high levels of androgens (male hormones) in obese girls in the early stages of puberty, increasing their risk of more severe health problems (like polycystic ovary syndrome) later in life.

Bottom line: Excess fat affects how our body uses insulin, which throws off our hormones and leads to even more weight gain.

4. Fat stores environmental toxins
Put simply, excess toxins make you fat and fat holds excess toxins.

A study published in the journal Nature found that weight loss can send environmental pollutants into the bloodstream, including pesticides like DDT and polychlorinated biphenyls (used in paint and automotive fluids). This is why I strongly recommend kicking off your diet with a detox, and then repeating that detox a few months later.

Bottom line: While this extra step takes time and commitment, reducing the negative impact of toxins released during fat loss is critical to your health and your long-term weight-loss success.

5. Fat diminishes your liver function
Insulin resistance doesn’t always outwardly manifest as obesity. Sometimes the increase in fat occurs in the liver, where its dangers can remain unseen. A fatty liver reveals why even slim people can be insulin imbalanced and, therefore, at risk of developing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. It also helps to explain why many, but not all, obese individuals have insulin imbalances.

Your skinny friend who appears able to chow down on plenty of high-carb foods without the appearance of belly fat may have a different tale to tell on the inside. An ultrasound of that person’s liver could show a buildup of toxic fat, or the results of blood work may display a host of abnormalities in liver function.

Bottom line: I recommend that all my patients above the age of 40 request a liver ultrasound at their annual physical.

6. It’s not only important to lose fat, but to gain muscle
Similar to those hiding an unhealthy liver, people who appear to be a healthy weight might also be at risk due to a lack of active muscle. (I’ve detailed this further in a recent article here.)

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that nearly one in four slim-looking people has pre-diabetes and is “metabolically obese”. Surprisingly, the risk of death may be higher for a slim person diagnosed with diabetes than an overweight individual, simply because of a lack of metabolically active muscle.

Bottom line: The key is to eat for hormonal balance and never skimp on the strength training.

Natasha Turner, N.D. is a naturopathic doctor, Chatelaine magazine columnist, and author of the bestselling books The Hormone Diet and The Supercharged Hormone Diet. Her newest release, The Carb Sensitivity Program, is now available across Canada. She’s also the founder of the Toronto-based Clear Medicine Wellness Boutique and a regular guest on The Dr. Oz Show. For more wellness advice from Natasha Turner, click here.

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