The fatty tissue in our bodies (medically called adipose tissue) is a loose connective tissue mainly composed of fat cells (medically called adipocytes). We have two different types of fatty tissues which are called brown adipose tissue (BAT) and white adipose tissue (WAT). BAT’s main function is generating heat and burning stored calories as energy in a process called thermogenesis. That’s why BAT is often referred to as our “good fat.” But too much of a good thing is never a good thing; even the good BAT can accumulate to high levels internally and cause problems.
WAT is the most abundant type of fat in our bodies and its main function is storing energy (and all those extra calories we eat that don’t get exercised and burned off is the “energy” we’re talking about). It’s mostly our padding layer and is found just under the skin. WAT is all the wiggly giggly stuff in our belly rolls, muffin tops, love handles and done-lops and it forms the base of that persnickety cellulite we all despise. You might need to be from the South to know that “done-lop” is that annoying pooch of waist-WAT that “done-lops over your belt.” WAT is basically all the fat we love to hate. By the time you finish reading this article, you may learn to hate it even more, since it has probably been the biggest contributing factor on why it’s been so hard for you to lose weight!
WAT has been well characterized as an endocrine organ because it controls a wide range of biological functions including our metabolism. This “organ” creates a metabolic system of its own that can determine how hard or easy it is to lose weight. In addition to energy storage and heat production, fatty tissues and fat cells secrete a wide range of natural chemicals called cytokines. These are collectively called ‘adipokines’ (adipose + cytokine). These adipokines include pro-inflammatory protein substances as well as anti-inflammatory protein substances. Adipokines play crucial roles in our bodies including controlling energy balance, hunger, glucose balance, immune regulation as well as creating new blood vessels, and regulating cardiac contractility just to name a few. Fat cells also produce hormone chemicals known for regulating blood pressure and fluid balance. All in all, scientists have now discovered over 80 protein or hormone substances that are secreted by fat cells, many of which have known metabolic actions. Research has increased significantly on these natural fat-produced substances and their roles in obesity, diabetes, heart diseases and other disorders since 2010. New knowledge about these substances and their roles have encouraged the development of new drugs targeting this metabolic system in the treatment of obesity, metabolic diseases and heart conditions.
If you look at the fat of healthy lean individuals, the fat cells are small in size, fewer in number, they are insulin sensitive, and primarily secrete anti-inflammatory substances. By contrast, overweight individuals have fat cells that are large, the fat tissue is infiltrated by a large number of pro-inflammatory immune cells (called macrophages), and it secretes many more inflammatory substances and less anti-inflammatory ones. For this reason, “obese” fatty tissue is often referred to as inflamed, and obesity is now categorized as an chronic inflammatory disease. Low-grade inflammation in fatty tissue causes significant alterations or deregulations in the adipokines they secrete. Overweight and obese people live in a chronic low-level inflammatory state due to these deregulations. Since our fatty tissues and fat cells expand as we gain weight, all of these fat-secreted deregulations and resulting inflammation increases as our fat increases. You don’t have to be obese either, just gaining some extra weight can start the process and head you down the road to deregulations. These deregulations make it much harder to lose weight and some can make it virtually impossible to lose weight!
Why your fat might be keeping you fat
Your fat causes deregulations mainly in two ways. Either you are secreting too many of some adipokines because you have more fat cells to make them and release them, or you aren’t secreting enough of other adipokines because the inflammation in the fat cells make it harder to produce and release them. It’s not quite as simple as that, because the inflammation has the ability to set up self-perpetuating cycles that keep your fat sick and inflamed. So, let’s first look at fat inflammation.
Fat inflammation is created in three ways. When the fat cells do their main job of processing fats and sugars to store them in fat cells, a by-product of the process is another substance called a free radical or reactive oxygen species (ROS). The more we eat, more processing is needed and more ROS is created in the process. ROS plays a beneficial roll in many other processes, but too much ROS is a big problem. When our built-in antioxidant system that normally controls ROS becomes overwhelmed by too much ROS, oxidative stress results and this oxidative stress causes inflammation and eventually results in cellular damage. Our fatty tissues and fat cells are very sensitive to oxidative stress and can become sick, inflamed and deregulated by not producing enough of certain adipokines as a result. It is now well documented that people who are overweight have much more ROS and oxidative stress than healthy weight people have, and the more overweight you are can directly relate to higher oxidative stress levels. But the real issue is some specific adipokines are actually doing the work of processing these molecules for storage and when there are too many or too little of these adipokines, then even more ROS can be generated and/or too much fat can be stored.
The second cause of inflammation are other ROS-like substances called advanced glycated end products, or AGEs for short. AGEs are basically a sugar molecule that bonded to a protein molecule incorrectly. Normal sized fat cells are sensitive to insulin (which processes sugar in the diet). The larger the fat cell grows as it stores more fat, the less sensitive it is to insulin. This interferes in how fat cells process sugar molecules and this can lead to more improper bonds and AGEs are produced. AGEs cause more ROS, can damage cells directly, and they’re well known to produce inflammation. People who are overweight and/or obese have much higher levels of AGEs. The damage caused by AGEs (and oxidative stress) is now believed to be the leading cause of type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, clogged arteries, and many heart diseases. This is why your doctor tells you to lose weight – to avoid these obesity-linked diseases because you have more ROS and AGEs than healthy weight people have.
The third cause of fat inflammation is our immune system. When injury or cellular damage occurs in our bodies it’s our immune system’s job to repair the damage or remove unrepairable cells to make room for new ones. Many of the chemicals and cells produced by the immune system are pro-inflammatory; inflammation is a natural immune response. When fat cells are damage by oxidative stress and AGE’s the immune system can flood the fatty tissues with these inflammatory chemicals and it triggers some of the pro-inflammatory adipokines to increase in number. In fact, some of the cells that make up the immune system are, in fact, adipokines. Part of our immune system lives in our fat. The result is a lot more inflammation in our fat which has a deregulating effect and inflammation can cause more ROS. This is why sick deregulated “obese” fat produces more pro-inflammatory adipokines and less anti-inflammatory ones – the immune system is driving this deregulation trying to repair damaged fat cells.
There are just too many adipokines that become deregulated in this process to explain them all, so we’ll look at just two as examples. These two adipokines have a well-known effect on how hard or easy it is to maintain a healthy weight. These are also good examples how deregulations cause some vicious cycles between deregulation, oxidative stress and inflammation and keeps your fat, keeping you fat. The first is an adipokine called leptin and it’s a good example of too much fat producing and releasing too much of an adipokine.
One of leptin’s main roles is controlling appetite which helps determines how much we eat. As our fat expands, we actually produce more and more leptin, which you’d think would be a good thing. Unfortunately, it isn’t. Just like too much sugar causes too much insulin which results in insulin resistance, too much leptin produced by too much fat promotes leptin resistance. Chronic inflammation also helps create leptin resistance and too much leptin also produces more inflammation. Leptin is actually one of those pro-inflammatory adipokines. Most obese people are leptin resistant, and even being moderately overweight can result in leptin resistance. Once we lose leptin resistance, we can stay hungry all the time and we usually eat more than we really need to and it make eating less when dieting much harder. Moreover, leptin plays a role in how proteins, sugars and fat molecules are processed right before storage in fat cells. This means too much leptin can result in better/more processing and more molecules/calories are stored as fat in these cells instead of burned as energy. Leptin also plays a role in the immune system as it participates in the activation of immune cells called monocytes and macrophages which can invade the fatty tissues and cause inflammation and the generation of more ROS. Do you see the self-perpetuating cycle here and how this one adipokine can make weight gain easier and weight loss harder as the inflammation, ROS, and immune system go round and round? Not to mention it makes you hungrier and stores more fat! Wow, huh?
The next example is an adipokine named adiponectin and it is a good example of fat cells under the stress of inflammation not producing and releasing enough of an adipokine. Adiponectin is the most abundant adipokine produced in our fat cells and it is one of the anti-inflammatory substances produced in our fat. When our fat tissues and cells come under oxidative stress and inflammation, adiponectin levels are greatly reduced. Adiponectin levels are decreased in people with obesity, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes (all of which have much higher levels of ROS, AGE’s and resulting inflammation), Adiponectin helps break down and metabolize fats and sugars in the liver and exerts insulin-sensitizing, anti-inflammatory, and immune modulating actions. If our fat cells and other cells start losing insulin sensitivity, the lack of adiponectin (and three other adipokines) are playing a role. Don’t forget, insulin resistance leads to more AGEs being formed and more AGEs means more inflammation and ROS!
Just looking at just these two adipokines reveal the deregulations that can occur when we begin gaining weight. By the very nature of how these two work, and what kinds of roles they play, gives us a better understanding how deregulated fat begins to keep us fat and promote more weight gain. However, don’t forget, our fat is producing over 80 different adipokines playing many roles and these are just two! Much more is going on in our fat that isn’t being discussed here, much of which are now shown to be leading causes of chronic diseases. The self-perpetuating cycles between the immune system response to AGEs, oxidative stress and cellular damage by ROS are all maintaining a chronic inflammatory state which keep these deregulations settled into a “new normal” state for people who are overweight. Losing weight with all these deregulations isn’t easy.
The MUCH easier way to lose weight is to treat the deregulations by treating the inflammation first. This represents a brand-new and effective weight loss strategy that many people just don’t know about yet. Drug researchers know however; some creative drug companies are re-evaluating their anti-inflammatory drugs as possible candidates to re-brand into new weight loss drugs. They know relieving inflammation in the fat will create weight loss by fixing some of these deregulations. If it weren’t for those pesky side effects of some of their drugs being used long term… and they’d need to be used long term, since they aren’t addressing the actual cause of the inflammation.
That’s where natural antioxidants come in! In fact, most every natural antioxidant plant chemical has also shown to be anti-inflammatory. In many cases, it is actually relieving inflammation by reducing oxidative stress. Some rainforest plants I’ve been studying also have antioxidants that also reduce the formation of AGEs. Reducing AGES, ROS, and the resulting oxidative stress and cell damage will cool off the immune system and all of the inflammation by all of these causes will abate. This addresses one of the root cause of weight gain and it will help you fix the deregulations that have been silently working against you and making it harder to lose weight.
Stay tuned for more… I’ll be uploading a new plant in the online plant database soon that has human studies on both weight loss and its strong antioxidant actions. I’m currently rewriting a database file on an existing rainforest plant with new studies on weight loss and it too is a strong antioxidant! It’s some exciting information that I think will help lots of people not only lose weight; it will help them maintain their new weight much easier as well! All this new information makes developing a new rainforest antioxidant formula much more important, and I’m working on that one too!