For over a decade, obesity has been called an “epidemic”, both in the popular and scientific literature. Traditionally, the term “epidemic” is associated with a highly contagious disease that carries with it a significant risk of mortality. A comprehensive review of observational studies (1) suggested that obesity did not fit this definition, despite the use of the term in a widely disseminated report by the World Health Organization in 2002.
Regardless of the etymological fine points, the worldwide prevalence of obesity and its associated health risks are clear. These risks include type 2 diabetes, hypertension, several cancers, gall bladder disease, coronary artery disease and stroke (2). Yet, the debate over obesity and options for reducing its risks has become increasingly polarized. As a result, some health researchers are advocating a “health at every size” (HAES) approach to address the social, cultural and lifestyle implications of obesity (2).
Redundancy equips us to survive. We have more than one lung or one kidney for a reason—if one organ in a pair gets damaged, we can still manage if the other is functional. At the cellular level, we have two copies of each chromosome in every non-germline cell. Each copy was inherited originally from a single sperm and ovum, which are “haploid” cells. Consequently, there are two copies of any given gene in non-germline “diploid” cells. In many cases, should one copy of a gene be damaged, the cell can still survive with the other, functional copy of a gene. In plants, this redundancy is common, and many plants exhibit polyploidy. In an extreme example of polyploidy, the large (by bacterial standards) but otherwise unassuming species Epulopiscium contains tens of thousands of copies of its genome.
Estimates of obesity in the U.S. range from 30% (Centers for Disease Control data) to 70% (persons selling online and television audience-focused weight-loss programs). We are a nation of fat or fat-obsessed persons, and rightfully so. CDC data shows that the cost of obesity, in 2008 dollars, was estimated at $147 billion. That amount of money would buy a lot of french fries or cheesecake or __ (name your poison).
We all help pay those high-dollar amounts in terms of rising healthcare costs, thus there is considerable interest in finding ways to not only avoid, but also to combat obesity.
In recent years researchers working to understand body fat biology have produced exciting information on differences in types of fat. For instance, we now understand that in addition to white adipose tissue, animals and humans also have brown and beige adipose tissue. White adipose tissue or WAT is commonly found in humans and mice subcutaneously and in visceral fat. Brown adipose tissue or BAT, and beige adipose, is less common, and in humans and mice, is found in deeper cervical, supraclavical and paraspinal areas.
The bacterium Akkermansia muciniphila is creating quite a stir in science news, with people calling it the “weight loss bacterium”. While it’s exciting to think about a bacterium that has the ability to reduce body weight with no change in food intake, there’s another reason to get excited: The potential to treat obesity-related metabolic disorders such as type-2 diabetes and perhaps even diseases related to intestinal inflammation.
I’m standing as I write this. I’m ecstatic about it. After what I thought might be received as a harebrained or frivolous request, our Facilities folks came yesterday and raised one side of my L-shaped desk to about 40″ high. Add one anti-fatigue mat which is cushily supporting me as we speak, and a stool-height chair (for occasional use) yet to be ordered, and I’m hoping my desk and I have the beginnings of beautiful, renewed relationship.
Maybe some reading this are wondering, “What’s the big deal?” Maybe you already get to stand up for at least part of your day. I’m a software developer, so, unless you count a few trips to the bathroom and the water cooler and walking to meeting rooms, I really don’t have a lot of opportunity to stand. Maybe you just really love sitting. I’d just gotten sick of it. I’d go home after sitting all day long and feel exhausted, my body aching like I’d spent the day in the workout room, my back feeling like I was closer to 85 than 35 years old. I’d think, “That’s weird…I haven’t even really done anything today.”
Walking through the grocery store, one can’t help but see the campaign against fat: low-fat yogurt, fat-free salad dressing and skim milk all play their roles. There are even fake-fat potato chips out there. From fat burners to fat blockers, it seems like fat, and especially saturated fat, is Public Enemy #1.
Most anti-fat crusaders state that it is not the monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fat that is the problem; rather, the fault lies with our consumption of saturated fat. They consistently recommend eating foods that are high in the unsaturated fats, such as fish and olive oil, and avoiding saturated fat-laden foods like butter, pork, lard and coconut oil. While they may even agree that all fats are healthy, they also recommend that such “healthy” fats should constitute no more than 7–11% of our total calorie intake.
However, what is the real story behind saturated and other fat? Is fat really the weight-enhancing, heart disease-inducing, artery-clogging, cancer-causing, acne-generating villain we make it out to be? Will it ruin your health? Frankly, is fat really bad for you? Continue reading “Lard: It Does a Body Good!”