Most people think of excess weight and extra body fat as a sign of being unhealthy. The connection between obesity and a wide range of health disorders has long been documented and researched, and it has become common knowledge that excess body fat can lead to all manner of health issues . Often, doctors assume that they can take one look at a patient and see why they are experiencing health problems, because the patient is visibly overweight.
But there is a subset of the population that are not spoken about by the medical community; this is because they are a group that the medical community does not clearly understand. For, despite the fact that these people are clinically overweight, they seem to be otherwise perfectly healthy, and exhibit none of the other symptoms and problems that other people of the same weight experience. And a new study believes to have figured out why — it may have to do with the type of fat cells that a person retains.
A new mystery has come to light. Some people who are overweight may not have any of the red flags that indicate health problems. Although obesity may seem to be a separate issue, those who are simply overweight can have healthy cholesterol levels, with healthy blood pressure, and show no signs of developing diabetes – one of the common results of obesity. They have little risk of developing heart attacks or strokes, and there are no signs of sleep apnea, Coronary Artery Disease, or gallstones. So what’s causing this type of “metabolically healthy obesity” to develop?
It is estimated that roughly one third of all obese people in the country classify as metabolically healthy, but very little has been understood about how those who are obese are avoiding the myriad health problems that accompany excess body fat. Thankfully, research and study of these “healthy obese” can help to shed a bit of light on the truth on the mystery.
The Diabetologia Journal recently released a study that makes it a bit easier to understand how these obese people can still be “healthy”. In many cases of obesity, the mitochondria – the muscle cells that produce ATP energy – are impaired, so they are unable to produce sufficient energy. The mitochondria are also unable to produce new fat cells, which causes the fat cells present in the body to swell up and burst. The subsequent inflammation in the body leads to ectopic inflammation, which, simply put, means storing fat in places where it shouldn’t be stored: the organs. The heart is one such place where fat is stored, leading to heart problems like coronary artery disease, strokes, and heart attacks. The liver is another place where the fat is shuffled off to, leading to fatty liver disease – and ultimately diabetes and other metabolic abnormalities.
In the “healthy obese”, however, the fat doesn’t get shuffled off to the organs, but simply remains in place in the subcutaneous layer of tissue beneath the skin. When it remains in the skin, it can cause very little real damage to the body. As long as the fat doesn’t get moved to the liver and the heart, there is little risk of developing the more serious side effects of obesity. They remain obese, but there is a much lower chance of serious health issues.
Dr. Jussi Naukkarinen, an internal medicine research specialist at the University of Helsinki, was the leader of the study, and he was amazed when he discovered that certain obese individuals that are technically “healthy” do exist. While more research is needed to understand how the human body can safely store fat, the discovery of these “healthy obese” provides insight into how some obese individuals do not show risk for more serious health problems. If you are overweight, it is important to speak with your doctor about possible health concerns regarding your weight. If you show no signs of health issues, you just may be part of the lucky individuals who safely store fat.