Love handles may be GOOD for you: The latest findings might ease your fears about your chubby bits
Why your love handles may be GOOD for you: The latest findings might ease your fears about your chubby bits
4:02 PM on 10th May 2011
Fat — don’t you just hate it Not only is it depressing to look at, but it’s a surefire route to diabetes, heart disease and a host of other disorders.
As if we needed any more evidence of its malign effects, last week a group of researchers warned that if you’re overweight in middle age, your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease rises by 80 per cent.
Yet while there’s no doubt that being obese can be dangerous, some experts are now suggesting that being overweight is not all bad news — it might even sometimes be good for us.
Fat findings: Carrying a little extra weight can give the body the energy to fight off infections
Rather than seeing fat cells as the enemy, the new thinking is that fat plays a key role in regulating vital energy supplies and even helping in the immune system.
Here, we reveal some of the surprising new findings about your chubbier bits.
FAT HELPS FIGHT INFECTIONS
The fat we are so eager to banish is stored in cells that are a crucial component of the body’s infection-fighting arsenal.
Battling an infection uses up a lot of energy and this is supplied by fat cells —which act as the power stations of the body. These fat cells surround the main immune centres of the body called the lymph nodes. These are located in your neck, armpits and groin. In addition to this, fat cells can also sense a bacterial or viral attack and join in the fight by producing proteins that cause inflammation, which kills off infection.
If you have a chronic infection that constantly needs energy, more fat cells grow round the lymph glands causing odd-looking humps. So the bottom line is: you need some fat to stay well.
IT HELPS PROTECT YOUR ORGANS
Excessive amounts of fat don’t necessarily mean you’re going to develop chronic diseases. It might even ‘protect’ the body.
‘As many as 20 per cent of people who are overweight or obese have no sign of metabolic problems — they have low cholesterol, good blood sugar control and healthy blood pressure,’ explains Keith Frayn, professor of human metabolism at Oxford University.
How much can you store Some people naturally have more fat cells which have more storage capacity
But how can this be It seems it all comes down to their fat cells and how much storage capacity they have.
It’s now thought some people naturally have more fat cells than others, and that these cells have more storage capacity. Chronic illnesses occur when the amount of fat in the body overwhelms our fat storage facilities.
Professor Toni Vidal-Puig, an endocrinologist at Cambridge University and an expert on the toxic effect of fats, explains what happens next.
‘With no more fat storage space available, the level of fatty acids in the bloodstream starts to rise too high and some are pushed into inappropriate storage in organs like the liver, pancreas, heart and other places not designed for long term storage.
‘This fat can trigger off an immune reaction causing inflammation and other direct damaging responses. Being able to predict who has limited fat storage could give an early warning of disease.’
LOVE HANDLES ARE LIFESAVERS
Although there is no question that being obese sends you to an early grave, having a bit of padding in your 40s and 50s can actually help you live longer, and is certainly more likely to lead to longevity than being skinny.
Catherine Collins, chief dietitian at St George’s Hospital London, explains: ‘Once someone hits their 40s and 50s I would rather see them slightly overweight than underweight.’
‘Being a bit overweight at this stage in life can give you a reserve for older age that can keep you alive for longer.’
A little extra padding: Being slightly overweight can help keep you alive for longer, according to research
She says that being a bit plump can increase bone density, due to the extra load you are carrying, which can help prevent brittle bones, particularly in older women.
Furthermore, fat can act as a reserve of vitamins and minerals, helping to counter malnutrition in later years, and it also acts as a layer of insulation for the major organs.
Indeed, a Japanese study of over 600 centenarians found that many of those who made it to 100 were quite chubby in their 50s.
Body Mass Index (BMI) is used as an indicator of healthy body weight. Ms Collins explains that although a BMI of 27 was previously thought to fall into the overweight category, (this is usually classed as 25-29.9), an increasing number of professionals are realising that having a BMI of 27 or below could actually help keep you fighting fit for longer.
FAT HELPS YOU LOSE WEIGHT
Exercise is the obvious way to tackle excess body fat, but some researchers believe there might be a cheat’s way out.
There are two types of fat in the body — white and brown fat. White fat is responsible for our middle-aged spread, and is the type that is particularly hard to shift from our bellies and bottoms. However brown fat actually helps us to lose weight.
When triggered by cold temperatures, it burns calories, unlike white fat, which stores them. Just 50 grams of brown fat can burn around 500 calories a day.
Babies have a lot of brown fat, but until recently scientists thought we lost it as we grew up.
Fight the fat with fitness: One view is that it is being fit, and not thin, that matters
Now they’ve discovered some people retain it. ‘It’s been found in about half of people aged 23 to 35,’ says Ronald Kahn, a world expert in obesity at Harvard Medical School’s Joslin Diabetes Centre.
Unfortunately, our deposits decline with age, he says.
This could be one of several reasons why older people put on weight more easily.
There was excitement last week when scientists at Johns Hopkins University in the U.S. reported they had discovered a new way to create brown fat — in rats, at least — by switching off certain chemical messengers in the brain.
In the meantime, why not go for the low-tech green option: turn down the central heating and leave off a sweater.
IT’S BEING UNFIT, NOT FAT, THAT’S BAD
This is the controversial view of Lucy Aphramor, an NHS dietitian at Coventry University. She and several other experts recently published an article in the Nutritionist Journal pointing out that obese patients are less than half as likely to die in the three years after treatment for a heart attack as patients with a normal body mass index.
This could be because of differences in their body chemistry, such as having blood that is less likely to clot.
‘The dangers of obesity have been highly exaggerated,’ commented Aphramor.
‘Even when a fat person suffered a heart attack their weight wasn’t necessarily the culprit. It was much more likely the result of a poor diet and a lack of exercise.
‘And there are slim, supposedly healthy people who have at least two of the risk factors for heart disease usually associated with obesity like high cholesterol.’
This is highly contentious but it does fit in with the ‘fat but fit’ people who have been found to have low cholesterol and blood pressure.
However, they are still at greater risk of cancer.