Do You Have Sickly Fat?

Byron J. Richards, Board Certified Clinical Nutritionist

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Do You Have Sickly Fat?
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It is now widely recognized by researchers all over the world that a major part of a person's trouble losing weight or with excessive weight gain is that their white adipose tissue is in poor health – actually rather sickly.

Some of the common symptoms of sickly fat are trouble losing weight, easy weight gain when overeating (or in some cases eating normal meals), excess fatigue and lack of mental spark, succumbing to food cravings, mental preoccupation with food, and various aches and pains.

The hallmark of this sickly fat is the excess production of inflammatory signals which are self-amplifying, making the issue perpetually worse. Only the reduction of inflammation within the white adipose tissue offers any real hope for opening the door for improvement.

In order to understand the importance of this issue it is necessary to go beyond the traditional ideas of reducing calories and increasing exercise. Yes, such ideas are important especially if a person is eating too much and not very active. Any person that can cut back on calories, increase exercise, and lose weight to the point of getting to an optimal weight and maintaining it should thank their lucky stars that their fat had not become too sickly from the abuse they had put it through. Most people, especially as they get older, are not so lucky.

How White Adipose Tissue Works



Many people trying to lose weight think of their excess pounds of fat as a stagnant blob that is simply chipped away as weight loss occurs, or added to as weight gain occurs.

In reality, white adipose tissue is a dynamic organ that is constantly storing and releasing fat. In overweight people it is storing more than it is releasing, and the process creates inflammatory friction. The important point to grasp is that white adipose tissue is metabolically active, albeit inefficient in overweight people.

Your white adipose tissue is constantly making new fat cells and killing off old ones at a rate that you hope is reflective of health. Newer fat cells produce hormones such as leptin and adiponectin in proper amounts, while older and stressed out fat cells make excess leptin and not enough adiponectin. Most nutrients that promote weight loss help manage this process, helping your body make an appropriate amount of new fat cells and helping existing fat cells work better.

Of course, the largest stress to fat cells is excess food consumption, causing them to swell excessively in size and causing far too many new fat cells to form as a type of self-defense against being poisoned by too much food. As a person cuts back on food consumption and increases activity, an environment is created wherein fat calories in storage can be released and used as fuel if the fat cells are up to the task.

The problem for fat cells is that many of them are swollen, sprained, and sickly. When fat cells are crammed full they swell in size and their structure becomes unstable. They send out an SOS message to the liver to make more cholesterol to prop up their teetering three dimensional structure. All of this panic alarms the immune cells that naturally reside in the white adipose tissue, and these immune cells elevate a message (monocyte chemoattractant protein-1, MCP-1) which causes immune cells from other areas of the body to enter the white adipose tissue – an event that ramps up inflammation within adipose tissue.

At the gene level, sickly fat has chronically elevated NF-kappaB, the core gene signal that regulates inflammation. In turn, immune cells within fat produce too much TNFa and IL6, as well as other inflammatory signals. This inflammation is self-perpetuating within the white adipose tissue due to continued excess food. The inflammation then spills out of the white adipose tissue and contributes to all manner of poor health as a form of significant stress, often contributing to aches and pains around one's body. Any other health issue a person has is made worse by the inflammation coming from fat. And this is the nature of the downward health spiral of overweight America.

True enough, reducing calorie intake to a normal level and increasing exercise to an active level create an environment wherein weight loss might take place. If it doesn't, it typically means that there are too many sprained and injured fat cells that simply can't get in metabolic gear.

With nutrition you can help resolve this situation, both in the short-term and long-term. In the short-term, nutrients that reduce inflammation within white adipose tissue can help “put out the fire” as well as help relieve the sprained nature of existing fat cells. Such cells may still not run like new, but at least they can be better. In the long-term, these same nutrients usually help produce new fat cells and regulate their efficiency, so that if you now don't overeat you will gradually have a larger number of more functional fat cells. This later process can take several years or longer to reach a level reflective of dramatically better metabolism.

There are many nutrients that contribute to improved white adipose tissue function. Nutrients tend to work in slightly different manners, as the gene signaling involved with this process is highly complex. Thus, a variety of nutrients with known white adipose tissue metabolic benefits is desirable. How many different nutrients you employ or how high the dose of any one nutrient should be is unknown. Therefore, an appropriate amount is a level that helps you engage the process of weight loss, along with eating properly and being active.

Eating less has its limitations as within several weeks of significantly reduced calorie intake your body may begin to think it is starving and will slow down your metabolism. You may be able to get off a few pounds in this manner, but seldom will you get to a proper goal weight simply by cutting back on calories. And if you cut back too much you will be at risk for rebound weight gain, as your subconscious brain thinks it needs to recover from “starvation” by storing calories as fat.

Being more active is quite important. If you push exercise significantly you will need to eat more or you will be quite tired and more prone to injury. Being more active is also quite positive in that it can help prevent your body from thinking it is starving when eating less.

Increasing the number of supportive nutrients and/or their dose is quite safe. It is simply a matter of finding a combination and amount that help get your body out of the inflammatory rut. Using enough to engage the process of weight loss is important. If you hit a plateau you may need higher doses or other nutrients. As time goes along and your fitness improves, and you have more new metabolically active fat cells, you will need fewer nutrients.

Be careful, many people think that their improved metabolism can now tolerate their former excess – which may be true on occasion but not as an ongoing lifestyle pattern of eating.

Nutrients that Help White Adipose Tissue



The following is a list of nutrients with known anti-inflammatory properties within white adipose tissue.

Quercetin - Quercetin is recognized as a superior nutrient for lowering inflammation within white adipose tissue by a variety of mechanisms, including lowering TNFa, NF-kappaB, IL-6, and MCP-1. Typical weight management dose is 1000 mg – 3000 mg per day.

Quercetin guards against excess formation of new fat cells while enhancing the death rate of old fat cells. It is also a potent antioxidant within white adipose tissue and can even help improve leptin resistance. It helps insulin resistance while assisting the activation of AMPK, which leads to fat burning.

Additional references:
Quercetin for Nerves, Allergies, Immunity, and Metabolism
Quercetin Can Guard Against Metabolic Syndrome, Fatty Liver, and Abdominal Fat
Quercetin Lowers Leptin and Colon Cancer Risk

Green Tea Catechins (EGCG) – EGCG is the active compound in green tea which activates genes in fat cells that prevent excess fat accumulation. Like quercetin it also activates AMPK to boost fat burning. Typical weight management dose is 200 mg – 600 mg of EGCG per day (approximately 1400 mg – 4200 mg of green tea, depending on extract potency).

When immune cells of white adipose tissue are exposed to EGCG they begin to regulate normally, no longer behaving in an inflamed manner. EGCG helps nerve tone, including the activation of the calorie-disposing brown adipose tissue. Numerous human studies show that EGCG is an excellent weight management nutrient.

Additional references:
The Effects of Green Tea on Weight Management
Green Tea Can Help Your Body Shed Excess Fat
Green Tea as a Potent Weight Loss Nutrient

Curcumin – Curcumin has long been recognized as an anti-inflammatory nutrient, thus it comes as no surprise that it potently reduces inflammation in white adipose tissue. This includes reduction of NF-kappaB, TNFa, and MCP-1. Typical weight management dose is 200 mg – 600 mg per day.

Curcumin helps lower leptin resistance, boost adiponectin, and reverse insulin resistance. It also helps turn on fat burning genes.

Additional references:
Curcumin Now Touted as a Significant Weight Loss & Disease Prevention Nutrient
Turmeric (Curcumin) and Cinnamon Lower Insulin and Triglycerides

Resveratrol – Resveratrol has been found to activate the Sirt1 gene in fat cells, highly synergistic with AMPK and increased fat burning. It also helps reduce inflammation within fat cells. Typical weight management dose is 200 mg – 600 mg per day.

Resveratrol helps prevent fat accumulation in fat cells, helps speed the release of fat from fat cells, helps regulate new fat cell formation, and helps clear out old fat cells.

Additional references:
Resveratrol Helps Break Down Stored Fat
Is Resveratrol the Fountain of Youth?
Resveratrol Improves Insulin Function and Longevity

DHA DHA reduces the accumulation of fat in fat cells, helps prevent fat cells from expanding in size, helps regulate the rate of new fat cell formation, reduces NF-kappaB and MCP-1, lowers leptin resistance, and boosts adiponectin. Typical weight management dose of DHA is 500 mg – 3000 mg per day, higher amounts to help more stubborn situations.

Additional references:
DHA Protects Against the Metabolic Flu of Obesity
DHA Omega 3 Fatty Acids in the War Against Obesity
How DHA Helps Inflammation and Diabetes

The above list of five nutrients is by no means a complete list. It is a list of nutrients that have the most science supporting their metabolic activity within white adipose tissue to help lower excess inflammation and promote healthier fat. This is a vitally important topic for healthy weight management.

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