Being overweight carries a number of health risks, but where you carry that extra weight can increase the risk even further. One important area of research is to learn how and why some people are more likely to gain weight around their midsection – known as visceral fat. Stem cells have recently shown promise in helping us learn more about body fat distribution.
Why is Visceral Fat Dangerous?
Visceral fat is thought to result in a significantly higher risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes compared to subcutaneous fat – the type of fat that is found under the skin. It is why those with a ‘pot belly’ are generally more likely to suffer from these two diseases.
Challenges of Losing Visceral Fat
Unfortunately, visceral fat is also difficult to shed and some people find it is the last place where they shift fat during their weight-loss process. Some studies suggest that exercise is particularly important for shedding visceral fat. It would be ideal, however, to learn more about how it is gained in the first place so that preventative approaches could be used.
Stem Cell Development
Some stem cells will develop into adipose cells, which are the large cells that store and process fat we take in from food. Whether nutrition can influence which stem cells become visceral or subcutaneous ones is an important question. Do certain kinds of fats in the diet play a part in visceral gains?
The answer is an important one and could then help us prevent and treat obesity. Scientists wanted to see what would happen if commonly consumed kinds of fat were added to the cells, which could end up suggesting that nutrition plays a role in body fat distribution.
Adding Palmitate to Stem Cells
In this recent study, scientists added fat to mouse stem cells and found that it influenced their response to specific signals that turn the cells into either visceral fat or subcutaneous fat. If palmitate, which is a part of palm oil, was added to the stem cells, it affected their response to sex hormones. These sex hormones are ones that control the type of fat cells a stem cell will eventually become. Researchers concluded that the kind of nutrition available to the cells seems to affect the distribution of fat cells. This result adds to evidence that suggests a person’s genetics also play a role in body fat distribution.
Rising Levels of Obesity
In the UK and other westernised nations, obesity is continuing to rise, bringing an enormous health burden to the public and healthcare systems. Diseases such as type 2 diabetes traditionally occurred in much older adults but it is now more prevalent in younger adults and even adolescents.
Reducing Obesity Using Stem Cells
With approximately thirty percent of young people in the UK being overweight or obese, it is vital that we find ways to identify the factors underpinning obesity. This is especially true in terms of visceral fat. It is thought that this recent study can help us eventually find new treatments that target visceral weight gains in those most prone.