How Fat Can Hijack Your Body and Keep You Overweight

Men doing physical therapy exercises

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There’s nothing scarier than the thought that our own bodies could turn against us. This is more or less what happens when we’re diagnosed with cancer — our body’s own systems are essentially being hijacked, and there’s little we can do about it, save subjecting ourselves to the best and most modern treatments available. Cancer’s scary, but preventable. There are other ways that our bodies can effectively turn on us as well, and new research is showing that one of the most widespread health issues in the United States, obesity, is of chief concern.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge in the U.K. recently published the results of a study in the journal Nature Communications, in which it was found that the more obese we are, the more difficult it is for us to start losing weight. This happens because our bodies start producing a certain protein that makes us more resistant to weight loss — meaning that our own fat stores are hijacking our bodies, in a sense.

Thermogenesis, the process by which our bodies store and release energy in fat cells, is at the heart of the issue in this case. The study found that the process is disrupted by the introduction of a certain protein, meaning that the energy storage process is actually enhanced in certain individuals (mice, in the case of this study), making it harder to shed pounds.

“We show that the soluble form of the low-density lipoprotein receptor relative, LR11/SorLA (sLR11), suppresses thermogenesis in adipose tissue in a cell-autonomous manner,” the study says. “sLR11 levels in humans are shown to positively correlate with body mass index and adiposity. Given the need for tight regulation of a tissue with a high capacity for energy wastage, we propose that LR11 plays an energy conserving role that is exaggerated in states of obesity.”

An easy way to get your head around this is to think of your body’s fat stores as going into self-preservation mode. By inducing the production of a certain protein, identified as LR11, your body fat stores are able to use it as a sort of protection, by gumming up receptors in the cells themselves.

The protein in question, LR11, plays an important role in regulating our bodies, and isn’t really the villain here. LR11’s main job is to make sure we’re not burning too much or too little energy during times when our metabolic rate may change — say, if we’re outside in the cold. The issue here is that when organisms reach a certain level on the obesity scale, that process is actively working against them, rather than for them.

This whole issue revolves around your body’s ability to store, and subsequently access, energy. What this study is basically getting at is that obesity, or elevated levels of body fat, throw a wrench in the gears of our body’s machinery. When that happens, the process breaks down — and in this case, that means it’s harder for people to lose weight.

It’s important to keep in mind that this is just one study, with the research being performed on mice. But it’s these types of research projects that shed some light into the inner workings of our biology — enough to inspire more projects and research. So, there’s no need to absolutely panic and think that your body is pulling a Benedict Arnold on you, but being aware that there is evidence that these types of things can and are happening can be beneficial.

And the truth is, this is only one of the latest in a long list of bad news relating to obesity. The fact that we eat too much, move too little, and love to smoke and drink is really taking a toll, even on traditionally healthy populations. The only way to really nip these things in the bud is by adjusting to a healthier lifestyle — something that many people can’t or won’t do.

This study is shedding more light into the destructive fallout of obesity, and an important reason as to why it can be so hard to break our habits and lose weight: There’s actually some biological coding in our cells that works to prevent it.

Follow Sam on Twitter @Sliceofginger

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