Low-Fat Livers Linked to ‘Healthy’ Obesity

Study of twins sheds light on good versus bad fat

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People who are obese usually have high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, but some obese individuals don’t suffer from these conditions. The key to understanding this phenomenon may lie in the liver, according to a new study published by the University of Helsinki.

The Finnish researchers studied pairs of twins who were genetically identical and usually raised in similar environments. But, on average, one twin of each pair weighed 17 kilograms more than their sibling. The obese twins who had much fattier livers than their thin siblings showed other signs of ill-health, such as high cholesterol, insulin resistance, high blood pressure and inflammation. But those whose liver fat was similar to that of their thin twin lacked these symptoms. The unhealthy obese twins also had fewer but larger fat cells than their thin twins, unlike the healthy pairs.

It remains unclear why fat accumulates in the livers of some and not others, but previous studies suggest that organelles called mitochondria need to be present for new fat cells to grow. Anti-inflammatory drugs might boost the activity of mitochondria to promote the growth of healthier fat while also reducing the risk of developing diabetes.

[New Scientist]

28 comments
rusty_shackleford
rusty_shackleford

Are they referring to obese individuals who are metabolically healthy and young? Because they will not stay metabolically healthy for long.

Aiquoy2
Aiquoy2

The common practice of using weight in contrast to height  ALONE to determine obesity while dismissing their muscle and skeletal structure in relation to the amount of fatty tissue and their effect on the human is archaic and fundamentally flawed. The fact that the medical world relies on this should cause great concern, it's analogous to them practicing medicine based of hearsay instead of scientific study that produces results. 

Obesity cannot be based of height in contrast to weight alone. Some people's build are stocky. They have significantly denser bones. They have stronger muscles. Their body can handle the "excess" weight of muscle. 
Then you have the opposite. You have some people who have no physical activity. They have very little muscle but vast amounts of fatty tissue. But their weight is within range for their height so they're classified as normal. Even though the lack of muscle predisposes them to joint pain and back pain, muscle strains, fatty livers and higher cholesterol levels. That's what's known to the MORE PROFESSIONAL medical professionals (not the lazy and dismally under-educated "professionals") know as normal weight obesity. 
To condense my message and put it into layman's terms; A lot of medical people are dumb and lazy. They go with the bare minimum information instead of going the extra distance for accuracy to give the best treatment. You can have a higher weight than recommended for your height and still be healthy. You can be within your weight range for your height and be dreadfully unhealthy. Weight alone should not be an indicator of health, especially when it comes in terms of medicine where one's expected to go above and beyond to ensure the most accurate understandings. They're not paying you exuberant amounts of money to be less than mediocre.

JosephBagadoughnutz
JosephBagadoughnutz

thats right, justify your obesity, your fat slob fueled diabetes epidemic in your children.  thats right, justify the fact that you are the fattest, most obese, slob nation that ever existed on planet earth.   thats right, go ahead and make me laugh !

earthshoes39
earthshoes39

I recently spent three days in the hospital--and it turned out to be much ado about nothing (thank goodness). I had chest pains which I strongly suspected were related to panic attacks (I'm a very overweight middle aged female and am facing the hormone shifts that go with it). But the pain got bad enough and all the stuff that goes with it (the sense of doom, etc) finally frightened me enough to act on it. However the doctor in the emergency room took one look at my weight and the off-the-hook blood pressure and was (understandably) just sure there were a million problems lurking there. So I got all kinds of fun, expensive tests (by the way--I have no insurance), including a stress test and an angiogram. 

They put me on blood pressure medication which did very little to alter my blood pressure. Sometime during the second day (about the time they announced they wanted to do an angiogram and I got upset because I had no idea how we were supposed to pay for all of this), a doctor said--I"m going to give you something for anxiety. My blood pressure dropped to a beautiful normal 120/80.

The test results began rolling in. My bad cholesterol is low, my good cholesterol is high. My triglycerides are exactly where they should be. I'm not diabetic and, when my anxiety is managed, my blood pressure is normal.  A beaming cardiologist  said, "Your heart is healthy--absolutely perfect." ( guess he doesn't get to tell people that all that often).  An internist said (a lovely Nigerian man, also smiling from ear to ear), "You do not have high blood pressure. You do have a problem with anxiety. Here are some pills to help--go home and figure out a way to manage the stress in your life." 

Go and sin no more. Got it. 

I need to lose weight--In fact I am losing weight (was doing so before this visit), however I am living proof that being overweight in and of itself does not translate to other health problems. Ironically--I eat a fairly healthy diet, I don't eat junk food or fast food more than occasionally. The thing I've been neglecting for the last several years is exercise and portion control. I know better. Shame on me. This wake up call reminded me that I am mortal and must treat myself as such. 

For what it's worth--I come from a family of overweight people--multiple generations of us. My mother, who is nearly 70, just now got diagnosed with high blood pressure and a very mild case of diabetes (she takes pills and monitors her diet). She may be overweight, but the woman is a dynamo--always on the go (sells hand made crafts at farmer's markets and crafts shows, runs the church thrift store with a kindly, but iron hand, sings in the church choir and goes out for karaoke with my sister on Saturday nights).  Unless something goes really wrong, I expect to see her into her eighties.  

Apollo
Apollo

"People who are obese usually have high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.."

Patently untrue. Who writes/edits such crap?

seci2308
seci2308

BS. I wish I could find a way to obtain a grant.  I was diagnosed with fatty liver and all the other signs mentioned are normal. BS.

StormyWeather
StormyWeather

lol at healthy obesity! Next they'll be telling us about healthy alcoholism and drug abuse. Whatever works though.....like Milli Vanilli once sung...."Blamer it on the rain." There are many articles out there about today's food system, the GMO's and steroids used, along with information about how to get away from them. People are refusing to save their own lives. Sad really.

Frisconian
Frisconian

@JosephBagadoughnutz  - That's such an ugly comment.  People with low self esteem often choose some kind of scape-goat, so that they can feel better about themselves.

harperska
harperska

@Apollo The point is, many people who are obese do have all of that stuff. But the significance of studies like the one from the article and many more is that while many obese do have health issues that thin people don't, many obese do not have those health issues either. So researchers are trying to figure out why some obese are perfectly healthy, and whether whatever is keeping the healthy obese healthy is something that can help others be healthy who can't or don't wish to lose weight. 

RyanMiller
RyanMiller

@Apollo "Generally speaking, statistics show that...."

You can't beat stats with the single serving sample size of anecdotal evidence. 

nanakepichu
nanakepichu

@Apollo Thank you! My partner is a good 70 pounds heavier than I am - she gets dirty looks and discriminated against but I'M the one with high bp and higher cholesterol levels. Our society has been trained to hate fat people and the "usually" in this sentence is SO offensive! The writer uses no science to back this up, just relies on the fact that most citizens are A) uncritical of shoddy citing and B) happy to be given permission to see all obese people as a drag on the economy. Pathetic. I'm tall, skinny, and shapely and I make sure to insert myself every time someone decides to bully my shapely gorgeous girlfriend.

parexerus
parexerus

@Apollo 

Yeah, As soon as I read that line I didn't read any further.  One of two things, the author is an idiot or the author knows exactly what he is doing and trying to sell or promote something.

nanakepichu
nanakepichu

@StormyWeather You know what's sad? People like you assuming you know ANYTHING about other people's bodies! Where is YOUR medical license?! And do you have access to the medical charts of EVERY fat person in the world?! No? Well! Shock me silly! Really?! I guess that gives you NO room to speak then, does it? You should spend more time worrying about the fact that you're an ignorant, little troll who's fat-hating, body-judging opinions have been shaped by a society that has brain-washed you into believing that there is only ONE acceptable body type and less time worrying about people who you have no right, whatsoever, to be making judgments about. The funny thing is that you're probably that person sneering at fat bodies but checking out the skinny butt of some beginner meth addict ahead of you in the McD line. I deal with self-righteous, self-important people like you ALL the time and I just want to let you know, because clearly no one ever has, that you are unoriginal, pathetic, predictable, and entirely boring. Of course, maybe it's because you're missing a few inches around the waist ... or, under the waist.

StormyWeather
StormyWeather

@oldandproud Haven't heard about inflammation causing fatness...... once again, Blame it on the rain. Stop freaking eating so much meat and processed food items. If it comes from big food industry, it's obviously not good for you in the long run. You see....real veggies and plant based items have been genetically changed to resist "Roundup." Unfortunately, they are also starved of the nutrients they normally would have. This causes the veggies to not put off the gas once in the belly, and not give a feeling of fullness.....thus people eat way too much and still feel hungry even well past the normal time for them to feel full and stop eating. 

JulianaJaeger
JulianaJaeger

@DoesntFallFarFromTree @Aiquoy2 No, it makes total sense.

You can fall within "normal" BMI ranges and still have an adiposed liver, high cholesterol, diabetes, pancreatic dysfunction, endocrine disruption, and various other conditions related to obesity. 

You can also fall outside normal BMI ranges and not have any of these conditions. That's all he's saying.

earthshoes39
earthshoes39

@DoesntFallFarFromTree @earthshoes39 Oh no. A brand new digital bathroom scale, a rare picture of me with one of my boys (nothing quite like looking at yourself and thinking "If that woman was my friend, I'd be worried about her" ), and the knowledge that my 50th birthday is only two years away motivated me to lose weight, starting back in July. Then God sent me a new dog--a large one who needs lots of exercise. 60lbs of "We walk now? Now? Now?" wakes me up every morning and reminds me that if I don't take him--he's going to be bouncing off the walls all day.  

In a weird way, the hospital stay was empowering. I am not in the horrible health I thought I was in. I am not a time bomb or a failure. I am simply a woman who needs to lose weight so she doesn't have those health problems in the future. 

Apollo
Apollo

@harperska
I read the article and I know what the study is saying. I've also read other studies that say the same thing--this is hardly news to me. However, what I was saying is that while obesity is a risk factor for high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, saying that obese people usually have those things is simply not true. It's like saying people with hypertension usually have strokes, or that people who sunbathe usually get skin cancer, or (believe it or not) that people who smoke usually get lung cancer (while in truth, even heavy smokers don't get lung cancer >75% of the time). Through sloppy writing, Time is perpetuating a misconception, and such statements shouldn't be made on a seemingly sophisticated website for a generally well respected magazine.

Frisconian
Frisconian

@StormyWeather @oldandproud - I shop at Whole Foods, I don't eat potato chips or other kinds of snack foods, I don't drink alcohol or eat sugar and I'm still over-weight.  

There's no need to treat the obese as the "other" unless it makes you feel better about yourself.

nanakepichu
nanakepichu

@StormyWeather @oldandproud Ugh. Nobody NEEDS to lose weight. People need to eat diets of food with identifiable ingredients. My partner is fat and eats veggies, organic foods, etc. NOTHING that's been processed. I'm skinny and my eating habits are down-right deplorable. Our society TRAINS people to believe that they need to be "skinny". Plenty of people have gone to their graves trying to reach a body type that, for them, is simply genetically unattainable. But, rather than assume the problem is with society's fat-hating, misogynistic, objectifying culture, we like to lay it at the feet of a scapegoat - in this case, fat people. So, until we've all scrubbed ourselves of these ridiculous, MANufactured ideals of the "ideal" body, we should focus more of our time trying to make healthy food affordable and attainable to low-income households. Seriously, getting fat should be the LEAST of your worries - you could end up ignorant and hateful like @StormyWeather - that's something I'd end my life over.

KjierstenMichelleMonday
KjierstenMichelleMonday

@JulianaJaeger @DoesntFallFarFromTree @Aiquoy2

I agree Juliana. I'm technically "obese" but I have perfect cholesterol, no sign of diabetes, my heart is great, liver levels are perfect, and the entire physical I checked out in perfect health. I look great for my height, I'm super curvy (hourglass). 

The BMI was a good tool when it started, but there are much more complex nuances to the human body. You can't shove everyone into that chart anymore. 

harperska
harperska

@earthshoes39 @DoesntFallFarFromTree You mention that your mother is overweight, and just got diagnosed with 'very mild' diabetes at 70, but you expect to see at least another ten years from her. It sounds like you are indicating how relatively healthy she is at 70, despite being overweight. 

Are there others in your family who are overweight but have not been so lucky health wise? And have they been as active as it sounds like your mother is? I have heard that how active you are can make a big difference regardless of your weight.