60-Second Science

Does Getting Fat Protect against Fat?

In a paper in the journal Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism, researchers argue that getting fat is the body's way of storing fat correctly, and that metabolic problems kick in when we get so fat that fat infiltrates organs not equipped to deal with it. Karen Hopkin reports

Everyone knows that obesity is bad for your health. Packing on the pounds, we’re told, leads to all sorts of medical problems: high cholesterol, insulin resistance, greater risk of diabetes and heart disease. But researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center see things a little differently. In a paper in the journal Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism [see], they argue that being fat can actually protect us from these disorders.

The scientists [Robert Unger and Philipp Scherer] don’t deny that we eat too much, especially high-calorie foods chock full of carbs and fats. In the past, that sort of overindulgence, and over-nutrition, used to be reserved for royalty. But now, the scientists note, “bad calories are so cheap that anyone can afford to get overweight.” But obesity, they say, is the body’s way of storing fats where they belong: in fat tissue. That metabolic sequestration actually protects other organs from the harmful effects of fat.

The trouble comes when people who are larger-than-life continue to consume excess calories. That’s when the fat winds up where fat’s not supposed to go…triggering insulin resistance and its complications. So you might be able to get away with the supersized fries. But only if you haven’t already supersized yourself.

—Karen Hopkin

[The above text is an exact transcript of this podcast.]

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