All mammals burn fat. It is the number one source of energy, and is sustainable and efficient. About 60 years ago, a sad paradigm change began, exemplified for me by two sentences from two different scientific publications. The demonisation of fat and massive overestimation of the importance of carbohydrates all began with cholesterol.
From the year 1963, in the British Journal of Nutrition:
“Every woman knowns that carbohydrates make us fat. This is common knowledge. Few dieticians would dispute this.”
From the year 1994, in the American Journal of Physiology:
“... obesity can be seen as a carbohydrate deficiency disease. Eating more carbohydrates than fat is an appropriate dietetic step in any therapeutic strategy.”
Ever since this view took hold, we have become fatter and sicker. The chronic illnesses that thrive on chronic inflammation are spreading like wildfire.
Isn’t it astounding how science and the scientific view of the body have changed over the years? Not so long ago it was thought that nerve cells and nerve tissue had no potential to regenerate, and muscle cells were also described as incapable of reproduction or adaptation. Even as late as the 1970s, scientists were convinced that new-born babies could not feel pain.
There has been an enormous change in the attitude to fat and fatty tissue over the past 50 years, as is obvious from the above quotes. In the 19th century, diabetics were still being advised to eat a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet. These days we treat diabetes with sugar and carbohydrate. Doesn’t that seem absurd?
Ever since Twiggy in the 1960s, the prevailing image of female beauty has been that only the lean and slender body can be beautiful. We are all suffering as a result, and the diet industry is booming on the back of our suffering. Medicine not only regards fat as something ugly but also as generally hazardous to good health. In the process, everything from fat and fat cells to cholesterol, fatty tissue, weight gain and obesity is all rolled into one. Fashion and medicine otherwise have little in common with each other, but as far as fat is concerned they are somehow in cahoots with each other and form a lethal alliance. The media, economists and politicians stir that pot even further in demonising fat as the source of all evil.
Yet fat cells and the fat stored in them do not deserve to be seen in that light. The process of rehabilitating fat has only just begun and progress is slow.
I am pleased to see that scientists are being forced to tear down some of the walls they have built around the body themselves, in the wake of new experiments and scientific studies. Increasingly they have had to acknowledge that the limits they traditionally set are not only at odds with recent research findings but hinder that work. The old models are no longer suitable for assessing the body. The practice of separating the nervous system from the immune system is long gone and now it is the turn of fatty tissue to be reinstated.
Fatty tissue at the heart of metabolic regulation
Fatty tissue is not just a means of storing energy, but also a very active organ that produces hormones and immune factors. Furthermore, fat cells release a wide range of soluble neurotransmitters which play a central role in regulating appetite and weight. Leptin is one of the substances embedded within a dense network of control circuits and feedback loops which steers our eating habits.
Fatty tissue builds a bridge to the immune system, central nervous system and metabolism. It is as much a link as it is a buffer zone of regulation between our metabolism and the underlying inflammation processes, and is indispensable to our wellbeing. As opposed to that, obesity – a phenomenon of regulatory malfunction and energy imbalance – is undoubtedly unhealthy and makes people chronically ill.
A whole series of scientific studies have proved that fatty tissue is an active, living organ which makes up a significant part of our body. Fat cells produce and release a host of different hormones and peptides which, irrespective of their function, play a vital part in all regulatory and communication processes in and between the organs and in and between the various cells. Scientists have discovered molecular signalling paths which connect the fatty tissue to the immune system. They now realise that many active molecules previously ascribed solely to the immune system are also released by fat cells.
As in any complicated system, mistakes constantly occur within the body. Signals are lost in transit, misinterpreted or simply no longer heard.
Obesity is the consequence of such mistakes occurring at all kinds of different levels. Excess body weight may be the first sign of faulty metabolic regulation. It is then high time to question eating habits in order to avoid the development of a chronic illness. Once we have reached the next stage, obesity, the disease process is already underway. High blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance are usually discernible by then.