Tag: study

It’s no secret that obesity is harmful to health, and recent studies have debunked the myth that one can be “fat but fit.”

Also well-established is the link between obesity and increased cancer risk, but how it actually causes cancer has yet to be fully explained.

A recent study offers more details on the association. Researchers at Michigan State University found that a certain protein released from fat in the body can cause a non-cancerous cell to turn into a cancerous one.

The research also found that a lower layer of abdominal fat, when compared to fat just under the skin, is the more likely culprit, releasing even more of this protein and encouraging tumor growth.

It is estimated that at least one third of the population is obese. Obesity has been linked to several types of cancers including breast, colon, prostate, uterine, and kidney.

But Jamie Bernard, the study’s lead author and an assistant professor in pharmacology and toxicology, said that just being overweight isn’t necessarily the best way to assess risk:

“Our study suggests that body mass index, or BMI, may not be the best indicator. It’s abdominal obesity, and even more specifically, levels of a protein called fibroblast growth factor-2 that may be a better indicator of the risk of cells becoming cancerous.”

There are two layers of belly fat. The top layer, known as subcutaneous fat, lies right under the skin. The layer under that, called visceral fat, is the one she found to be more harmful.

In the article Do You Need a Reason to Stop Drinking Soda? Here it Is, I explained what visceral fat is and why it is so dangerous:

Visceral fat – also known as “deep fat” – wraps around your internal organs, including your liver, pancreas, kidneys, and intestines. It is much more dangerous than subcutaneous fat (the fat that you can see – the “inch you can pinch”). That’s because visceral fat (which gets its name from viscera, which refers to the internal organs in the abdomen) affects how our hormones function and is thought to play a larger role in insulin resistance – which may increase Type 2 diabetes and heart disease risk.

Excess visceral fat is also linked to an increased risk of developing cancer, stroke, dementia, depression, arthritis, obesity, sexual dysfunction, and sleep disorders.

You don’t have to be visibly overweight to be at risk. Even relatively thin people can have too much visceral fat, which is why it is often referred to as “hidden” belly fat.

Back to the study.

Here’s how Bernard and her team conducted their research:

Bernard and her co-author Debrup Chakraborty, a postdoctoral student in her lab, studied mice that were fed a high-fat diet and discovered that this higher-risk layer of fat produced larger amounts of the fibroblast growth factor-2, or FGF2, protein when compared to the subcutaneous fat. They found that FGF2 stimulated certain cells that were already vulnerable to the protein and caused them to grow into tumors.

She also collected visceral fat tissue from women undergoing hysterectomies and found that when the fat secretions had more of the FGF2 protein, more of the cells formed cancerous tumors when transferred into mice. (source)

What does this mean?

Bernard explains,

“This would indicate that fat from both mice and humans can make a non-tumorigenic cell malignantly transform into a tumorigenic cell.”

There are several other factors released from fat, Bernard said, including the hormone estrogen, that could influence cancer risk, but many of those studies have only been able to show an association and not a direct cause of cancer. She added that genetics also play a role.

“There’s always an element of chance in whether a person will get cancer or not. But by making smarter choices when it comes to diet and exercise and avoiding harmful habits like smoking, people can always help skew the odds in their favor.”

The study is published in the journal Oncogene and was funded by the National Institutes of Health.


Related Reading

Obesity Can Significantly Shorten Your Life, and You Really Can’t be “Fat But Fit”

Do You Need a Reason to Stop Drinking Soda? Here It Is.

Cancer, the Media, and the Misinterpretation of Studies: A Cautionary Tale


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About Those Dust Bunnies Lurking in Your Home…They Might Be Making You Fat

Warning: This article may trigger an intense desire to obsessively clean your residence.

Overeating, sedentary lifestyles, lack of exercise…these are known contributors to the world’s obesity epidemic.

But a new study suggests a common household annoyance may play an unexpected role: dust.

Small amounts of house dust containing common environmental pollutants can spur fat cells to accumulate more triglycerides, or fat, in a lab dish, researchers at Duke University found.

The study was funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health in the US, and was published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Science and Technology.

The implicated pollutants are known as endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs). They are synthetic or naturally occurring compounds that can interfere with or mimic the body’s hormones. EDCs, such as flame retardants, phthalates, and bisphenol-A, are known for their potential effects on reproductive, neurological, and immune functions.

But animal studies also suggest that early life exposure to some EDCs – known as “obesogens” – can cause weight gain later in life.

Some manufacturers have reduced the use of EDCs in products, but many are still ubiquitous in consumer goods. They wind up in indoor dust that can be inhaled, ingested, or absorbed through the skin.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that children consume 50 milligrams of house dust each day. Concerned about the potential effects EDCs in dust might have on children’s health, the researchers wanted to see if the compounds in house dust might have an effect on fat cells.

They took samples of indoor dust from 11 homes in North Carolina, and tested extracts from those samples in a mouse pre-adipocyte cell model.

According to the researchers, extracts from seven of the samples triggered the cells to develop mature fat cells and accumulate fat. Extracts from nine samples spurred the cells to divide, creating a bigger pool of precursor fat cells. Only one sample showed no effects. The researchers concluded that house dust is a likely source of chemicals that may disrupt metabolic health, particularly in children.

In a press release, the American Chemical Society elaborates:

Additionally, among the 44 individual common house dust contaminants tested in this model, pyraclostrobin (a pesticide), the flame-retardant TBPDP, and DBP, a commonly used plasticizer, had the strongest fat-producing effects. This suggests that the mixture of these chemicals in house dust is promoting the accumulation of triglycerides and fat cells, the researchers say. Amounts of dust as low as 3 micrograms — well below the mass of dust that children are exposed to daily — caused measurable effects.

Head researcher Dr. Heather Stapleton said of the findings,

“What our study demonstrates is that exposure to mixtures of chemicals found in our home can change the metabolic function of our cells.

“At this point it’s difficult to provide advice on how to avoid exposure…cleaning more with wet techniques (e.g. mopping) can help remove and reduce dust particles […] dry dusting can sometimes release more dust particles to the air which can then be inhaled.”

If this study inspires you to scrub down every surface and vacuum every corner of your home, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Most of us could use a bit (okay, a LOT) more exercise.

But keep in mind that this study is very small, and it didn’t look at whether those whose homes are dustier than others are exposed to more chemicals. And, we don’t know if the effects on the mouse cells would be seen in human cells.

The study does, however, build on previous research, also led by Dr. Stapleton. And, other studies on the relationship between endocrine disruptors and obesity have yielded similar findings – some referring to obesogens as an emerging threat to public health.

Do You Need a Reason to Stop Drinking Soda? Here It Is.

Drinking sugar-sweetened beverages every day is associated with an increase in a particularly nasty type of body fat that has been linked with diabetes, heart disease risk, and a multitude of other health issues.

Cancer, the Media, and the Misinterpretation of Studies: A Cautionary Tale

Words mean things, and particularly so when translating complex scientific findings into press releases, abstracts, and articles that are meant for the general public.