Monday, February 17, 2014
Typically obesity leads to health problems via insulin resistance (). Excess calories are stored as fat in fat cells up to a certain point. Beyond this point fat cells start rejecting fat. This is the point where fat cells become insulin resistant.
When they become insulin resistant, fat cells no longer respond to the insulin-mediated signal that they should store fat. Fat then increases in circulation and starts getting stored in tissues other than fat cells, including organ tissues (visceral fat). When the organ in question is the liver, this is called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
This progression happens with most people, but not with those who can progress to extremely high body fat levels (). Those people are the “megafat-prone” (MP). In the MP, fat cells take a long time to start rejecting fat. So the MP can keep on gaining body fat, often with no sign of diabetes at body fat levels that would have caused serious harm to most people.
One could say that the MP are extremely metabolically resilient. By not becoming insulin resistance as they gain more and more body fat, the MP are somewhat similar to sumo wrestlers (photo below from Nationalgeographic.com); although the main reason why sumo wrestlers do not develop insulin resistance is vigorous exercise. Visceral fat is very easy to "mobilize" through vigorous exercise; this being the basis for the "fat-but-fit" phenomenon (). There are two interesting, and also speculative, inferences that can be made based on all of this.
One is that the MP could potentially be the healthiest people among us. This is due to their extreme metabolic resilience, which should be fairly protective if they can avoid getting up to the unhealthy point of body fat for them. In fact, they could be overweight or even obese and fairly healthy, at least in terms of degenerative diseases. This is a genetic predisposition, which is likely to run in families.
The other inference is that the MP would probably not look “ripped” at relatively low weights. Since their body fat cells have above average insulin sensitivity at high body fat levels, one would expect that high insulin sensitivity to remain at low body fat levels. Insulin sensitivity is strongly associated with longevity ().
So, bringing all of this together, here are two apparent paradoxes. That person who already gained a lot of body fat and is an MP, showing no health problems at or near obesity, could be the healthiest among us. And that person who cannot look ripped at low body fat levels, no matter how hard he or she tries, may be one of the 2 percent or so of the population who will live beyond 90.
Unfortunately it is hard to tell whether someone is MP or not until the person actually becomes megafat. And if you are MP and actually become megafat, the afterlife will very likely arrive sooner rather than later.