How Fat Affects Our Hormones
If you thought weight gain only affected your appearance, you were wrong. While gaining weight can cause feelings of insecurity about the way we look, over time the increase in fat results in psychological changes too. Excess fat stores hormones and affects our mood.
For a long time, fat was considered extra storage or reserved energy that our bodies could use during a famine to keep us alive and warm. That’s why people with excess fat tend to be warmer than those with less. People with excess fat also last longer under conditions of starvation.
However, scientists have discovered that fat has another purpose. Our bodies store different kinds of fat, and they all affect us differently. The fat that is brownish in color acts as central heating. This is controlled by the autonomic nervous system which reacts in a stressful situation. Humans do not have much brown fat. We do when we are babies, but it tends to go away over time. Brown fat tends to be abundant in small animals that tend to lose heat rapidly in cold environments.
Humans tend to have white fat cells. For years, white fat seemed to serve a dull purpose: excess storage. In fact, under a microscope white fat cells just look like giant globs of fat. That’s why it was so astonishing when scientists found out that white fat was a major endocrine organ.
Researchers discovered that the hormone leptin was secreted by white fat and leptin turned out to be a down-regulator of long-term food intake. The more white fat we have, the more leptin. Therefore, fat cells tend to play a significant role in controlling our body weight. The more white fat cells we have, the more likely we are to overeat.
Moderate levels of leptin may reduce our hormonal response to stress. White fat also produces other hormones like adiponectin, as well as cytokines that affect the immune system. In women, an increase in white fat increases the amount of estrogen we store because white fat contains an enzyme that converts steroids to estrogen. Therefore, too much white fat increases the risk of certain cancers such as breast cancer. On the other hand, the increase in estrogen may protect women from bone density loss that can result in osteoporosis.
Told you white fat was interesting! White fat is a very active tissue that shows us that weight gain is more than just a weight issue; it’s an endocrine system problem! This explains why obesity is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, breast cancer, liver cancer, asthma, and diabetes. Excess fat can also reduce immune function and increase the risk of ADHD, depression, or autism in newborns.
An expecting mother with excess leptin puts her newborn at risk of long-lasting consequences. That is why many expecting mothers who are overweight are told to lose weight before pregnancy for the health of their baby. If a mother raises a child in an environment where nutritionally healthy food is chronically scarce, then leptin levels may be a way for babies to adapt to their environmental conditions they are being born in. In a way, the increase leptin levels could potentially a survival tool created in the body. This same scenario may be why it’s so easy to put weight on, but much harder to lose it.
Overall, being overweight may have implications that go wider than we currently suspect. Excess fat causes disturbances in hormone sensitivity which may explain the reasons for why people become obese. Hormones cause a metabolic disturbance which is a significant hazard to good health and a long life. If you are struggling with weight, talk to someone about what could be causing this. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135.
Author: Shernide Delva