10 Dirty Little Secrets about Body Fat
By Nicholas Perricone, MD, FACN, CNS
There are many reasons to embrace Paul McCartney’s suggestion for “No-meat Mondays/giving up meat one day a week.” In fact, unless you are eating 100% grass-fed meat, I recommend cutting back on overall meat intake. This is not just environmentally sound, it is sound from a health/longevity viewpoint. Grain-fed meat lacks CLA, which influences body fat and lean muscle, and the omega-3 fatty acids, which are as close to a health, beauty, longevity and weight-loss magic bullet that we can get. Grain-fed meat is also high in pro-inflammatory saturated fat. Consuming a lot of these saturated fats leads to the accumulation of visceral fat.
The Truth about Body Fat
This past decade has seen a turnaround in the way scientists regard white adipose tissue—better known as body fat, perhaps two of the most dreaded words of our generation. There are many theories as to why so many people are afflicted with excess body fat today, when twenty or thirty years ago this was not the case. Instead of feeling guilty and depressed, we need a basic understanding about the danger of excess body fat and to be vigilant in our food choices.
Dirty Little Secret #1
There are two types of fat: subcutaneous (under the skin) and visceral (found in the abdomen and surrounding vital organs). Visceral fat is of greater concern because it surrounds vital organs and is metabolized by the liver, which turns it into blood cholesterol. Consuming large amounts of saturated fat and/or performing little physical activity results in high stores of visceral fat.
Dirty Little Secret #2
We now know that body fat is not just an inert deposit of fat cells, stored as the result of overeating. These areas of fat storage are actually an active endocrine organ.
Dirty Little Secret #3
Body fat produces hormones, as does our pancreas, thyroid, parathyroid, adrenals, pineal and pituitary glands and testes/ovaries, the organs that comprise the endocrine system. These secreted hormones, known as adipokines, can contribute to systemic, low-grade, chronic inflammation.
Dirty Little Secret
Body fat, as a group of cells, communicates with other organ systems such as the brain, the liver, the bone marrow, skeletal muscle, the adrenal cortex, the sympathetic nervous system and the complete immune system.
Dirty Little Secret #5
This agglomeration of fat cells, now an active endocrine organ, has the unique distinction of being the only endocrine organ to send pro-inflammatory and destructive signals to all organ systems, creating a spectrum of problems in every organ system, from bone growth to sexual reproduction.
Dirty Little Secret #6
Body fat directly impacts appetite, energy and our immune system.
Dirty Little Secret #7
Body fat itself controls how much body fat is going to be stored, and the greater the amount of fat we have stored, the greater its negative influence on the entire body—an extremely destructive, inflammatory influence.
Dirty Little Secret #8
A large storage of body fat can be so overwhelming to the system that the fat cells have to secrete hormone-like substances to increase blood vessel growth necessary to feed the accumulation of fat.
Dirty Little Secret #9
Blood vessel growth cannot keep up with the rapidly growing mass of fat cells, which then begin to become oxygen-starved. These oxygen-starved cells start releasing inflammatory chemicals to further trigger blood vessel growth.
Dirty Little Secret #10
When we are obese, muscle is constantly converting to fat.
The Alpha and the Omega
The truth about body fat reads like a frightening 1950’s pulp science fiction story, like Steve McQueen’s memorable debut film, The Blob. But, in fact, an escape from this real-life horror story is detailed in The Perricone Weight Loss Diet (Ballantine Books 2006)—and although there is plenty of science, there is no fiction about it.
This is why it is critical to take a powerful anti-inflammatory approach to dieting. It is the inflammatory chemicals, such as NfkB, that block the effects of insulin—whether it is to metabolize blood sugar or to nourish muscles with amino acids.
Excess insulin and high blood sugar put a lock on body fat, ensuring that those fat cells are going nowhere. Avoid pro-inflammatory, sugary, starchy foods and beverages, body fat’s greatest allies. The high omega-3 content found in wild salmon, anchovies, sardines and other cold-water fish, along with fish oil capsules, will help eliminate this toxic fat. Their essential fatty acids have tremendous anti-inflammatory properties and are key in sensitizing our cells to insulin. Omega-3 EFAs also inhibit the production of the enzyme fatty acid synthase, which plays a role in the storage of calories as body fat.
Alpha lipoic acid, a powerful anti-inflammatory nutrient, accelerates the removal of glucose from the bloodstream, improves insulin function and decreases insulin resistance, making its use another critical strategy in the fight against body fat.
Chromium is also critical in controlling and reducing body fat. It effectively lowers blood sugar and insulin levels—the key to the anti-inflammatory weight-loss diet. Chromium helps decrease inflammation, thereby unlocking the enzymes that aid in fat metabolization, while normalizing blood lipids such as triglycerides and cholesterol, increasing levels of the “good” HDL cholesterol and lowering total cholesterol and triglycerides, making it cardio-protective.
The general population of the United States is deficient in chromium—and low levels of chromium are associated with type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Studies have also been published noting that increased consumption of sugar depletes our body stores of chromium, placing us at further risk for hyperglycemia and hyperinsulinemia(too much blood sugar, too much insulin).
As an active researcher, I welcome your comments and suggestions.
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