Writer: Dhakshayini Suresh
What is Obesity and What are Its Causes?
More than just a mere cosmetic concern, obesity is a complex disease involving an excessive amount of body fat.
There are primarily genetic, behavioral, metabolic, and hormonal influences that can cause obesity. From these, the risk factors include:
1) Family Influence: The genes you inherit from your parents may affect the amount of body fat you store, and where that fat is distributed. Genetics may also play a role in how efficiently your body converts food into energy, how your body regulates your appetite and how your body burns calories during exercise. Obesity tends to run in families. That's not just because of the genes they share. Family members also tend to share similar eating and activity habits.
2) Lifestyle Choices: This includes unhealthy diets that lack proper nutrition like vitamins and minerals from fruits and vegetables. Liquid calories through commonly consumed sodas, milkshakes, smoothies, etc. Inactivity which is caused by lack of exercise that does not compensate for the overconsumption that is typical in American diets.
3) Certain diseases/treatments can be a precursor to obesity as well. This may include Cushing Syndrome, arthritis (which causes lack of exercise), antidepressant or diabetes medications that can reassess one’s hormones.
4) Social and economic issues which can impact the type of food that one can buy/cook and the availability of walking space/gym memberships.
5) Obesity can occur at any age, even in young children. But as you age, hormonal changes and a less active lifestyle increase your risk of obesity. In addition, the amount of muscle in your body tends to decrease with age. Generally, lower muscle mass leads to a decrease in metabolism. These changes also reduce calorie needs, and can make it harder to keep off excess weight.
6) Quitting smoking is often associated with weight gain. And for some, it can lead to enough weight gain to qualify as obesity. Often, this happens as people use food to cope with smoking withdrawal. In the long run, however, quitting smoking is still a greater benefit to your health than is continuing to smoke.
7) Some others may include: lack of sleep, stress, state of microbiome, pregnancy, etc.
Health Problems Caused by Obesity
The primary problems that obesity increases risks for are:
Heart Disease and Stroke: Obesity increases blood pressure and cholesterol. These conditions can make heart disease very likely.
Type 2 Diabetes: Type 2 Diabetes can cause or may be caused by obesity. One can cut their risk of developing type 2 diabetes by losing weight, eating a balanced diet, getting adequate sleep, and exercising more.
Cancer: Cancers of the colon, breast (after menopause), endometrium (the lining of the uterus), kidney, and esophagus are linked to obesity. Some studies have also reported links between obesity and cancers of the gallbladder, ovaries, and pancreas.
Osteoarthritis. Obesity increases the stress placed on weight-bearing joints, in addition to promoting inflammation within the body. These factors may lead to complications such as osteoarthritis.
Digestive problems. Obesity increases the likelihood that you'll develop heartburn, gallbladder disease and liver problems.
Mentally, obesity can also increase the likelihood of depression due to body dysmorphic disorder, external bullying, etc.
Sleep apnea. People with obesity are more likely to have sleep apnea, a potentially serious disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep.
Obesity can, overall, diminish quality of life due to one’s inability or struggle to participate in physical activities and other events.
New Discovery in Treatment of Obesity
A new potential therapy to ease and treat obesity would be to transplant human brown-like fat cells. This “transplant” can be accomplished by genetically modifying human white cells using CRISPR. Brown fat cells burn energy instead of storing energy as white fat cells do, says Tseng, senior author on a paper about the work in Science Translational Medicine. In the process, brown fat can lower excessive levels of glucose and lipids in the blood that are linked to metabolic diseases such as diabetes. People who suffer from obesity tend to have lower levels of HUMBLE (Human brown-like fat cells). Joslin's Section on Integrative Physiology and Metabolism created the cells from human white fat cells in a progenitor stage (not yet fully developed into their final fat form). The investigators used a variant of the CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing system to boost expression of a gene called UCP1, which triggers white fat cell progenitors to develop into brown fat-like cells. The tests were conducted on mice. These mice were more likely to clear glucose from blood and had a greater sensitivity to insulin. Furthermore, the mice that received HUMBLE gained less weight than those mice that received white cells for their transplant. Joslin scientists demonstrated that these benefits were mostly due to signals from the transplanted cells to existing brown fat cells in the mice. "Cells in different tissues communicate with each other," Tseng says. "In this case, we found that our transplanted HUMBLE cells secrete a molecule called nitric oxide, which is carried by red blood cells to the endogenous brown cells and activates those cells."
Limits of this Invention
The primary issue with this technology is that it is relatively new. It claims to be an effective alternative to regular obesity-decreasing methods but further research needs to be conducted on how effective this technology can be for the human body. Specific examples were not explicitly noted which means it does not offer a guarantee. The researchers themselves have claimed that the individualized approach would be complicated and expensive. This is why the scientists are approaching two new alternative methods. One alternative is to use cells that are not personalized but instead are encapsulated via biomaterials that protect the cells from rejection by a patient's immune system. The other option is gene therapies that directly express the UCP1 gene in white fat progenitor cells in the body, so that those cells acquire HUMBLE-like properties.
Ongoing Areas of Research in Obesity Treatment:
Expanding understanding of the molecular basis of obesity.
Molecular signals that drive appetite or exercise-mediated metabolic effects.
Understanding the environmental risk factors for obesity.
Early obesity intervention.
Intervention studies aimed at overweight or obese pregnant women
The obesity epidemic accounts for about 300,000 deaths per year. Several scientists, including those mentioned in the study, are attempting to find ways that are far more effective in treating obesity in a more permanent manner. This new technology is a minor yet imperative advancement in obesity and treatment of this disease.
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