The famous adage goes, “You are what you eat,” but according to one professor, “you’re not just what you eat. You are also what you feel—and what you’re feeling is the pressure of increased weight and the sustained loading in the tissues of the buttocks of the couch potato.”
Indeed, when they set out to study how the obese and overweight aggregate fat, Professor Amit Gefen and his team at Tel Aviv University were quick to discover that nutrition is not the only culprit to blame.
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By examining how fat is produced at a cellular level, the researchers discovered that placing physical pressure on fat cells actually caused them to expand and produce more fatty material over time.
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“We found that fat cells exposed to sustained, chronic pressure—such as what happens to the buttocks when you’re sitting down—experienced accelerated growth of lipid droplets, which are the molecules that carry fats,” stated Professor Amit Gefen, one of the researchers from Tel Aviv University’s Department of Biomedical Engineering who led the study. “Contrary to muscle and bone tissue, which get mechanically weaker with disuse, fat depots in fat cells expanded when they experienced sustained loading by as much as 50%. This was a substantial discovery”, continued Gefen.
“Even if you eat a salad – you’re gaining weight”
Using a state-of-the-art atomic force microscope, the researchers discovered that the structure of the fat cells and their very mechanics changed when subject to substantial and concentrated physical pressure, with the cells stiffening as they expanded. For a person suffering from obesity who already has a notably heavy body mass this means that even if they eat a salad for lunch, without physically activity, they could still be gaining weight.
“When they gain mass and change their composition, expanding cells deform neighboring cells, forcing them to differentiate and expand”, continues Gefen.
Nearly 70 percent of American adults are overweight
Professor Gefen and his team from TAU’s Department of Biomedical Engineering, including Doctor Natan Shaked and Naama Shoham in partnership with Professor Dafna Benayahu of the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology hope to use the results of their research, published last week in the Biophysical Journal, to aid the millions of people around the world who suffer from obesity and its potentially dangerous consequences.
Indeed, in the United States alone, over 69.5 percent of the population over 20 suffers from obesity or is medically overweight, and possibly even more disturbing is the fact that 18.4 percent of children aged 12-19 have been diagnosed with obesity. According to Gefen, “If you can learn to control the mechanical environment of cells, you can determine how to modulate the fat cells to produce less fat,” which makes the team hopeful of identifying a practical solution to the pandemic in the near future.
In the meantime, it seems the best advice for any of us looking to lose weight is still to “Get off your butt!”