The fatty tissue of people who are very overweight (obese) is more than just an energy store. It interferes in the metabolism, the immune defense, and greatly affects mental health.
How Dangerous Is Being Severely Overweight To Overall Health?
An interdisciplinary study by the Integrated Research and Treatment Center (IFB) Obesity Diseases at the University of Leipzig showed that more signal substances of the immune system are produced in adipose tissue and released into the blood in obesity than previously assumed. These so-called cytokines can then lead to inflammatory processes throughout the body. The researchers also found that exercise can lower the production of these pro-inflammatory cytokines, even in obese people.
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Obesity May Lead To Diabetes Or Cardiovascular Disease
The inflammatory processes that are common throughout the body in obesity mean a greater risk of developing diabetes or cardiovascular disease.
The researchers from the IFB, the Clinic for Psychiatry and Psychotherapy at the University Hospital Leipzig, as well as the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich and the Australian University of Tasmania, measured the cytokine levels in the blood as well as the exact physical activity and energy consumption in 200 obese and normal-weight study participants.
Increased production of signal substances of the immune defense
What is special about the study is that, for the first time, we measured blood concentrations of certain cytokines for which previously only inflammatory diseases such as asthma were known to play a role, but not for obesity and its secondary diseases. Now we can better explain why such Diseases occur more frequently in obese patients. In subjects of normal weight, the levels of cytokines such as interleukin-5 and interleukin-13 were lower than in obese subjects; The values of some cytokines were highest in abdominal obesity.
It is already known that large amounts of fatty tissue in the abdomen (visceral fat) are associated with increased signs of inflammation and consequently with a higher tendency to metabolic disorders, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases.
Obese study participants who moved a lot had lower cytokine levels than those who did not move. These research results make it clear how increased physical activity can protect against the serious sequelae of being overweight. Another therapeutic approach could be the blocking of cytokines with special drugs, similar to what is already happening today with autoimmune diseases.
Influence on Mental Health
Increased cytokine production can also contribute to the development of depression, as cytokines influence neurotransmitters in the brain. For example, they lower the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that is responsible for our good mood and drive. Serotonin deficiency is therefore one of the causes of depression. IFB research results on cytokine levels in healthy and depressed study participants showed increased values in the latter. Depressed patients who are also obese show the highest concentrations of certain cytokines. The greater release of cytokines in adipose tissue could also explain why obese people are more likely to develop depression than people of normal weight. This may also suggest a link between the rise in obesity and depression in the population.
The excessive fat tissue in obesity also affects the metabolism, energy balance, and the feeling of hunger in humans through special messenger substances of the fat tissue, which are called adipokines; some of them are cytokines. The IFB dedicates a large area of research to these special signal substances.
In addition to the well-known sequelae of severe obesity such as joint problems, diabetes, high blood pressure or fatty liver, there is a growing number of diseases that are related to obesity. Research into these relationships is a prerequisite for improved preventive and therapeutic measures.