Well, I will be the first to admit that we do not know all of the answers and, in fact, the only thing we know for sure is that we don’t know anything!
There is good news though…we are learning at an alarming rate and slowly but surely putting together pieces of the puzzle of health and disease. I want to discuss one such piece of the puzzle that seems to explain why some organs lose function and could explain a key factor in the development of diabetes, heart failure and kidney failure to name a few. This process is known as…
The body has a nearly endless supply of storage bins for fat called “fat cells”. When we eat a meal that has more calories than we can use, it stores the excess away into little “baggy” cells called adipocytes (fat cells). Our bodies, as wondrous as they are, are outdated models for today’s modern world. They were designed under the stimulus of famine and are unable to handle the onslaught of fat and carbohydrates that define the Standard American Diet (S.A.D.).
Fat, as it turns out, is the least well metabolized form of energy in the body. This means that it is very easy to overwhelm the body with too much fat. When this happens the fat finds its way into cells of the muscle, pancreas, liver, kidneys and heart and thus been closely linked to a number of common health conditions:
2. Heart failure
3. Kidney failure
4. Fatty liver
5. Unexplained fatigue
These conditions can be attributed to what scientists have described as lipotoxicity, a term used to describe cells that are so full of unwanted fat that their function is severely compromised leading to disease. When left unchecked, lipotoxicity leads to another process called “lipoapoptosis” where the cells of organs literally die through a process I call “death by fat”. In a minute, I am going to discuss why this is happening and how to fix and prevent it from occurring.
Why does this happen?
Scientists are still piecing together the variables that must happen for lipotoxicity to occur. From what I can tell, there are two main culprits…
1. A diet high in omega-6 and long-chain saturated fats.
2. A diet high in carbohydrates that causes an increase in insulin levels
3. A sedentary lifestyle
The worst cases of lipotoxicity occur in people who combine all three of these variables. With that said, it is possible to develop lipotoxicity by taking in too much fat even in the absence of the other two variables. It is much more common, however, to see lipotoxic people who are guilty of all three violations of the above mentioned variables. Let’s talk about what happens with each…
When the body was developing, carbohydrates and proteins appeared to be fairly readily available. Thus the body found little need to store energy from these sources. So, when we eat a lot of calories from carbohydrates and protein, the body has no problem burning away excess energy from these two sources. Fat, however, is a prized commodity to our “Model T” bodies. This means evolution appears to have developed plenty of tools for storing fat, but few for burning it away. Thus, fat builds up very easily. Remember, humans of the Paleolithic years were likely quite skinny, not because they wanted to be but because food just was not that easy to come by. Humans, however, were not the only skinny creatures on earth. The animals that we killed for food were likely quite lean as well. Think about it, when was the last time you saw a fat deer? Fat just was not a very abundant source of energy so the body sopped it up like a sponge when we did wander upon an animal with some fat.
Today, however, fat is everywhere and the body cannot metabolize it fast enough. In fact, we take in so much fat that our bodies cannot even store it in fat cells fast enough. Thus, it ends up entering cells such as the muscles where it causes insulin resistance, the liver where it causes fatty liver, the heart where it causes heart failure and the kidneys where it leads to kidney dysfunction. The primary way that scientists develop rats afflicted with lipotoxicity is to feed them high fat diets.
So what do carbohydrates have to do with lipotoxicity? Well, carbohydrates are directly and indirectly responsible for lipotoxicity. In fact, I would consider carbohydrates to be the great multiplier for lipotoxicity. When we eat a lot of refined carbohydrates, two things happen…
1. Carbohydrates get converted into fat, thus adding to the “lipo-load” or “fat-load” of the body
2. Carbohydrates cause insulin to be secreted which acts as a carrier for fat to enter into fat cells as well as muscle and organ cells.
That one-two punch results in a multiplication of the lipotoxicity problem. The Standard American Diet is notorious for combining carbohydrates with fat. Examples include (just to name a few):
1. Hamburger (source of fat) and hamburger bun (source of carbohydrates)
2. French fries (source of carbohydrate and fat)
3. Pizza (Crust is a source of carbohydrate while cheese and pepperoni are a source of fat)
4. Steak (source of fat) and mashed potatoes (source of carbohydrate and fat)
Now I am seeing some health experts suggesting that you combine carbohydrates with fat in order to slow the absorption of the carbohydrates (lowering the glycemic index). That is the wrong approach!
To complete what can be described as the “perfect storm of lipotoxicity” we add to the mix a lifestyle almost devoid of activity. Aerobic activity kicks up fat burning, it literally liberates fat from muscles and organs helping to clear the pumps. When we are sedentary it is very easy to buildup fat stores in fat cells as well as muscles and organs. Exercise, in any form, kicks up a process called oxidation which burns fat away.
One final note about lipotoxicity. Our society is dealing with an epidemic of fatigue. It appears that our spunk has left us and it turns out Lipotoxicity could be to blame. The mitochondria are small organelles of the cell that are responsible for powering your body. When the cells get clogged up with fat, these organelles lose their function and can no longer power your body efficiently. When you are lipotoxic, you are running on reserve systems. These systems will keep your life support running but will not let you enjoy spunk and vitality.
In next week’s column I will talk about how to prevent and reverse lipotoxicity. If you are anxious to get started with reversing your lipotoxicity today, I will give you a hint…re-read the three variables that lead to lipotoxicity and do the opposite. Next week I will tell you about diet, lifestyle and supplements to reverse thus debilitating process that is responsible for so much disease and death in our society.