Weight Loss – The Fat and Toxin Connection
We tend to think of the storage fat we carry around with us in generally quite negative terms, certainly when we consider the extra unattractive pounds that can be so hard to shed. But whatever we may think of fat cosmetically, this tissue serves many essential physiologically functions in all of us, many essential to life and good health.
First of all, we all have some fat, no matter how lean we may be, under our skin, along the lining of our abdomen and around our kidneys, where it serves as an effective cushion against trauma as well as insulation against the cold. Fat not only serves as a physical shock absorber and efficient insulator, but the tissue, wherever it might be located, provides a convenient storage site for the extra energy we take in as food, serving as a reserve for times of extra need or in times of food scarcity.
More recently, particularly over the past 20 years, scientists have come to realize that fat is more than just padding or a container for extra calories we can’t immediately burn up. We now know that fat is very active metabolically speaking, akin to our endocrine glands such as the thyroid, adrenals, and gonads. As such, our fats cells synthesize and secrete into the bloodstream a wide range of hormones that help control appetite, as well as our ability to use sugars, proteins, and dietary fat as energy.
In a 2006 review of the subject entitled “Adipose Tissue-Derived Factors: Impact on Health and Disease,” Trujillo and Scherer summarize in detail the newly emerging field of fat endocrinology:
Studies in the late 1980s have demonstrated that adipocytes can secrete a number of factors and that the secretion of some of these factors is affected by metabolic dysregulation. However, the concept describing the adipocyte as an endocrine cell did not gain general acceptance until several additional factors were identified in which expression was highly enriched in adipocytes, such as leptin and Acrp30/adiponectin. For the past 10 yr, endocrine aspects of adipose tissue function have become an extremely active area of research, and several additional hormones have been discovered. Generally, these adipose tissue-derived factors are referred to as adipokines. These adipokines influence a number of important systemic phenomena and interact in the process with a large number of different organ systems. 1
Researchers currently recognize two forms of storage fat, brown and white. The brown form specifically provides heat energy when needed as the external temperature drops. White adipose tissue synthesizes a series of hormones and cytokines, including, to name but a few, adiponectin, which increases insulin sensitivity and protects against heart disease; aromatase, which efficiently converts circulating testosterone into estradiol; angiotensin, which constricts blood vessels and raises blood pressure; and interleukin-6 and tumor necrosis factor, both pro-inflammatory cytokines.
I believe that storage fat serves yet another critical role, particularly important in our modern, industrialized, overly polluted world. Each of us is exposed to all manner of synthetic and toxic chemicals, the byproducts of agriculture such as pesticides, the myriad of chemicals in our water supply, the efflux from industry and the contamination from farm runoff, and the thousands upon thousands of chemicals in our air, the end result of industry that spews out everything from heavy metals like aluminum to sulfur dioxide.
We have very efficient mechanisms for regulating these toxins present in our food, our water, and air. As a start, our liver serves as our prime protector, capable as it is of neutralizing and preparing for excreting all manner of toxic wastes from the environment. The kidney, too, has a great capacity to rid our bodies of ingested or inhaled heavy metals, pesticides, and hydrocarbons.
But as the world gets more polluted year by year, even our livers and kidneys, as efficiently as they handle the huge and constant onslaught of industrial strength debris, can be overloaded. In this circumstance, we face the serious problem of internal pollution, with all manner of dangerous poisons circulating in our bloodstream, capable of wrecking havoc on cells from our brain to our toes, and capable of, over time, provoking all manner of disease, from Parkinson’s – associated with pesticides, for example – to cancer itself.
Fortunately for us, our bodies, as wisely as they have been designed, have yet another very extraordinary fallback system, a last resort for removing circulating toxins that back up from an overworked liver, and that is storage fat. Our fat cells seem possessed of an uncanny ability to recognize, actively capture, and concentrate a great variety of synthetic and toxic chemicals. There, stored away, these potential time bombs sit in relative isolation, removed from the general circulation and safely sequestered, like nuclear waste in a deep mountain mine shaft.
Unfortunately, as the pollution in our world increases yearly, our bodies, facing the dilemma of a constant onslaught of poisonous toxins, must work hard to hide these molecules away. I believe our brain, aware of the lurking danger, signals our fat tissues to increase the number of adipocytes as well as the size of each, to accommodate the growing need for still more storage space for all this excess toxic debris. It’s not an ideal situation, but it works fairly well even if there’s a price to pay – increased appetite, increased food intake, and ultlmately, increased girth, as our brain works hard trying to protect us from the toxic overload.
I find that as my patients clean up their lives with organic food, water purifiers, air filters, non toxic cleaning agents, and non toxic paints, they lessen the load of toxins in their lives, and the brain in its wisdom responds accordingly, by reducing appetite, allowing them to lose some of the extra fat.
I also require all our patients detoxify regularly with such techniques as coffee enemas, liver flushes, intestinal cleanses, juice fasts, to name a few. Frequently, patients report that without considering calories one bit the weight comes off, usually gradually, just as a result of such procedures. As our tissues clean out from all the stored poison, with the need for storage fat lessened, the fat tends simply to fade away.
I can’t overstate the importance of regular, intensive detoxification to any weight loss program. Many patients on very low-calorie diets fail to drop the weight because our brain’s signals to put on the fat for our own protection overrides even the best of intentions. To lose weight effectively you need to lose the toxic junk that comes into our bodies every day.
As my patients lose weight, they often report a variety of what seem to be peculiar symptoms. For example, I remember one patient who during the first months of the protocol began dropping the pounds but at the same time experienced a variety of strange neurological sensations, and even for a time a distinctive tremor. This was understandably quite frightening, but I believe that this particular individual, who had been exposed to quite a lot of pesticides in the past was simply finally ridding her body of these dangerous chemicals which had been kept in deep storage for decades. After about six weeks, the symptoms abated, and the patient proceeded to do very well.
Yes, of course, people become overweight for many reasons. No one would argue for example about the terrible effect of our national sugar addiction, with the average American consuming some 162 pounds of the white stuff yearly. But we need to think about the effect of our polluted internal environment, and its effect on appetite and weight. If we don’t clean out adequately, our brains will send hunger signals no matter what diet we follow, no matter what supplement we ingest, to keep us safe from what it perceives as a potential danger.
Of course, in a perfect world, no one would have to detoxify, do coffee enemas, or juice fasts, etc. But until our world is remade, I suggest anyone struggling hard and failing to lose weight consider some basic detoxifying techniques – the results are often gratifying, even when all else has failed.
By Nicholas Gonzalez, M.D.
1. Trujillo ME, Scherer PE. Adipose tissue-derived factors: impact on health and disease. Endocr. Rev. Dec 2006;27(7):762-778.