A new study from the University of Helsinki’s Obesity Research Unit has found that fat tissue’s energy ‘powerplants’ are knocked out of tune in obese individuals, making it harder to lose weight and keep it off — in addition to paving the way for a variety of health problems. Though similar changes were found in the muscle tissue of obese individuals, the change wasn’t as drastic.
At the heart of the matter is mitochondrial gene expression in adipose (“fat”) tissue, the metabolism of which was found to be ‘greatly reduced’ in people suffering from obesity. The findings were based on an analysis of tissue samples taken from identical twins, one of whom was obese.
The researchers note that mitochondria play a key role in cellular energy production and, as a result, this decrease may ‘maintain obesity.’ As well, the study found that muscle tissue mitochondria were also disrupted in obese individuals, but the changes weren’t as notable as that of fat tissue.
Of note, the link between a proinflammatory state and the poor-performance fat mitochondria is ‘strong,’ according to the researchers. The same changes also drive the build-up of liver fat, increases in cholesterol, and glucose/insulin metabolism changes that put one in a prediabetic state. The changes in muscle mitochondria weren’t linked to the same health problems, however.
University of Helsinki professor Kirsi Pietiläinen explained:
Identical twins have the same genes, and their weight is usually fairly similar. In fact, studying twins is the best way to investigate the interplay between genes and lifestyle. In spite of their identical genome, the genes and even mitochondria of twins can function on different activity levels. We utilised this characteristic in our study when looking into the effects of weight on tissue function.