Everyone knows that obesity is a major health problem in the U.S., but according to a recent study, until you cross that line from overweight into obese, you might actually have a longer lifespan than your skinnier peers. The study found that people who are "slightly overweight" have a lower mortality rate than those who lack body fat.
According to the study, the secret to slightly overweight people's longer lifespans and reduced rate of aging-related problems may be associated with an enzyme secreted by fat cells. The team tested their hypothesis by blocking these cells' ability to produce the enzyme, called, NAMPT, in mice. They found that the mice who lacked NAMPT had unusually low activity in the hypothalamus, the part of the brain responsible for regulating heart rate, body temperature, sleep and appetite. The mice became sluggish and refused to participate in physical activity.
Next, the researchers studied mice whose fat cells produced higher than usual amounts of NAMPT. They found that these mice were far more active than the NAMPT-deficient ones, staying very physically active even when they'd been fasting.
According to lead author Professor Shin-Ichiro Imai of Washington University in St. Louis, this may be a result of evolutionary mechanisms that evolved to keep people with a bit of fat on their bodies active and looking for food in times of famine.
"'This phenomenon makes sense in the wild. If you can't get food and you just sit around and wait, you won't survive. So the brain, working in conjunction with the fat tissue, has a way to kick in and let you move to survive, even when food is scarce," he said in a statement.
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