Now let’s see why obesity is harmful, and how much harm does it can cause?
Being obese can make a person less confident and less motivated in social life. Obesity can put restrictions on the free movements of a person which reflects in his/her social behaviour.
Is it the only problem that we should be worried?
Unfortunately, the answer is No! Social and cosmetic issues associated with obesity are just the tip of an iceberg. The real problem is far more dangerous, and most of the time, it is not apparent externally, which is the cause of real worry.
Obesity is associated with multiple health problems like Diabetes, High blood pressure, High cholesterol levels, Heart attacks. It is collectively known as Metabolic Syndrome. It may result in significant morbidity and can be life-threatening; that too, at a very early age, which makes the obesity a grave issue. Today, obesity is spreading like an epidemic all over the world. We need to be aware of its hazards and be prepared to fight against it.
In this article, we will be discussing the health issues associated with obesity. It is important to note that majority of health problems due to obesity are associated with high levels of visceral fat. It may not be noticeable externally, but present hidden deep inside our body.
The health hazards associated with obesity are:
INSULIN RESISTANCE AND DIABETES:
- Insulin is a hormone secreted by specific cells (beta cells) of the pancreas. It reduces the blood sugar level by transporting it from blood to the liver, muscles and fat cells for its effective utilization and storage.
- Excess amount of body fat (visceral fat) secretes certain harmful chemicals like Triglycerides (fatty acids), which interferes with the action of insulin and reduces its effectiveness. Thus, insulin remains available but cannot function effectively. (Insulin resistance).
- Insulin resistance causes insufficient utilization of blood sugar. Blood sugar levels remain high and lead to the development of Diabetes mellitus.
ABNORMAL BLOOD CHOLESTEROL LEVELS:
Excess amount of body fat (visceral fat) is associated with a rise in blood cholesterol levels. The level of LDL (Bad) Cholesterol increases and that of HDL (Good) cholesterol decreases. This imbalance between good and harmful cholesterol levels can lead to a severe health problem.
HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE:
- Excess Visceral fat/abdominal obesity creates insulin resistance. High insulin level is associated with retention of sodium by kidneys. Excess levels of sodium in the blood increase blood pressure.
- Fat cells secrete certain chemicals (Hormones) such as leptin. Presence of high levels of leptin in an obese person stimulates the nervous system (sympathetic) to burn that excess amount of fat. During this process, the blood pressure increases.
EFFECT ON BLOOD VESSELS:
Obesity is responsible for the increase in the levels of LDL Cholesterol (Bad Cholesterol)and triglycerides in the blood. It gets deposited along the walls of blood vessels like arteries and veins in the form of plaques. The walls of these blood vessels become hard, less flexible, and the lumen becomes narrow. It reduces the blood flow to the vital organs, which can have grave consequences.
INCREASE CLOT FORMATION (INCREASE IN BLOOD COAGULABILITY) IN BLOOD:
- Platelets are the particular types of cells present in the blood which help in control/stoppage of bleeding by way of clot formation.
- In obese individual having high LDL & Triglycerides (Bad Cholesterol)levels, low HDL (good cholesterol) levels & high Leptin levels increase the clot-forming activity of platelets.
- In the human body, there is a system present in the blood itself, which works on breaking the excess amount clots. Toxins secreted by fat cells hampers the effectiveness of this clot breaking system and indirectly contributes to the excess clot formation.
INCREASED CHANCES OF CHEST PAIN AND HEART ATTACKS:
- In an obese person, there is an excess amount of accumulated fat in the body. The heart has to function more to burn this excess amount of fat, which increases it’s the requirement for oxygen and nutrition through blood.
- Increased blood levels of LDL cholesterol, Triglycerides (Bad Cholesterol) and increased coagulability of blood (clot formation) are responsible for the creation of plaques within the lumen of blood vessels. It narrows their lumen. It also includes those blood vessels (Coronary) which supply oxygen and nutrition to the heart.
- The narrowed lumen of these blood vessels reduces the amount of blood flowing through them. It reduces the blood (Oxygen and nutrition) supply to the heart musculature and manifests as chest pain. If the situation further worsens, it can culminate into a heart attack (Myocardial Infarction).
A blood clot formed in the blood vessel (due to increased clot-forming ability of blood in an obese person) within the body sometimes gets dislodged, travels through the circulation and gets stuck inside a small blood vessel supplying the brain and blocks it. Similarly, if a plaque is formed within the lumen of a blood vessel supplying the brain, it can reduce the flow of blood considerably. It can deprive the brain of oxygen and nutrition, which can cause damage to the brain tissue and manifests as paralysis/stroke.
Heart failure means the failure of the heart as a pump. There are multiple mechanisms which can contribute to it.
- Abdominal obesity is associated with an excess amount of visceral fat which is very hard to burn. To burn this stubborn fatty tissue heart has to function more than its capacity. If this continues for a long time, heart muscles get fatigued, weakened and lose their ability to perform at an optimum level.
- In an obese person, visceral fat also gets accumulated around the heart. When the amount accumulated fats exceed a certain limit, it encroaches within the heart muscle and weakens them.
Weak heart muscle decreases the capacity of the heart to function at an optimum level and put an obese individual at the risk of heart failure and early death.
Obesity is associated with multiple Respiratory problems, such as;
- PULMONARY EMBOLISM: We are already aware that there is an increase in blood clot formation associated with obesity. Sometimes a clot formed in a vein situated deep within our leg gets dislodged (Called as Embolus). It travels through the blood circulation and gets stuck inside a blood vessel supplying blood to lungs. This situation is called pulmonary embolism. It is a life-threatening condition, which can be fatal.
- BREATHLESSNESS: Excess visceral fat deposition is associated with abdominal obesity. This excess fat around the abdominal region restricts the necessary full expansion of the lungs during exertion. Thus, an obese person feels breathlessness earlier and with a lesser level of activity as compared to the healthy individual.
- OBSTRUCTIVE SLEEP APNOEA: Obstructive sleep apnea means a person feels breathless while sleeping to such an extent that he gets a chocking sensation which often wakes him up. It becomes difficult for that person to sleep in a supine (lying on back) position. It results in a poor-quality sleep during the night and associated daytime sleepiness. It also hampers the productivity of that person. In an obese person, the excess fat accumulated around the belly region prevents full expansion of lungs in a supine(lying down) position. There is also fat accumulation in the neck region and around the windpipe, which narrows down the breathing passage. Both of these mechanisms are responsible for breathlessness and choking during sleep.
- ASTHMA: Toxins secreted by the fatty tissues irritate the respiratory tract, which generates an allergic response. When it becomes often, and severe can result in Asthma.
POLYCYSTIC OVARIAN SYNDROME AND INFERTILITY:
Obesity (Visceral Obesity) is responsible for the development of insulin resistance. Insulin which is secreted by pancreas fails to metabolize blood sugar effectively. The excess levels of insulin in the blood causes the secretion of the hormone called Androgen. Fat cells convert Androgen into estrogen. In women, this excess estrogen along with Androgen disrupts the normal function of ovaries, and increase the chances of developing polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). Having Polycystic Ovarian syndrome is a risk factor for infertility.
OBESITY INDUCED COMPLICATION DURING PREGNANCY
Obese women are likely to experience certain complications during pregnancy, such as,
- Increased risk of developing high blood pressure during pregnancy (Preeclampsia)
- Risk of developing diabetes during pregnancy.
- Increased risk of miscarriage. (Spontaneous Abortion).
- Increased risk of infections post-delivery.
- Less chance of having a normal delivery. Increased possibility of delivery through cesarean section.
GASTROINTESTINAL PROBLEMS ASSOCIATED WITH OBESITY:
- HEARTBURN AND ACIDITY:
- In an obese person, excess fat deposition occurs around the junction of the stomach inlet and food pipe. Excess amount of fatty tissue increases the secretion of female sex hormone- estrogen. High levels of estrogen increase gastric acid secretion.
- Deposition/presence of excessive fat around the abdominal region (Abdominal obesity) increases the pressure within the abdomen. The excess pressure compresses sphincter at the junction of the stomach and food pipe (oesophagus) and decreases the clearance of acid from the food pipe (oesophagus)
Both these conditions are responsible for causing an injury to the covering (mucosa) of the inner wall of the stomach and food pipe (oesophagus). It manifests as heartburn/acidity.
- LIVER INJURY:
Obesity develops insulin resistance. The excess insulin present in the body triggers the release of certain harmful chemicals like free fatty acids from the fat tissues. These free fatty acids get accumulated within the liver. Under normal conditions, the liver can effectively metabolize these fatty acids. When the rate of accumulation exceeds the rate of metabolism, these free fatty acids get deposited within the liver as adipose (fat) tissue. Presence of excess amount of fatty tissues in the liver results in programmed death of liver cells, ultimately leading to liver failure.
Presence of abdominal obesity with an excess amount of visceral fats increases the cholesterol formation within the bile in the gall bladder. Deposition of excess visceral fat reduces the motility of gallbladder. It causes stasis of bile stasis, resulting in deposition of cholesterol (present in bile) in the form of stones within the gallbladder.
HERNIA means a protrusion of an intraabdominal content (Omentum, intestines, bladder, etc.) or it’s part through a defect in abdominal musculature. The excess of visceral fat in an obese person weakens the abdominal wall muscles. Besides, obesity increases intraabdominal pressure. Both these conditions contribute together in the protrusion of intraabdominal content and development of hernias.
Abdominal obesity is associated with increased deposition of visceral fat. The excess fat deposition increases secretion of estrogen (female sex hormone), and at the same time decreases the levels of male sex hormone (testosterone). Both these things result in a reduction in sperm count, increasing the risk of male infertility.
MUSCULOSKELETAL PROBLEMS ASSOCIATED WITH OBESITY
There are multiple reasons responsible for the development of osteoarthritis (Pain and friction in joint) in an obese person.
- Excess fat accumulated inside the body functions like a separate organ. It secretes certain pro-inflammatory (harmful) chemicals, which destroy the cartilage present in the joint. Cartilage prevents friction between the adjacent bones and lubricates the joint. Loss of cartilage increases friction within the joint, which can induce pain.
- Obesity means excess body weight. Excess body weight puts pressure on the weight-bearing joints (e.g. Knee joints, Ankle joints, etc.), which can damage them due to mechanical overloading
Both these mechanisms eventually destroy the joint to create pain and friction
Osteoporosis is a condition where bones become fragile, brittle and can break easily. Obesity is one of the major factor responsible for it. Let’s see how
- Under normal circumstances, bone undergoes metabolism with the help of bone-forming (osteoblasts) and bone degrading cells (osteoclasts). Under normal conditions, bone formation and bone degradation always function in harmony to keep the bone healthy.
- Excess of fatty tissue secretes certain toxins which increase the activity of bone degrading cells and decrease the function of bone-forming cells. Rate of bone formation fails to match the pace of bone degradation, which makes bone weaker and weaker resulting in osteoporosis.
- LOW BACK PAIN
- In our vertebral column (Spine) every single vertebra is separated from the adjacent one by a cartilaginous tissue called Intervertebral Disk. Intervertebral disk prevents friction between the two adjacent vertebrae and also acts as a shock absorber.
- Harmful chemical/toxins secreted by visceral fat destroy the cartilaginous tissue of the intervertebral disk. It increases friction between the adjacent vertebrae during movement. It also reduces the shock-absorbing capacity of the spine.
- It makes an obese person susceptible to the development of mechanical back pain and also, to some extent, increase the risk of fractures in the vertebral column.
- RHEUMATOID ARTHRITIS:
The fatty tissue that is present in an obese individual is chemically active. It secretes certain pro-inflammatory chemicals. These chemicals create inflammation and damage the joint tissues at multiple locations in the body. It puts an individual at the risk of Rheumatoid arthritis and joint damage.
EFFECT OF OBESITY ON SKIN:
- DELAYED WOUND HEALING:
Leptin is a hormone which, along with other factors, plays an essential role in the wound healing process. In an obese individual, the excess amount of fatty tissue increases the secretion of leptin. Due to leptin resistance, this excess leptin remains inactive, which can delay the process of wound healing.
- SKIN INFECTIONS:
Excess of fat gets accumulated beneath the skin in an obese individual. It increases the number of skin folds. The sweat remains trapped within these folds. The toxins, along with the sweat trapped within these skin folds, favour the growth of infective microorganisms. It increases the risk of skin infections.
RISK OF CANCERS:
Fatty tissue in our body is chemically active. More the obese a person is more the amount of adipose (fat) tissue in his body. This chemically active fatty tissue releases specific proteins and hormones, which act as chemical messengers and affect the normal functioning of the body. Many times it results in the development of different types of cancers. E.g.
- Breast cancer
- Pancreatic cancer
- Cancer of oesophagus (food pipe)
- Stomach cancer.
- Kidney cancer
- Colon(Large intestine) cancer