According to the World Health Organization, obesity and diabetes are among the most prevalent metabolic diseases, affecting more than 650 million and 422 million people  respectively. 

With advances in research over the course of the 20th century, we have been able to increase life expectancy and move from an era where infections were the main cause of death and sickness, to one in which metabolic diseases have taken over as the leading cause of death and disability, reaching pandemic proportions. 

Diabesity is the term coined to reflect the fact that these diseases mostly coexist, caused by excess fat accumulation – a major risk factor for diabetes.

We live in a paradox: every year new diets appear, we create new foods and supplements with ‘promising benefits’ for our health but still metabolic diseases continue to increase. So what are we doing wrong? 

In this article we will discuss the role of fat cells in the development of insulin resistance and how a flexible metabolism can help you improve your blood sugar levels. 

Overweight or overfat? 

Thanks to research, our understanding of metabolic health (the body’s ability to keep blood sugar, lipids, and inflammation levels in check) has improved, showing that using weight as the main indicator of risk fails to provide an effective solution.

This is because it is not the excess weight by itself which drives blood sugar and lipids to dangerous levels. It’s actually excess body fat, especially visceral fat, hidden deep inside our torso, wrapped around our organs.

That’s because these fat cells release a range of hormones called adipokines that increase insulin resistance and cause long-term low-grade inflammation, causing cell damage and leading to metabolic conditions like diabetes, cancer and heart disease, among others. 

Fat burn and blood sugar regulation 

Fat and glucose (or ‘sugar’) metabolism are deeply interrelated. Research shows that having a flexible metabolism that allows the body to use fat efficiently for fuel has a protective effect on blood sugar levels. 

This is because a flexible metabolism allows your body not only to be efficient at burning the fat you eat, but also the fat you store in your adipose tissue. This provides a higher energy supply for your daily needs (using your fat stores) whether you are resting or exercising. 

Greater utilization of body fat from cells stabilizes the adipokines that cause insulin resistance and inflammation, and this in turn helps to stabilize blood sugar levels.

For this reason, optimizing your body’s ability to burn fat plays a crucial role in your health.

Your metabolism was made to flex

Modern society is characterized by poor metabolic health with high blood sugar levels prevalent worldwide, according to the International Diabetes Federation.  For this reason, prevention is crucial. 

Excess body fat leads to insulin resistance, and so achieving better metabolic fat adaptation can be an effective tool for regulating blood sugar levels. 

Your metabolism is not set in stone. It has an amazing capacity to change and improve in response to your daily routine. 

The first step is to understand how your current habits affect you. Things like the quantity, quality and timing of food, sleep and exercise.

Next you’ll want to switch on fat burn to improve metabolic flexibility, optimize your health and prevent type 2 diabetes.

Always remember, change is possible but time and consistency are crucial. There’s no single diet or exercise program that works for everyone. What matters most is getting to know your own body and figuring out what works for you. 

 References: 

  1. International Diabetes Federation Atlas. 9th Edition. 2019
  2. American Diabetes Association. Standards of Medical Care. 2021.
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  5. Kwon H, Pessin JE. Adipokines mediate inflammation and insulin resistance. Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). 2013;4:71. 
  6. Zhang L, Keung W, Samokhvalov V, Wang W, Lopaschuk GD. Role of fatty acid uptake and fatty acid beta-oxidation in mediating insulin resistance in heart and skeletal muscle. Biochim Biophys Acta. 2010 Jan;1801(1):1-22.
  7. Rhee EJ, Lee MK, Kim JD, et al. Metabolic health is a more important determinant for diabetes development than simple obesity: a 4-year retrospective longitudinal study. PLoS One. 2014;9(5)
  8. Smith RL, Soeters MR, Wüst RCI, Houtkooper RH. Metabolic Flexibility as an Adaptation to Energy Resources and Requirements in Health and Disease. Endocr Rev. 2018;39(4):489-517. 
  9. Corpeleijn E, Saris WH, Blaak EE. Metabolic flexibility in the development of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes: effects of lifestyle. Obes Rev. 2009 Mar;10(2):178-93. 
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