New study finds that obesity causes more cancers than smoking

Obesity smoking

Obesity smoking — Cancer Research UK, a research and cancer awareness NGO in the United Kingdom, has published a report according to which there are more types of cancers caused by obesity than by smoking tobacco. In particular, the research refers to four types of cancer: bowel, kidney, ovary and liver cancers.

“In Britain, there are twice as many obese people as smokers, millions of people are at risk for cancer,” the Cancer Research Institute says.

Excess weight causes about 1900 more bowel cancer cases each year than smoking in the UK. This same disturbing pattern also applies to kidney cancer (1400 more cases), ovaries (460) and liver (180). “Excess body fat sends signals to cells to divide more often and, like smoking, causes damage that builds over time and increases the risk of cancer,” says Michelle Mitchell, Executive Director of Cancer Research UK.

“Our children could be the tobacco-free generation, but we have reached a catastrophic record in childhood obesity, and scientists have identified 13 types of cancer caused obesity. We must therefore fight against obesity as we did for smoking.”

The NGO does not want to blame people who are obese but suggests that they are figures that can be reduced. In fact, obesity is the biggest cause of preventable cancer and, while the numbers of smokers are only decreasing in the United Kingdom, those of obese people follow the opposite path: there are more and more.

Many studies have been conducted in this area and all have obtained the same results: sedentary lifestyle is killing us. Making small changes in our lifestyle can bring us many more years.

A fifth of the British population suffer from obesity. Of its 66 million inhabitants, more than 13 million have weight problems and according to the NGO they have an impact on studies that have already shown in the past the relationship between obesity and cancer: fat cells produce more hormones than normal that causes the cells of the body to divide more frequently, which increases the likelihood that more cancer cells will be created.

There are 13 types of cancer related to obesity: overweight is not synonymous with cancer, but to increase the risk

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Dr. Linda Bauld, expert in prevention at the NGO, is blunt: “We are very aware of the health risks associated with smoking, but less effort has been made to deal with obesity, which is now an important cause of cancer”. They believe that starting by raising children’s awareness of the problem of being overweight is the beginning.

Our brain is partly responsible for the obesity epidemic

Worldwide, 1.9 billion adults are overweight and more than 650 million are obese. According to the WHO, this disease, which is characterized by an “abnormal or excessive accumulation of body fat that can affect health”, affects more and more countries and different socio-economic groups. Today, in the United States, nearly 30% of the adult population is obese, and about a 40% is overweight.

While many scientists associate this disease with an overly sedentary lifestyle and a consumption of increasingly processed foods, little is known about the molecular pathways involved. According to a study in the journal Science, specific neurons located in the lateral hypothalamus could signal when to stop eating.

Garrett Stuber, professor of neurobiology in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina (USA) and colleagues from Sweden and England studied a part of the brain called lateral hypothalamus (HL) in obese mice. “HL has long been known to promote eating behavior, but the exact cells that contribute to it are not yet well defined,” he told Medical News Today.

Scientists therefore analyzed gene expression in individual HL cells in obese mice and compared it to “normal” mice. They observed prominent changes in glutamate type-2 (Vglut2) transporter neurons, which means they would play a role in stopping the diet by telling our brain when to stop eating.

Specifically, in mice fed very rich for 12 weeks to induce obesity, “LHVglut2 neurons (…) have become less and less reactive to the consumption of sucrose and the rest,” explain the researchers . That is, these neurons did not send the signal “stop eating” to these mice as is the case for those who had maintained a normal diet. “Although our work has focused on LH, it is essential to note that many other brain areas and interconnected cell types are also likely modulated by obesity,” says Stuber.

As the number of obese people in the world has increased over the last thirty years, more and more scientists are trying to understand how this disease affects the brain. A few months ago, studying brain radios of 12,000 people, Dutch scientists discovered that “having more fat in the body is associated with smaller volumes of structure in the brain, including Gray matter that is located in the center of the brain.

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Previous research that has already made the link between volume of gray matter and “food reward circuit”, changes in the gray matter could increase the difficulties of people to control their eating habits, concluded the study.

Obesity: Coffee Would Promote Fat Loss

Drinking a cup of coffee would be beneficial for brown fat, which greatly contributes to the transformation of calories into energy.

Coffee could fight against obesity. British researchers at the University of Nottingham (London) show that caffeine stimulates brown adipose tissue, which turns dietary calories into energy. Their results were published in the journal Nature.

The main types of adipose tissue present in the human body are brown fat and white fat. The first one allows the body to burn calories by turning them into energy, the second stores calories as fat. “Brown fat works differently from other body fats and produces heat by burning sugar and fats, often in response to cold,” says Professor Michael Symonds, who led the study. The increase of its activity improves the control of blood sugar as well as the optimization of the rate of lipids in the blood and the additional loss of weight in calories”.

Researchers conducted in vivo and in vitro experiments to understand what role caffeine plays in the energy production process. When they exposed adipocytes (the cells that store fat) to caffeine, they found that it boosted their metabolism.

In parallel, they evaluated the amount of UCP1 protein present in brown adipose tissue—this protein is activated during the transformation of dietary calories into energy. Exposure of the cells to caffeine increased the amounts of UCP1 protein, which indicates there has been a transformation of calories into higher energy.

The researchers wanted to confirm these results in humans. Using a thermal imaging technique, they located the brown fat in the participants’ necks and studied the heat variations in the area. When they drank coffee, the temperature increased.

For the researchers, this is a sign of thermogenesis, a creation of heat related to cellular activity, and therefore an impact of caffeine on the manufacture of brown fat. “This is the first human study to show that just taking a cup of coffee can have a direct effect on the functions of brown fat,” says Dr. Symonds. “The potential consequences of our results are rather important. Because obesity is a major concern for public health, the number of diabetes cases is increasing, and brown fat could potentially be part of the solution to combat this.”

If the results are confirmed, caffeine could be used in treatments to combat obesity. The consumption of coffee must however remain measured: it should not exceed 4 cups a day.

Emy Torres

Emy holds a degree in Political Science from the University of Michigan and currently freelances part-time for The Talking Democrat.