A PILL to combat obesity in middle-age could soon be on the horizon.
Scientists have discovered why some people pile on the pounds as they get older, even if they don’t eat more or exercise any less.
They claim adipose tissue, that stores energy, becomes less effective at getting rid of fat. And this can lead to the middle-age spread.
The research, published in Nature Medicine, was based on a small study of 54 men and women in Sweden who were monitored over 16 years.
At the end, they were around 20 per cent heavier – even if their calorie intake had remained the same.
Experts believe this was because adipocytes were slower at removing fats, or lipids, consumed in food and drink, a process known as ‘lipid turnover’.
These potentially harmful cells form more than 90 per cent of the white fat that gathers around internal organs which can trigger disease.
Now scientists reckon drugs could be developed to mimic their role, and this could lead to more effective fat burning as we get older.
Lead author Professor Peter Arner said: “The results indicate for the first time that processes in our fat tissue regulate changes in body weight during ageing in a way that is independent of other factors.”
Prof Arner, of the Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, added: “This could open up new ways to treat obesity.” The lipid turnover of all the participants reduced over time – regardless of whether they gained or lost weight.
It can only be offset by consuming less calorie-dense food and drink and being more physically active, said the researchers.
The reason most people’s waistline expands as the years roll by has puzzled experts for decades.
By analysing the fat cells of the volunteers, Prof Arner and colleagues believe they have finally come up with the solution.
They also examined lipid turnover in 41 morbidly obese women who underwent bariatric surgery and how it affected their ability to keep the weight off four to seven years later.
Only those who had a low rate beforehand managed to increase it – and remain slimmer.
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They may have had more leeway than those for whom it was already high, explained the researchers.
Previous studies have shown one way to speed up the lipid turnover in fat tissue is to exercise more.
The latest findings support that idea and also indicate the long-term result of weight-loss surgery would improve if combined with increased physical activity.