Cancer Link to Fat?

L0060083 Bioengineered obese mouse, Aberdeen, Scotland, 1998I’m sure most folks are familiar with some of the negative effects of carrying too much fat in the body. Most folks have probably learned that excess fat and cholesterol increase the risk for heart disease, hypertension, and stroke. The hormonal impacts of obesity put people at increased risk for diabetes. Both men and women can suffer from decreased libido due to obesity, with men experiencing a decrease in testosterone that potentially exacerbates the issue (though some studies indicate that low-testosterone may have a causal effect in relation to obesity – in any case, it seems to be a bad cycle for health.) Obesity may have a negative impact on bone density as well, which would make people more susceptible to bone injuries.

In short, having too much fat on your body is not great fro your health.

Preliminary research indicates that there may be yet another reason to keep excess fat off your body – it may allow cancerous cells to more rapidly spread and metastasize. Tests in mice indicate that there is a molecular component of cancer cells that appears to help the cells take up lipids from the environment. The working hypothesis is that a higher presence of lipids (fat) would allow cancer seed cells to more readily take hold in new locations. They also discovered that mice given high fat diets had “more and larger tumors in the lymph nodes and lungs.” Could this impact the promulgation of some of the faddish high-fat diets currently recommended? Maybe, but there is insufficient data to suggest that these diets actually impact the development of spread of cancer in humans. The article provides an admonition against reading too much into this initial data, given that some cancer patients currently require high fat diets to maintain energy to combat the effects of aggressive cancer treatments. Also, as we’ve previously mentioned, sugar has more of an impact on creation of fat that consuming fat. Still, if you’re carrying too much fat this might be another impetus to get you moving toward carrying less fat.

A couple of notes: I like to refer to carrying too much fat as opposed to too much weight. While there are arguments that weight, regardless of composition, beyond a certain point is bad for the body overall, there is certainly a difference between someone carrying a large amount of lean mass and a person carrying excessive fat. The standard BMI relies solely on height and weight, and can give a misleading reading regarding health risk.

Next, when I mention high-fat diets I must acknowledge the differences between types of fat in terms of health risk. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated plant-based fats are generally considered to have more positive benefits to overall health. Saturated fats should be limited. Diets high in fat may are generally considered “ok” if the fats are primarily plant-based and the subject gets regular exercise.

Lastly, I want to avoid being accused of fat shaming. We all are where we are, and it’s up to us to determine whether and how we change our situations. It is not appropriate to make people feel bad psychologically about their state. It is appropriate for people to have the information necessary to make decisions about their respective conditions, and carrying excessive body fat definitely carries a large number of health risks.