Stress in fat cells leads to the yoyo-effect in weight loss

Scientists from Maastricht University (UM) have investigated a possible link between stress in fat cells and the probability of regaining weight after weight loss (the yo-yo effect). Six years ago, researchers from Maastricht University and Hasselt University found that fat cells do not like to give up their fat. That research and the current research were both conducted under the leadership of UM Professor Edwin Mariman. After the initial investigation, researchers suspected that fat cells experience stress after significant weight loss. To get rid of the stress as quickly as possible, the fat cells re-accumulate fat. The current research from Maastricht University confirms this suspicion. A second investigation, carried out by Nadia Roumans, focused on the composition of the external cytoskeleton of fat cells. It was suspected that this cytoskeleton is a crucial factor in the development of stress in fat cells after weight loss.

Eighteen healthy test subjects took part in the research on fat cell stress. They each followed a diet for eight weeks. The first group consisted of people who maintained their weight after weight loss (weight maintainers); the second group consisted of people who regained weight (weight gainers). The weight gainers lost 14.3% of their body weight and regained 8.2% in ten months. The weight maintainers lost 14.4% and only regained 0.9%. Researchers looked at markers (proteins) in adipose tissue for cell stress. They found that the stress experienced in the fat cells of the weight gainers during weight loss clearly increased more than the stress in the cells of the weight maintainers. The results of this research appeared last week in the British Journal of Nutrition.

The second study, involving researchers from Maastricht, Copenhagen and Lausanne as part of the DIOGenes consortium, looked at 496 test subjects with overweight and obesity. They followed a reduced-calorie diet for eight weeks and were screened again six months later. This research showed that variation in the components of the external cytoskeleton affect the probability of regaining weight after weight loss. Those components are also different for men and women. The results were recently published in Genes and Nutrition (19 November 2015).

Both studies confirm the suspicion that, in some people, the stress that builds up in fat cells during weight loss determines the probability that they will regain weight. Therefore, fat cell stress helps to explain the persistent yoyo effect.

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