The Health Impacts of Obesity on Older Women

It shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that obesity is a threat to health and in turn increases one’s chances of dying early. There are plenty of studies to support this supposition, but older people and women are often underrepresented in this realm of scientific research. That is until now.
The Health Impacts of Obesity on Older Women
A large national study, recently published in JAMA Internal Medicine tracked more than 36,000 post-menopausal women at nationwide research centers and universities. The Women’s Health Initiative study began in 1993 and concluded in 2012. The average age of participants was 72.

In a nutshell the researchers looked at the impact that obesity took on women’s health. A Feb. 19, 2014 New York Times article featured an interview with the lead author, Dr. Eileen Rillamas-Sun. “We found that women with a healthy body weight had a greater chance of living to 85 without developing a chronic disease or a mobility disability,” Dr. Rillamas-Sun stated in the article.

Indeed, overeating, as a habit, can have permanent physiological effects far beyond the weight gain. Habitual overeating can obviously lead to weight gain and, too often, obesity. Overeating, especially chronic consumption of sugar and starchy foods, can cause a dangerous slowing of the metabolism with detrimental effects to your health.

Doctors sometimes refer to a condition known as Metabolic Syndrome. It is a genuine medical definition, but the symptoms (abdominal fat, high blood pressure, elevated blood glucose, high serum triglycerides, and low serum high-density cholesterol (HDL)) seem unremarkable, common and somewhat unrelated.

But, what is really going on in a slowing metabolism? Your metabolism is a highly complex system that converts food-fuels into energy but is also highly adapted to store any excess energy resources as fat. Chronic shunting of food-fuel into fat storage fundamentally alters our mitochondria– the tiny biochemical power units within every cell.
Mitochondria burn fat molecules to produce the energy to power every cell in our bodies. Exercise increases mitochondrial number, size and fat burning efficiency. But, when the body remains for long periods in fat storage mode (e.g. overeating and limited exercise), mitochondrial size and number decrease and the ability of the mitochondria to provide energy for our body systems becomes limited.

Analogous to the macro-scale strength and fitness of our musculature, the microscopic mitochondria require regular training as well. Lethargy and overeating force the body to specialize in fuel storage rather than fuel burning in the mitochondria.
However, all is not lost. Older women (and men) can repair some of the metabolic damage wrought from obesity (and age) through diet, exercise, cold exposure and certain supplements. In the coming weeks, the Juvenon Health Blog will explore trending science in this field.