Mystery solved? Experts discover ‘real reason’ people gain weight in older age

Sep 17, 2019
Experts from the Karolinska Institutet may finally have the answer as to why people gain weight in older age. Source: Getty

If those jeans you love have become a bit tighter or you’re struggling to keep the weight off past the age of 60, you’re not alone. Experts claim to finally have the answer as to why people gain weight in older age, with researchers from the Karolinska Institutet explaining that it could have something to do with the turnover of fat chemicals in the body called lipids.

Lipid turnover in the body’s fat tissue decreases during the ageing process and makes it easier for people to gain weight – even when you eat less or exercise more than you previously did. The study, published earlier this month in the Nature Medicine Journal, analysed the fat cells in 54 men and women for an average period of 13 years.

During the analysis, both participants who gained and lost weight showed decreases in the lipid turnover in their fat tissue. Experts explained that this lipid turnover process is the rate at which fat in the fat cells is removed or stored. Those who didn’t cut the calories in their diets gained weight by an average of 20 per cent.

Experts also analysed a group of women who underwent bariatric surgery [a variety of procedures performed on people who have obesity] and investigated how the lipid turnover rate impacted their ability to keep their weight off after their operation. Participants who had a low lipid rate before surgery were able to increase their lipid turnover and maintain weight loss after surgery. Researchers believe participants with low lipid rates may have had more room to increase their lipid turnover than those who had a high-level pre-surgery.

“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,” research author Peter Arner said in a statement. “This could open up new ways to treat obesity.”

Researchers previously showed that exercising more is an effective way of speeding up the lipid turnover on the fat tissue, while another study published earlier this year in the Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism Journal found that a high-protein low-calorie diet in your 60s and beyond could lead to weight loss.

According to researchers of that study, this particular diet can also help older adults with obesity lose more weight, maintain more muscle mass and improve bone quality.

“Doctors hesitate to recommend weight loss for fear that losing muscle and bone could cause mobility issues or increase the risk of injury,” Kristen Beavers, a researcher from Wake Forest University in North Carolina, said when the study was published. “This study suggests that a diet high in protein and low in calories can give seniors the health benefits of weight loss while keeping the muscle and bone they need for better quality of life as they age.”

Recent figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare show that 67 per cent of Australian adults were overweight or obese between 2017 and 2018 and that 8.4 per cent of the burden of disease in the country was attributed to overweight and obesity in 2015. What’s more is there were 22,700 weight loss procedures between 2014 and 2015 – a dramatic increase from 9,300 in 2005 and 2006.

Being overweight or obese is linked to an array of other health problems including high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and other issues such as cancer, kidney disease, fatty liver disease and osteoarthritis. It’s important to talk to a GP or health professional about the best ways to maintain a healthy weight in older age, as recommendations can vary from person to person.

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

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