Long term fat loss requires more than just reducing the calories we take in through food and increasing the energy we burn with exercise and physical activity. The adult human body consists of over 100 trillion cells, 206 bones and 11 systems (cardiovascular, digestive, endocrine, immune, integumentary, lymphatic, musculoskeletal, nervous, respiratory, reproductive and urinary). Some or all of these systems respond to physical changes you make to your lifestyle. In part three of the series, “Fat Loss Fundamentals”, you will learn about three aspects of the body’s digestive system and how they can affect overall fat loss results.
6. The Liver
The liver, considered part of the digestive system, is the second largest organ in the human body (the skin being the largest). It is located in the upper right quadrant of the abdomen and has over 500 separate functions, including the following digestive functions:
- Carbohydrate metabolism (formation and breakdown of glycogen; synthesis of glucose)
- Protein metabolism (synthesis and breakdown)
- Fat metabolism (synthesis of cholesterol and production of triglycerides)
- Production and secretion of bile (used to breakdown fats and absorb vitamin K)
- Storage of glycogen, vitamins and minerals
- Detoxifying chemicals, molecules and hormones
Detoxification is one of the liver’s most important functions. This organ is the main metabolic “cleaning machine” of the body for both naturally produced chemicals and foreign toxic molecules that invade the body. The liver functions to transform harmful substances (i.e. alcohol, chemicals) into molecules that can be dissolved in water and easily eliminated.
In a perfect world, you would eat only healthy, whole foods and drink only pure liquids. Your liver would work at a manageable pace, synthesizing nutrients and processing waste products without any problems. In reality, you ingest, absorb and inhale many harmful substances on a regular basis, whether you realize it or not. Your liver works to detoxify and filter out these and other poisons and is remarkably effective at its job when it is functioning properly.
Health experts believe that one of the emerging threats to overall health is the increase in incidence of fatty liver (where the liver becomes more than 10% fat by weight). Fat molecules build up in the liver as a result of insulin resistance, diabetes, obesity, alcohol abuse, malnutrition, and even rapid weight loss. Hormonal changes at menopause and aging can also contribute to a fatty liver.
Poor liver health reduces the liver’s ability to do its job effectively, including the metabolism of carbohydrates, proteins and fats. You can improve liver health by trying to resolve any digestive issues and imbalances. This may include lowering your triglycerides, losing weight safely, avoiding alcohol, controlling diabetes, eating a balanced diet (with low glycemic-load meals and healthy fats) and exercising.
7. Gut Bacteria
Research, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, showed that a dominant and useful bacterium called Akkermansia muciniphila could dramatically alter the health of obese individuals. Akkermansia muciniphila is present in the intestinal system of all humans. This microorganism is found in the intestinal mucus layer that protects against intruders. The presence of the bacteria strengthens the intestinal barrier and is associated with a decrease in fat storage, decreased inflammatory response in fatty tissues and decreased insulin resistance.
Recent research has also found two distinct groups of intestinal bacteria inhabiting the colon that can influence the body’s ability to store or burn fat (Bacteriodetes and Firmicutes). People with a higher percentage of Bacteroidetes in their large bowel have been shown to burn fat more readily. On the other hand, individuals with a higher percentage of Firmicutes are more likely to store fat. What researchers have found is that as obese people lose weight, their percentage of Bacteriodetes increases as Firmicutes decreases.
Gut health and the process of digestion can change a person’s chemistry to promote fat burning versus fat storage. Maintaining the right level of gut bacteria with proper diet, nutrition and exercise is important for optimal health and vitality.
The concept of alkalinity can be a confusing one. It relates to the pH scale of your blood. The pH scale represents the “power of hydrogen”, which is a measurement of the hydrogen ion concentration in the body. The total pH scale ranges from 1.0 to 14.0, with 7.0 being the neutral value. A pH value that is less than 7.0 is acidic and solutions with a pH value greater than 7.0 is considered alkaline (or basic). The ideal blood pH for humans is slightly alkaline, between 7.30 and 7.45. Everything you eat and drink has an eventual effect on your blood pH.
The human body is very intelligent. As the body becomes more acidic, its defense mechanisms are triggered to keep damaging acid from entering the vital organs. Because fat cells are known to store acid, your body produces fat cells to protect itself from the acidic environment. Fat cells absorb the acid in an effort to keep it a safe distance from your organs, saving them from potential damage.
For example, when the blood is consistently a less alkaline (more acidic) pH, creating an acidic environment for all cells and organs, the cells protect themselves by creating insulating layers of fat (i.e. blood vessels and arteries produce a fatty lining, organs pad themselves with visceral fat and individuals cells increase fat molecules in the cell membranes. By maintaining a slightly alkaline blood pH, the body does not trigger this protective mechanism which makes it more difficult to lose body fat.
In Summary …
The digestive system plays an essential role in long term fat loss. The lifestyle changes you choose to make, as it relates to diet and exercise, are only as effective as the digestive system’s ability to function properly. Good liver function, maintaining optimal levels of gut bacteria and establishing a diet that promotes a slightly alkaline blood pH give your body a chance to release unwanted body fat and keep it off for the life. The final article in the series will discuss how one’s emotional wellbeing plays a role in the body’s ability to lose fat and maintain a healthy body proportion.