Weight Loss is a Bad Idea
Why is Losing Body Fat Dangerous?
Quite frankly, I like playing devil’s advocate so, after spending four newsletters telling you how to lose weight, I’m now going to present an argument that strongly suggests that you don’t shed those unwanted pounds. At least not without some forethought.
In the current (marketing-driven) narrative, being thin is considered healthy (and sexy) while being overweight is a sign of being unhealthy (and unsexy). However, as I briefly touched upon in my recent newsletters on weight loss, this is a flawed paradigm, not taking into account many factors including genetics, different body-types, and cultural/dietary influences (and personal taste when it comes to what constitutes “sexy”).
Now we have a new study to examine which found that when healthy, older adults lose a significant amount of body fat, they become at greater risk of shortening their lifespan, and more prone to diseases such as cancer and heart disease. Let’s now dive into that study and determine if we should take it seriously, and if so, why.
First, we have to appreciate that this particular study did not come out of a vacuum. The authors point out that “one recently published systematic review of 30 studies reported that in older adults, weight loss, weight gain, or weight fluctuation was associated with increased risk of all-cause mortality. However, the studies included in this review differed substantially, involving varying measures of body size (mostly self-reported) and variability in the rigor with which mortality events were assessed. Most of the studies included individuals with preexisting illness, such as cancer, dementia, and cardiovascular disease. Thus, the mortality risk associated with weight loss or weight gain among apparently healthy older men and women requires further study”.
Given this motivation, our researchers turned to the ASPREE study. For just over four years 16,500 citizens from the U.S. and Australia were part of a study known as “Aspirin in Reducing Events in the Elderly” (ASPREE). During this study, which ran from 2010 to 2014, the subjects, all over the age of 65, had their weights recorded annually.
All participants were determined to be relatively healthy with no life-limiting chronic illnesses, no dementia or heart disease, and had not been in the hospital recently. However, since this was a case of researchers examining a study that they did not carry out, one piece of data missing was whether any weight loss that occurred among the subjects was intentional or unintentional.
Nonetheless, the study concluded “that weight loss was associated with an increase in mortality, particularly among men, highlighting the need to monitor and investigate weight loss in older adults”.
According to research team leader, Dr. Monira Hussain, “it is widely acknowledged that weight loss may precede a diagnosis of cancer, in our study, weight loss also preceded an increased mortality from [cardiovascular disease] and other causes. The latter may include deaths from trauma, dementia, Parkinson disease, and other less common causes.”
While the ASPREE study ran until 2014, the analysis of it that we are examining was published in April of 2023 in “Original Investigation: Geriatrics”. The bottom line in this study is that a weight loss of more than 10% was clearly linked to higher “all-cause mortality” (including cancer and cardiovascular disease) among both men and women, with the association being somewhat more pronounced among men.
This association held consistent “even after adjustment for age, frailty status, baseline BMI, country of birth, smoking, hypertension, diabetes, and hospitalization in the previous 24 months. Adjustment for recent hospitalization is important because hospitalization is often followed by weight loss due to acute conditions”. Thus, in their analysis, they compensated for the flaws found in previous studies by eliminating those subjects with preexisting illnesses.
Furthermore, the link between weight loss and mortality “was observed across all starting weights in older adults, and even those who were considered obese risk premature death if they dropped 5% or more of their body mass”.
In the final analysis, “among men, loss of 5% to 10% of body weight and loss of more than 10% of body weight were associated with a 33% and 289% increase in mortality, respectively; among women, loss of 5% to 10% of body weight and loss of more than 10% of body weight were associated with a 26% and 114% increase in mortality, respectively.”
Why is it Worse for Men?
But, why was the association between weight loss and mortality higher among men? Our researcher’s hypothesis is that this may have to do with the different body compositions of men and women. The body mass of men has a higher proportion of muscle and bone mass whereas women have a higher proportion of fat in their body mass.
Thus, if the weight loss which precedes serious illness is dominantly a loss of bone and muscle mass, its effect would be more pronounced in men. This might also explain why total weight loss was far more associated with mortality than just a decrease in waist circumference.
Now, trying to interpret these data sets is where things get tricky.
The authors of this study feel that the association can be explained by the fact that the weight loss observed in those with increased mortality was simply an early indicator of the presence of these soon-to-manifest diseases. In other words, the weight loss is a symptom of the disease to follow, and not a trigger of the disease.
For example, it is well known that dramatic weight loss often precedes a cancer diagnosis. However, in this study the “weight loss also preceded an increased mortality from cardiovascular disease and other causes. The latter may include deaths from trauma, dementia, Parkinson disease, and other less common causes”.
One other relevant observation from this study, which might help to explain what is going on, is that in these subjects “weight loss was largely associated with a reduction of appetite, leading to reduced food intake”.
The authors discuss how appetite is governed by the central nervous system and circulating hormones, and there are a number of reasons why appetite might be suppressed in the early stages of illness. Such reasons include “increases in resistance to appetite-stimulating hormones, increased levels of inflammatory cytokines, and high levels of other mediators such as growth differentiation factor”.
So, the big flaw here is that, since the analysis of the ASPREE study was done a decade after the data was gathered, there is no clear distinction as to what percentage of weight loss was fat and what percentage was muscle and bone mass. Thus it is difficult to confirm the theories of the current researchers as to why this association between weight loss and all-cause mortality exists.
Given our predilection for always assuming a lean body mass results in a healthier body, our researchers cannot wrap their brains around the idea that weight loss could possibly be detrimental to our health.
However, I have two thoughts on this subject which they have not considered.
First: Reduced appetite can be a healthy thing, as we use a huge amount of our biochemical resources simply digesting food. Enzymes which digest food, also serve to scavenge inflammatory compounds and foreign invaders out of our blood stream, if they are not being used up in digesting food all day long. These enzymes (particularly proteolytic) are actually used in alternative cancer treatment protocols.
Eating less food is healing, up to a certain point, even to the point of fasting for a limited period, again, an alternative cancer therapy in some schools of thought.
Also, consider the value of the CRON diet (Calorie Restriction with Optimal Nutrition) which is believed to be one of the best longevity techniques.
Given this, I feel I can discard their theory about loss of appetite being a contributing factor to the development of disease.
Second: Let’s consider the toxins we modern people carry in our fat cells.
To quote the Science Daily website: “Environmental pollutants and other toxins are stored in fatty tissue. During weight loss, fat breaks down and toxins are discharged into the bloodstream.”
In a blog from naturopathic physician Dr. Chris Meletis, he states: “As naturopathic physicians and functional medicine providers, we need to be acutely aware of the risks associated with mobilizing toxins that have bio-accumulated over the months and years in adipose tissue”.
He goes on to say, “the storage of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in adipose tissue can prevent its build-up in other organs, therefore protecting against the otherwise toxic effects of POPs”.
Dr. Meletis then offers a study to back up this thesis: “In a study of 63 participants, researchers collected serum samples before and one year after bariatric surgery. The subjects lost a mean of 70 pounds over a year. The study authors measured levels of POPs in the samples and found that after weight loss, there was a 46.7% to 83.1% increase in serum POPs levels.” (Source)
In my opinion, this is the best explanation for the weight loss paradox: toxins are stored in our fat, as a protective technique the body uses to keep them from wreaking havoc and damaging our organs. So when we shed a lot of body fat our toxic load goes up, and disease gains an easier hold in the body. Plus, given the historically unprecedented amount of toxins we are ingesting on a continuous basis, our body fat is more toxic now than it has ever been.
Therefore, if we plan on shedding body fat in any appreciable way, detoxification has to be part of our program, and one should not embark on a weight loss program until they have thoroughly researched the subject. But, to end on a simple note, the two most powerful things we can do to detoxify is to use an infrared sauna, and to take Liposomal Glutathione.