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You may already know that carrying excess body fat isn’t exactly good for health. According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), people who are overweight or obese have a higher risk of developing serious health problems like diabetes and cardiovascular disease. There’s also a strong and growing body of evidence to suggest that packing on the extra pounds increases one’s risk of getting cancer. Obesity is a common indicator of a number of underlying health issues linked to cancer.1
But how much weight is too much (or too little)? And how can you know for sure whether or not you are of a healthy weight so as to minimize your risk of cancer? It’s a tricky question with even trickier answers as, believe it or not, there’s no universal standard for determining what constitutes a healthy weight. There are many varying factors that have to be taken into account when making a proper assessment, and the medical profession at large is all over the place when it comes to pinpointing the most accurate approach.
While it’s a generally recognized fact that obesity is, indeed, a major risk factor for cancer, so is being underweight. And so is being “skinny fat” – meaning you look thin but still have high amounts of body fat. And so is looking relatively healthy while actually being unhealthy on the inside. And so on and so forth. In other words, it’s a complicated issue. And one that deserves a greater level of focus and attention, especially as obesity rates continue to skyrocket throughout the country (and world).
Fat Cells Help Fuel the Growth and Spread of Cancer
The first thing you need to know is that obesity is a dream come true for cancer. That’s because cancer cells thrive on fat cells as a source of food for their growth, replication, and metastasis. Science has repeatedly shown that tumors actually maintain a bidirectional communication system with fat cells in order to support optimal metabolic “fitness.” This means that cancer cells function at their best when actively supported by a healthy network of ready and available fat cells.2
Fat cells also produce hormones and other growth factors that can cause cancer cells to thrive. At least 1 in 20 cancer cases, according to statistics, are linked to being overweight or obese. The most common types being breast (post-menopausal), bowel, womb, esophageal (food canal), pancreatic, kidney, liver, upper stomach (gastric cardia), gallbladder, ovarian, thyroid, myeloma (blood), and meningioma (brain).3
Known collectively as adipose tissue, fat cells basically act as facilitators for cancer cells. They influence cell proliferation to varying degrees depending on where they’re located and how many of them there are. Fat cells located around breast tissue, for instance, will exhibit a different metabolic activity in support of cancer cells than fat cells clustered around the abdominal region. This latter type of fat, known as visceral adipose tissue, is generally regarded as the more damaging type.
According to Cornelia Ulrich, a cancer epidemiologist from the Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake City, Utah, there are two different relationships that exist between fat cells and cancer cells: paracrine and endocrine. The former characterizes fat cells that secrete substances to cancer cells that are in direct proximity to them, while the latter describes fat cells that secrete substances directly into the bloodstream. They are then circulated and distributed throughout the body, and directly into cancer tumors.4
We also know that a higher body mass index is directly associated with increased markers of inflammation in the blood, including C-reactive protein (CRP) that studies have shown to be a prominent indicator of increased cancer risk. CRP is not only connected to cancer risk,5 but also to cancer diagnosis, as cancer patients often have higher levels of it than people who are cancer-free. This makes sense as chronic inflammation, a characteristic of high CRP, is also a common marker of cancer.6
But CRP isn’t just an indicator of inflammation; it’s also a cause of it. And guess what produces CRP besides immune cells and the liver? Fat cells. This explains why blood tests revealing high levels of CRP often directly correlate with obesity. Fat cells actively produce this inflammatory substance, the long-term effects of which are known to cause cancer and other serious health conditions.
What About Being Too Skinny?
So, does this mean that all body fat is bad? Of course not, as our bodies are meant to store small amounts of fat as fuel, as well as a backup reserve for nourishment during times of malnourishment or starvation. It’s too much fat that ends up harming the body, which begs the question: how much is too much?
For women, a healthy body fat percentage ranges from about 16 to 25%7 (or 15 to 31%, depending on the source). For men, it ranges from about 3 to 20% (or 11 to 22% for middle aged to older men).8
Anything over these amounts is bad news on nearly every metric. A fat level below these ranges can also be detrimental, as anything below 3 percent body fat, especially in men, is basically a death sentence. According to Georgie Fear, R.D., author of Lean Habits for Lifelong Weight Loss, a body fat percentage below 5 percent is the earliest warning sign of poor health. Again, some body fat is necessary for properly maintaining the cardiovascular, endocrine, skeletal, reproductive, and central nervous systems.9
Believe it or not, being too skinny is a recipe for hormone imbalance, body temperature issues, reproductive problems, poor immunity, “brain fog,” heart disease, and a host of other health issues. Many of these are also endemic in people who are overweight. The goal is to find that “sweet spot” that’s a perfect match for your unique height, frame, and figure – factors that vary from person to person.
The BMI Is NOT a Reliable Indicator of “Fatness”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and various other health authorities will point to the Body Mass Index, or BMI, as “a reliable indicator of body fatness for people.” But the truth of the matter is that identifying healthy body composition extends far beyond the scope of anything that the BMI can offer.
Truth be told, the BMI was originally created not as some kind of advanced scientific metric to determine overall health status, but more as a basic data tool – and a rather primitive one at that. It was meant to assess weight status based on general population data. Simply put, the BMI allows people to plug in their weight and height numbers to quickly see where they may fall on the obesity spectrum. It’s purely informational, not instructional or even diagnostic as many people believe it to be.
In actuality, the BMI isn’t even reliably informational because it presupposes an inactive and sedentary lifestyle. Athletes and bodybuilders with higher-than-average muscle mass will almost always be classified as “overweight” or “obese” because the BMI doesn’t at all evaluate the intricacies of body composition. Muscle weighs twice as much as fat per volume, by the way… It also doesn’t consider the size and proportion of bones, muscle mass, and fat–figures that are uniquely different for every individual. Heck, the BMI doesn’t even look at waist size, a key indicator of obesity that’s very easy to assess.
While the BMI can, in some cases, help people who are truly underweight or overweight to recognize the need for intervention, it’s a poorly devised and severely outdated assessment apparatus. It is based on a flawed methodology that its creator, Belgian mathematician Lambert Adolphe Jacques Quetelet, described in terms of covering only “the average man.” Rather than evaluate individuals, in other words, the BMI takes a generic, conceptual approach centered around what’s believed to be true about entire population groups, which just doesn’t work.
The BMI is basically mathematical “snake oil.” It does not, and cannot, pass the muster in terms of taking an honest look at what it truly means to be of an unhealthy weight. And the unfortunate truth is that there are much better and more scientifically sound ways to make this determination that, for whatever reason, aren’t being used by the medical system at large. This has disastrous consequences for public health.”10
The Waist-Height Ratio: A Better Measure of Obesity
So what types of methods work? Since an accurate measure of visceral adipose tissue (VAT) is a critical part of the obesity equation (and one that’s not even considered with the BMI), some health experts recommend using what’s known as the waist-height ratio, or WHtR, instead. Developed by physiologists from the United Kingdom, WHtR simply divides waist size by height, using either inches or centimeters.
A six-foot-tall man with a waist size of 32 inches, for example, would divide 32 by 72, which equals .44. This would be considered a healthy weight according to WHtR, which dictates a range of anything between .40 and .50 – a “pear” shape – as being healthy. Anything below .40 is considered to be a “chili pepper,” meaning it’s probably time to hit the gym and up the calories. Anything above .50 is considered to be an “apple,” suggesting that fat-loss should be that person’s number one priority.
It might sound silly, but it’s far more accurate than the BMI, which has an accuracy rate of only about 14%. The WHtR, on the other hand, has a 50% success rate, largely because it includes the assessment of abdominal fat – the worst kind of “bad” fat.11 Recent research out of Michigan State University (MSU) found that this type of fat actually releases a protein that can cause non-cancerous cells to turn into cancerous ones. And belly, or abdominal, fat releases the most.12
Maintaining Healthy Body Composition: A Practical Approach
Keep in mind that being overweight or obese is problematic for many reasons beyond cancer. Carrying around excess abdominal fat is a recipe for metabolic syndrome, which represents a generalized state of cardiovascular dysfunction. It often precedes cancer and other health problems. Studies again point to abdominal and hip fat as being the most threatening in this regard.
This fact alone puts quite a few holes in the “healthy at any weight” trend that seems to be in vogue these days. While striving for a supermodel body is not what we’re after, it’s still vitally important to pay attention to your body composition and learn ways to better maintain it. This will go a long way in helping you to feel good while staying disease-free.
The good news is that it’s not as difficult as it might sound. While we’ve talked quite a bit about the science linking fat to cancer, as well as unpacked some of the ways of properly identifying it, there’s a common approach to dealing with body fat that involves staying active, eating right, and supplementing as needed.
High-intensity cardiovascular exercise is a great place to start in the fitness department, especially if you’re in the overweight or obese category. More specifically, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is said to be the best for shedding excess fat while simultaneously building muscle. The interval part is referring to alternating exercises that involve differing rates of speed, effort, and activation of muscle groups.
The reason why HIIT works so well for this purpose is that it kickstarts the metabolism in just the right way so as to burn calories from the fat you’re trying to get rid of while supporting the growth of muscle tissue. It also helps to increase aerobic, or oxygen, capacity while pushing the heart muscle to work harder. Over time, this naturally improves body composition.
Studies have found that HIIT, which also goes by the name of high-intensity intermittent exercise (HIIE), is the most effective way to exercise if you’re trying to reduce both subcutaneous and abdominal body fat. It also significantly lowers insulin resistance – which is great for hormone balance – while enhancing skeletal muscle fat oxidation and improving glucose tolerance.13
But even the most aggressive HIIT approach is pretty much useless apart from a healthy diet. What you eat and when you eat it is actually the number one factor that influences your body composition, followed closely by physical activity. Together, proper nutrition and intense exercise represent a one-two punch against cancer-causing fat. But it all starts with diet.
“Eating right” is admittedly subjective, as dietary needs tend to vary from person to person based on things like individual metabolic rate, physical proportionality, age, and gender. But there are some standard guidelines that nearly everyone can benefit from, including avoidance of processed sugars and refined grains.
The latest research also suggests that healthy fats, including saturated and monounsaturated varieties derived from pastured animals and tropical plants, should actually comprise a bulk of one’s diet. This should be followed by moderate amounts of high-quality protein and fresh, organically grown vegetables. Limiting food consumption to a strict eight-hour window, also known as intermittent fasting, is further beneficial in helping to trim down those extra pounds.14
Lower CRP Levels with Trace Minerals, Vitamins, and Herbs
It’s always a good idea to keep your CRP levels in check as well, especially if you’re already overweight and trying to shed extra pounds. There are ways to do this through supplementation with vitamins, minerals, and herbs that have been scientifically shown to help decrease levels of CRP while simultaneously targeting the inflammation that accompanies it. Many of these compounds also possess natural anti-cancer benefits.
Here are 16 beneficial compounds:
1 | Creatine, a compound found in muscle cells that helps them produce energy, has been shown to help correct exercise-induced increases in CRP in athletes.15
2 | Curcumin, a primary component of the turmeric spice, was shown in a meta-analysis of six different studies to help decrease CRP levels in test patients by 6.4 milligrams per liter (mg/L).16
3 | Fenugreek has been determined to help lower CRP levels in animal subjects with experimental arthritis.17
4 | Ginger has been shown to help reduce high-sensitivity CRP (hs-CRP) levels in diabetic adults.18
5 | The polyphenols in green tea have been found to help lower CRP levels in subjects with systemic inflammation.19
6 | Isoflavones, a class of phytochemicals found in plants, have been shown to help reduce CRP levels in active postmenopausal women by 1.1 mg/L.20
7 | L-carnitine, an amino acid, has been shown to help lower CRP levels in end-stage renal disease patients on dialysis.21
8 | Higher serum levels of magnesium have been shown to be directly associated with lower levels of CRP in overweight, middle-aged women.22
9 | Probiotics have been shown to help lower hs-CRP levels in diabetics.23
10 | Omega-3 fatty acid deficiency is associated with increased CRP levels in patients with peripheral artery disease.24
11 | Quercetin, a type of plant pigment, is associated with decreased CRP levels when taken along with vitamin C.25
12 | Red yeast rice, a cultured food, has been shown in at least one study to help lower hs-CRP levels by 24% in patients with moderately high cholesterol.26
13 | Vitamin C has been shown to help decrease CRP levels by 24% in both active and passive smokers,27 as well as hs-CRP levels in hemodialysis patients.28
14 | Vitamin D, the “sunshine vitamin,” is associated with decreased CRP levels in patients with rheumatoid arthritis;29 it’s also been shown to help reduce serum CRP levels in pregnant women by 1.4 mg/L, while controls actually saw an increase of CRP by 1.5 mg/L due to a lack of vitamin D.30
15 | Vitamin E in the form of alpha-tocotrienol has been shown to help lower CRP levels in both animals and humans.31
16 | Zinc has been shown in diabetics with kidney disease to help lower hs-CRP levels from above 10 to 7.7 mg/L;32 it can also help lower hs-CRP levels in young obese women.33
Many of these compounds also work synergistically together with one another to provide even greater benefits. This was demonstrated in one study that found that taking a combination of resveratrol (a polyphenol found in grapes), pterostilbene (an antioxidant), quercetin, delta-tocotrienol (vitamin E), and nicotinic acid helped to reduce CRP levels in healthy seniors by an impressive 29%.34
Keep in mind that an optimal CRP level is said to be under 0.55 mg/L for men, and under 1.0 mg/L for women. Overall, a CRP level of less than 1.0 mg/L is considered to be “low risk” in general, while a level of 1.0 to 3.0 mg/L is considered to be “intermediate risk.” Anything higher than 3.0 mg/L is considered to be “high risk” and in need of immediate intervention.35
Cyanidin-3-Glucoside: A Fat-Trimming Dream
There’s another compound we’d like to bring to your attention known as cyanidin-3-glucoside, or C3G, that emerging research suggests is a powerful nutrient partitioning agent. It basically causes food compounds that would otherwise be converted and stored as fat to instead incorporate into muscle tissue. This means that more of the foods you eat turn into the body composition you want, in turn decreasing your overall risk of cancer.
This naturally occurring compound, C3G, functions in two unique ways. On the one hand, it helps to improve insulin sensitivity in muscle cells, resulting in improved insulin signaling and nutrient uptake. C3G also enhances glycogen synthesis, meaning it causes sugar and carbs to turn into muscle tissue rather than stored fat.
Studies also show that C3G specifically up-regulates gene expression to help the body burn more fat. It simultaneously down-regulates the genes associated with fat storage, further increasing the oxidation of fatty acids. The end result is that fat cells shrink and eventually disappear, which is accompanied by an overall reduction in systemic inflammation. This is a win-win for battling abdominal fat and minimizing the risk of chronic diseases like cancer.36
In our junk food-ridden, chemical-saturated world, the propensity towards becoming overweight or obese is strong for pretty much everyone. We’re all susceptible to it. Yes, even skinny people face the risk of becoming “skinny fat,” as we mentioned earlier, which is why it’s important to make every effort possible to stay lean. What we’ve outlined for you here is a great place to start, and our belief is that if more people took these tips to heart, the obesity epidemic would subside, leading to far less disease in our world.
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