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Interviewee: Nir Barzilai,
In Search of a Healthy Long Life
Nir Barzilai, a physician at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine studies longevity in people and animals. But longer life is not necessarily the ultimate objective of his research. Barzilai says he is more interested in how people can hold on to their health as they live longer.
So in the search for healthy longevity, Barzilai studies the effects of abdominal or visceral fat on lifespan in rats. That’s because mounting evidence shows that fat around the internal organs is worse for your health than other types of fat, as it is associated with health problems like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
Barzilai and his colleagues explored the effects of caloric restriction and the removal of abdominal fat in rats. They studied lifespan in three groups of rats: those that received an unlimited amount of food, those that were fed 40 percent less than the first group, and those that received the same amount of food as the first group, but had abdominal fat removal at five months of age. The rats then continued their respective diets and the researchers tracked how long they lived.
As compared to the first group, the calorically restricted rats lived 40 percent longer, and the rats that had some of their abdominal fat removed lived 20 percent longer.
“So this suggests that the fat tissue itself is an important component of what happens in caloric restriction,” says Barzilai. Additionally, the rats whose abdominal fat was removed experienced a significant reduction in the occurrence of severe renal disease.
Barzilai’s previous studies in rats showed that surgical removal of abdominal fat improved their health, but removing the fat under their skin by liposuction did not.
He says, “Interestingly, there is also a study in humans where they did only the fat with liposuction, and it really didn’t have measurable metabolic effects. So what we see in rats is kind of similar to what we see in humans.”
Barzilai says that as of right now, surgical removal of abdominal fat in people is experimental and that the real focus of his research is to find drugs to change the distribution of fat.
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