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A single high-fat meal can damage the metabolism

By brotholtz | February 17th, 2017

Saturated fats have been associated with the rising population of overweight, obese and type 2 diabetes. Scientists at the German Diabetes Center (Deutsches Diabetes-Zentrum, DDZ) and the Helmholtz Center in Munich (HMGU) have found that even the one-off consumption of a greater amount of palm oil reduces the body’s sensitivity to insulin and causes increased fat deposits as well as changes in the energy metabolism of the liver. The results of the study provide information on the earliest changes in the metabolism of the liver that in the long term lead to fatty liver disease in overweight persons as well as in those with type 2 diabetes.

In the current issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation, a group of German researchers published a scientific investigation conducted on healthy, slim men, who were given at random a flavored palm oil drink or a glass of clear water in a control experiment. The palm oil drink contained a similar amount of saturated fat as two cheeseburgers with bacon and a large portion of French fries or two salami pizzas. The scientists showed that this single high-fat meal sufficed to cause insulin resistance and increased fat content in the liver. In addition, changes in the energy balance of the liver were noted. Specifically, the observed metabolic changes were similar to changes observed in persons with type 2 diabetes or non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), the most common liver disease associated with obesity and an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.

The surprise from this study was that a single dosage of palm oil has such a rapid and direct impact on the liver of a healthy person and that the amount of fat administered triggered insulin resistance. In the study, scientists used non-invasive MRI to monitored the liver metabolism, which allows for tracking the storage of sugar and fat as well as the energy metabolism of the mitochondria (power plants of the cell). Through the investigation, the scientists were able to verify that the intake of palm oil affects the metabolic activity of muscles, liver and fatty tissue. The induced insulin resistance leads to an increased new formation of sugar in the liver with a simultaneously decreased sugar absorption in the skeletal muscles — a mechanism that makes the glucose level rise in persons afflicted with type 2 diabetes and its pre-stages. The insulin resistance of the fatty tissue increased fats\ release into the blood stream, which further causes the insulin resistance. In addition, the increased availability of fat leads to an increased workload for the mitochondria, which can in the long term overtax these cellular power plants and contribute to the emergence of a liver disease.

The take home message is that a single indulgence of fatty food will cause havoc in your system; and, depending on genetic predisposition, you may be able to manage this temporary negative impact. However, long-term consumption of high-fat diet can be problematic potentially leading to various metabolic problems.

Thanks for reading!

Dr. Connie Wan


Journal Reference:

Elisa Álvarez Hernández, Sabine Kahl, Anett Seelig, Paul Begovatz, Martin Irmler, Yuliya Kupriyanova, Bettina Nowotny, Peter Nowotny, Christian Herder, Cristina Barosa, Filipa Carvalho, Jan Rozman, Susanne Neschen, John G. Jones, Johannes Beckers, Martin Hrabě de Angelis, Michael Roden. Acute dietary fat intake initiates alterations in energy metabolism and insulin resistanceJournal of Clinical Investigation, 2017; 127 (2): 695 DOI: 10.1172/JCI89444