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How Chemotherapy Impacts Your Body Composition

By Health, Medical, Recovery

As people continue to live longer and longer, cancer will only become more common. One of the essential treatments of cancer is called chemotherapy. For those who don’t know, chemotherapy refers to the use of chemical agents of substances in the treatment of cancer.

Chemotherapy treats cancer by using chemical substances to halt the division of cancerous cells. Unfortunately, these cancer-killing agents can also impact the patient’s metabolism and the absorption of calories. These therapies can also impact the patient’s body weight, which can affect his or her chances of survival.

In this article, we’ll discuss the body composition changes that occur when a person undergoes chemotherapy. We’ll also share practical ways to combat these changes to reduce the negative changes in body composition from treatment.

Weight Gain and Chemotherapy

There are many different types of chemotherapy treatments, however, all of them slow down the uncontrolled cancerous cell division that defines this condition. Examples of common chemotherapy agents include:

    • Alkylating agents: These attack cancer cells during the resting phase before they start the process of cell division.
    • Antimetabolites: These are agents that are absorbed by cancer cells and prevent them from dividing.
  • Topoisomerase inhibitors: Topoisomerases are enzymes that are required for DNA replication and cell division. These chemotherapy agents halt the action of these enzymes, making it impossible for cancer cells to divide.

Unfortunately, these chemotherapy agents also attack normal, healthy cells. These are where the side effects come from. Examples of common chemotherapy side effects include:

    • Nausea and vomiting
    • Hair loss
    • Puffy appearance of the face
    • Numbness and tingling
    • Weight gain
    • Urinary retention or incontinence
    • Acoustic damage leading to difficulty hearing
  • Pulmonary fibrosis and cardiotoxicity, in some cases

Researchers analyzed more than 200 women undergoing breast cancer treatment and found that the average patient gained around 4 kilograms (about 10 pounds).

Similar results, published in Clinical Oncology, showed that in a sample of over 100 women, the average weight change was a gain of 3.7 kilograms (about 9 pounds). These studies are in line with numerous others, indicating that many people with cancer gain weight while undergoing chemotherapy treatment.

There have been many different hypotheses proposed regarding why patients gain weight during treatment. Examples include:

    • Changes in the ability to process and absorb nutrients from food
    • Individuals feel sick and tired, leading to an inability to exercise
    • Fluid retention related to cancer and/or chemotherapy treatment
  • Steroid use to offset some of the complications related to cancer and treatment

Having excess fat (obesity) is clearly linked to an overall increased risk of cancer. However, just because you are gaining weight from treatment doesn’t mean that your chance of cancer recurring will increase, as weight gain does not always mean fat gain. The first study found no association between the amount of weight gained and the cancer recurrence. That said, these changes in body composition are highly linked to weight gain, often associated with increased risk for disease.

While these factors may contribute to weight gain, weight is not the best indicator of body composition change. While going through treatment because there are significant changes in body composition, it is imperative that you track these changes in order to understand how health risks can change over time.

Why is Body Composition Important?

For those who may not know,, body composition refers to the makeup of your body or, more commonly, your body weight. While other measures such as weight and BMI have been used as a measure of health for decades, body composition is a more accurate representation of your health and health risks. Body composition is typically divided into:

    • Total body water: Located in all components of the human body
    • Protein: Found in the muscles and organs
    • Minerals: Includes vitamins, calcium, iron, and other trace metals that are important for various functions
  • Fat: The primary way the body stores energy

Every aspect of body composition is important for a different reason. Your health isn’t just about gaining or losing weight, but about the fluctuation of the various components of your body composition. Cancer and chemotherapy can drastically impact your body composition, making it of vast importance to understand and track body composition in these patients.

What Effects does Chemotherapy Have on Body Composition?

Chemotherapy and Fat Mass

Chemotherapy, unfortunately, can cause unwanted body composition changes, as well as uncomfortable side effects.

study was published in Clinical Breast Cancer analyzing the body composition of women undergoing chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer. Body composition measurements were completed prior to starting chemotherapy and 12 months into chemotherapy. This helped analyze not only whether or not the participants gained weight but also where and how their body composition changed.

The results indicate that those who were of normal weight gained about 4 pounds and added fat in their torso and arms. On the other hand, those who were overweight or obese prior to starting chemotherapy lost between 3 and 4 pounds.

Another study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism analyzed body composition and weight changes in women with breast cancer undergoing treatment. Conducted in a similar manner, this study found that their patients did not have any significant changes in their weight; however, they did have an increased amount of fat mass and decrease in fat-free mass.

Why do these changes occur?

These researchers also surveyed women on their lifestyle changes as a result of their chemotherapy treatment. The survey shows that many women reduce their levels of physical activity, reduce their work activity, and have a reduction in their appetite. All potentially contributed to the changes in their body composition discussed above.

Even though these studies demonstrated that women gained weight in the form of fat, as well as lost lean mass, these studies are important because they help patients anticipate what might happen as they start chemotherapy. If patients can anticipate that these changes might happen, they can take steps to avoid or decrease the extent of these changes in body composition.

Chemotherapy and Muscle Mass

study was completed to analyze the specific metabolic changes that happen in people who experience cancer-related cachexia. Researchers found as the patients approached death, they lost an average of 4 kg of muscle mass. These patients also lost fat mass and burned more calories, representing a major shift in metabolism.

A similar study found patients who lost more than 9 percent of their total muscle mass had significantly lower survival rates. While the average patient lost about 6.1 percent of their muscle mass, those who lost more than 9 percent were almost 3 times less likely to survive.

Since body composition and muscle mass play a major role in the survival of cancer patients, treatments should focus on proper nutrition to maintain muscle mass and prevent or minimize the effects of cachexia.

Novel Treatments and Maintenance of Body Composition

In addition to dietary changes, there are other interventions to help halt cachexia progression and increase survival. Novel treatments of cancer cachexia  include:

    • Exercise mimetics: Since many people are restricted to a sedentary lifestyle while undergoing chemotherapy treatment, drugs that help the body mimic exercise may stimulate muscle fibers and help retain muscle mass
    • Metabolic targets: An early study on the impact of AR-42 inhibitors (a type of cancer therapy) in animals with cancer showed that those who took the medication had less reduction in muscle fiber size and strength when compared to the control group.
  • Digestive targets: Probiotics are important for maintaining a healthy digestive tract while undergoing chemotherapy. Certain bacteria, such as Lactobacillus Reuteri and other probiotics, can help stimulate genetic targets and regulate inflammation, helping to reduce cachexia.

So, what does this mean for the cancer patient? People should think about incorporating various dietary changes and exercises to maintain muscle strength and slow muscle loss. It should be recommended to incorporate fish oils, amino acids, nutritional support, and exercises that focus on building muscle because, not only will this improve mood, it could also improve prognosis.

Conclusion

Chemotherapy can significantly impact a patient’s weight and body composition.

Studies have shown cancer patients gain weight, however, it’s primarily fat and body water stemming from inflammation. Because of this, body composition must be tracked to understand how the various physiological changes can influence health risk. This tracking can help healthcare professionals see fluctuations in fat, water, and even skeletal muscle mass, helping to prevent the negative changes in body composition in order to increase survival and quality of life.

Because of the changes discussed above, it is important for everyone to maintain a healthy diet and remain physically active during their cancer treatment. While this can be hard because of side effects such as nausea and vomiting, it will help people maintain their body composition and could increase survival.

There are inevitable changes to the body when cancer cells proliferate in the body. Performing treatment of the cancer is of utmost priority, but the next step is to manage the health of the body. Body composition can change, which will be associated with health risks, thus performing a mixture of diet and exercise can help offset these changes. Cancer exercise is a growing field due to the increased knowledge of the benefits of exercise.

The goal is not to become a bodybuilder, so weights aren’t always necessary. The goal is to stimulate the muscle fibers by using them, sending a signal to the body that these muscles are still needed. This will prevent muscle degradation and help the body incorporate ingested protein into new muscle fibers.

For those who do enter a cachectic state, there are treatment options available such as vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. Through education and collaboration with healthcare professionals, effects on body composition from cancer and subsequent chemotherapy treatment can be delayed and patient outcomes can improve.

**

David Randolph graduated from medical school at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. He is currently completing his Residency in Pediatrics at the University of South Carolina.

Combating Diabetes Through Enhanced Body Composition

By Body Composition, Medical

The more you look at the statistics, the more it seems that type 2 diabetes might be one of the quietest epidemics in recent medical history. What used to be seen as a disease that affects primarily adults now appears in children and teens with frightening frequency.

Currently, more than 29 million Americans have diabetes. What’s worse, 25% of those people aren’t aware that they have it. Adding on to that is that a third of American adults – over 80 million people – currently have prediabetes, unbeknownst to them (you can check your risk level with the link above). That’s right: it’s not just about how many people have diabetes–it’s about how many people don’t know they have it, or are at risk for it

And the future isn’t looking much brighter. Study after study predicts that the situation could continue to worsen over time, with the number of people diagnosed with diabetes increasing dramatically.

What’s going on, and what role does body composition have in developing or preventing diabetes?

Quite a lot, actually. And, as is usually the case, the starting point is taking deeper look into body weight to understand how it misleads so many people.

Diabetes – Not Just a Heavy Person’s Disease

For many years, type 2 diabetes was thought to be a lifestyle-caused disease linked primarily to obesity. While it’s true that obesity rates have risen together with diabetes cases, there’s a major outlier that’s changing the way how one develops diabetes is understood. People with so-called “skinny-fat” bodies are (and have been) developing diabetes to such a degree that they’re now identified as an entirely “new” population that’s at risk for developing diabetes.

Skinny-fat people are characterized as having a normal weight, overdeveloped body fat mass, and underdeveloped muscle mass. An example body composition breakdown for a skinny fat person would look something similar to this:

Notice the low levels of muscle and high levels of body fat? Both of these can contribute to the onset of diabetes, but they do so in different ways. But how, and why? In order to understand these questions and to find solutions to them, first you must understand what happens in a diabetic’s body.

Characteristics of Diabetes

The first step to understanding diabetes is understanding glucose.

The simple sugar that cells rely on, glucose is the result of digestible carbohydrates being broken down and absorbed into the bloodstream.  Rises in blood sugar levels are the catalyst for you to make and release insulin. Insulin is a hormone that allows your body to use the glucose derived from your food.

Unlike in type 1 diabetes, where your body doesn’t actually produce sufficient insulin, type 2 diabetes occurs when your body can’t properly use the insulin it makes. This is called insulin resistance, which over time typically requires that diabetics take supplemental insulin.

So where does muscle fit into this conversation? Turns out your muscle mass – or your lack of it – can play a major role in developing insulin resistance. Sarcopenia, the medical term for underdeveloped muscle and a characteristic of skinny fatness, has been linked with increased insulin resistance and the development of type 2 diabetes – independent of obesity itself.

This greatly helps explain the rise in cases of prediabetes and diabetes – it’s not something only developed by overweight or obese people. People with little muscle mass, but a normal body weight created by the compensating overdeveloped body fat, share the same risk. What’s worse, once type 2 diabetes does set in, diabetes itself has a very damaging effect on skeletal muscle mass which compounds the problem further.

But of course, muscle mass is just one part of a poor body composition that can put someone at risk of developing diabetes. Increased body fat still does play a major role in the development of diabetes, and it’s a characteristic shared by both skinny fat people and those who have both high body weights and high body fat percentages.

Visceral Fat: The Lurking Threat

When looking at the relationship between type 2 diabetes and body composition, one of the most important factors to keep in mind is the role of increased body fat levels. This relationship has been established time and again, and hardly bears worth mentioning.

What does bear mentioning is that recent research has been able to determine which type of body fat most contributes to diabetes: a type of fat called visceral fat. Defining visceral fat is actually pretty straightforward: it’s excess intra-abdominal fat. This fat wraps itself around major organs and can have some serious effects on a person’s health.

Recently, a study was released that focused on the role that visceral fat mass plays in type 2 diabetes. Part of their findings showed correlations between various body measurements and risk for diabetes/prediabetes:

That orange line designates visceral fat, and it proved to be the single best predictor of both conditions.

It’s easy to say that body fat and diabetes have an established link. What really matters is the specifics – visceral fat is the real culprit here.

Lessening Diabetes Risk With Improved Body Composition

Diabetes is a serious disease, and depending on the severity of it, can require different combinations of medications, lifestyle interventions, or both.

While no one is suggesting that you can simply diet and exercise your way out of diabetes (although it at least one case, that did appear to happen), it is true that with lifestyle changes and a modest body weight reduction of 5-10%, type 2 diabetes is largely preventable.

This is definitely good news; however, statistics like these lend themselves to an often counterproductive focus on body weight as the only measuring stick of progress.

Remember the earlier example of skinny fat and low muscle mass? That’s a prime example of where an over-reliance or dependence on body weight alone can lead you. So instead, let’s have a look at how improvement to your body composition (your fat mass, your muscle mass, etc.) can have an impact on diabetes.

For starters, Let’s start with glycemic control and body fat.

  • Body Fat

Poor glycemic control, which refers to the typical levels of blood sugar (glucose) in a person with diabetes, has been identified as one of the principal clinical parameters of insulin resistance.

To better understand the importance of glycemic control and its relation to improved body composition, take a look at a recent study that focused on the changes in fasting plasma glucose.

Patients with type 2 diabetes were kept track of for 6 months, with body composition (visceral fat area, body fat mass, and percent body fat) being assessed. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the relationship between these two components (body fat and glycemic control), and the study had a pretty interesting result: decreased body fat mass and visceral fat area had an improved effect on glycemic control.

Sounds good, but what about muscle?

  • Muscle Mass

study conducted with Japanese type 2 diabetic patients (already with insulin resistance and cardiovascular risk factors) aimed to better evaluate the characteristics of body composition in patients with type 2 diabetes.

After comparing healthy subjects and subjects with type 2 diabetes, it became abundantly clear to the researchers that those with diabetes are more vulnerable to a reduction in skeletal muscle. That being said, there was an interesting form of intervention. Apparently, instruction in exercise (which includes resistance training) was seen as a worthwhile treatment to prevent the continued degeneration of muscle.

A second study offers even better news, going beyond simply the prevention of degeneration of muscle (and the spiral of increased insulin resistance that comes with it). Diabetics who trained for 30 minutes a day, 3 times a week were shown to have increased glucose clearance as a result of their increased muscle mass. That’s because this increased muscle mass signaled to the body to release more insulin – lowering blood sugar.

Here’s something even more bottom line: in diabetics, for each 10% increase in skeletal muscle index (ratio of skeletal muscle to body weight), there was an associated 11% increase in glucose sensitivity.

Combine these positive results with those derived from reduced visceral fat, and the evidence is pretty compelling that you can do a lot more for your diabetes than take medicine and modify your diet – although these can be important as well, depending on your case. But regardless of your situation, it seems clear that you can benefit from improved body composition, and the best part about that is that’s directly under your control.

Your Takeaways

There are two major lessons here, and they both revolve around body composition.

Lesson #1: Understand that poor body composition has consequences

No one is saying that if you’re skinny fat or overweight, you’re for sure going to develop diabetes later in life. Your diabetes risk is set by a number of factors, including your age, family history, genetic background, and more.

But you might. While that might seem like a bleak statement at first, it’s really not because unlike age, genetics, etc., your body composition is something you have a huge degree of control over, and something you can take responsibility for.

Lesson #2: Improved body composition can help diabetics improve their lives

If you’re looking to offset the negative effects of diabetes (or prediabetes), avoiding muscle loss is key. There are a few ways to do this, although the simplest are just ensuring you have a healthy diet and exercise regularly.

Winning your fight against diabetes is completely possible, especially if you’re taking your body composition into account. Working with a professional who can help you determine your body composition and has the training to help you set goals to improve can give you a massive advantage over diabetes.

Remember: it’s not about weight. It’s about understanding your body, setting reachable goals, and meeting them. If you can do that, you can regain control over your condition and live a happier life overall.

***

Brian Leguizamon is a content marketing specialist. Brian has worked with Shopify, Gigster and a bunch of startups you’ve never heard of. When he’s not working, you’ll find him at his local gym, waiting for the squat rack to open up

Ryan Walters is a digital marketing specialist at InBody USA

Understanding Water Weight: What It Is and How It Affects Your Body

By Body Composition, Health, Medical

When you think about your weight, you probably see it as a semi-static measurement that, for the most part, accurately represents your overall fat and muscle mass. And while this is somewhat true, weight is actually a deeply complex metric!

Body weight is dynamic and ever-changing. It can be affected by a seemingly endless list of lifestyle and environmental factors. Stress, food and beverages you consume, and changes in your hormonal levels all play a role in creating the number you see on the scale, which fluctuates multiple times throughout the day.

In accordance with that, the number reported as your weight will increase or decrease as your body attempts to maintain a state of homeostasis (balance) as you move through daily routines.

One example of how your body maintains its balance lies in its ability to retain water during periods of metabolic need or stress. Commonly referred to as water weight or fluid retention, this phenomenon is incredibly common — and, in most cases, not something to be concerned about.

Throughout this article, we will dive into the science behind water weight — exploring what it is, why it occurs, and what you can do to prevent and treat any symptoms of water weight that may arise. This article also covers the difference between mild edema (which is another term for water weight) and its more insidious form, chronic edema — because the treatment needed for each of these conditions varies greatly.

Ready to learn more about your body and its fluctuating weight? Let’s get started!

Important note  water weight is different than chronic edema

Before we get too far into this article, we need to make an important distinction between water weight and mild water retention vs. chronic edema.

While both conditions involve excess fluids being held within the body, each condition’s severity and treatment options are vastly different. So, just for clarity’s sake, here are the definitions of each condition that will be utilized throughout the remainder of this article:

  • Water weight or mild edema — This is a low-grade condition that results in the retention of small amounts of additional fluid in the body. It is usually not a serious medical condition but rather a passing experience caused by certain lifestyle factors.
  • Chronic edema — Alternately, chronic edema is a much more serious condition, often seen as a complication of another medical comorbidity, such as heart or kidney failure. Symptoms of chronic edema are more apparent than symptoms of mild edema and can be debilitating. This form of edema requires medical attention to resolve.

What is water weight?

Water retention and water weight gain both refer to an increase in your overall body weight that results from an accumulation of fluids in your body tissues. On average, the human body is made up of about 60% water, divided between your organs, blood, and cells. Throughout the day, water moves through the membranes of your cells, on a mission to maintain your body’s balance and homeostasis.

Due to a variety of factors, there are times when it is advantageous for the body to hold on to, or retain, excess water. This is an example of water weight or mild edema — a short-lived period of time when the amount of fluid in your body is greater than usual. When this occurs, you may notice that you feel slightly bloated or that your hands, feet, and ankles feel a bit puffier than normal. In most cases, this mild form of fluid retention resolves itself without treatment, often in a matter of hours.

How does my body gain water weight?

To better understand fluid retention, you first need to understand that there are two primary locations where water can be stored in the body — the intracellular and extracellular spaces.

  • Intracellular space — The intracellular compartment refers to all fluid stored within the membranous walls of an organism’s cells. Under healthy and balanced conditions, about ⅔ of your body water (or 28 liters of fluid) is stored within your cells at any given time. This fluid can flow into and out of the cells as needed to maintain balance during periods of dehydration or overhydration.
  • Extracellular space — The extracellular compartment is composed of two smaller components: your blood plasma (which is the fluid part of your blood) and interstitial fluids (which can be found between individual cells). Making up the other ⅓ of your body’s water, neural and hormonal sensors throughout the body are very sensitive to changes in the volumes of these fluid compartments.

Body Water Balance

When it comes to maintaining this delicate fluid balance between the compartments, the renal system (primarily the kidneys) is heavily involved. Acting as a filter for your blood, your kidneys are made up of small filtering units called nephrons. As your blood passes through the nephron, essential nutrients and water are reabsorbed into the bloodstream, based on the body’s metabolic needs.

As a result of dietary changes, activity levels, or hormonal imbalances, the amount of water retained during this process can increase, resulting in a higher level of extracellular fluid and the development of water weight symptoms.

The most common symptoms of water weight

Because fluid retention is a systemic condition that impacts multiple tissues and organs, it is common to experience water weight symptoms throughout your entire body. Examples of some of the most common water weight symptoms include:

  • Bloating of the abdominal area
  • Joint stiffness and pain
  • A swelling feeling in the feet, ankles, and calves
  • Puffiness in the face, hips, and feet
  • Fluctuations in your baseline weight

Usually, the symptoms you experience due to water weight gain will disappear within a few hours or days as your body returns to a state of homeostasis.

But, if you notice that your symptoms persist for multiple weeks or feel that your symptoms are worsening, it may be a sign that they are being caused by more serious health issues that should be addressed by a healthcare provider. Examples of symptoms to look out for include:

  • Profound swelling and puffiness of the feet, ankles, and legs
  • Stretched and shiny skin
  • Difficulty moving joints
  • A heavy or full feeling in the affected limbs
  • Areas of skin that temporarily hold the shape of a thumbprint when pressure is applied (also known as pitting edema)
  • Shortness of breath and difficulty breathing as the condition progresses

Why you gain water weight

As mentioned above, most cases of water weight gain are not the result of a serious medical condition. Instead, when you notice that your body is holding onto more water than normal, it may be a result of some of the following environmental and lifestyle factors:

  • You ate more sodium than normal — While sodium is an essential nutrient that you need to get from your foods, eating a meal with a large amount of sodium can cause the body to retain excess water for a short period of time afterward.
  • You changed your exercise level — Prolonged periods of sitting or standing in one place can cause fluid to pool in the extracellular spaces of your feet and ankles. Regular movement can help to reduce these symptoms.
  • You are taking a new medication — When starting a new medication, it is very important to speak to your primary care provider about the possible side effects you may experience. In some cases, mild fluid retention and water weight gain may be something you should look out for during the early stages of treatment.
  • Your hormones are fluctuating — Your hormones play an essential role in regulating your body during periods of change and stress. At times of high anxiety, you may experience water weight gain as your body produces higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

Diagnosing water weight gain

In most cases, water weight is often not an officially diagnosed health condition, due to its short-lived and mild symptoms. This being said, that doesn’t mean you should completely brush off any symptoms you are experiencing. If you notice symptoms of water weight that are persistent or recurring over longer periods of time, be sure to speak to your primary care provider.

Additionally, if you want to learn more about the amount of water your body carries at a baseline level, body composition testing may be helpful. By recording your average body water percentage to get a better understanding of your baseline values, you will be able to track changes in these measurements over time that may be signs of early-stage fluid retention.

Most cases of water weight do not require treatment

Treating your water weight gain may be as simple as letting some time pass — yes, really! Because mild fluid retention is often a short-term response to a lifestyle or environmental situation, your body will likely be able to resolve this issue on its own over time. Additionally, paying closer attention to your diet, participating in regular exercise, and getting a good night’s sleep can also help to treat any mild forms of fluid retention.

However, treating chronic edema is a much more advanced and involved process. Because chronic edema most commonly presents as a complication of another poorly managed medical condition, treating the underlying disease is often the first-line therapy for edema symptoms. Other treatment options for chronic edema that may be explored include:

  • Elevating the affected tissue above heart level for 30 minutes at a time
  • Reducing sodium intake from dietary sources
  • Taking diuretic (water pill) medications

How to prevent water weight gain

As a result of living in a modern world full of stress, it is impossible to completely remove any risk that your body will experience periods of mild fluid retention from time to time.

But there are lifestyle changes you can make to better manage fluid retention and reduce your susceptibility to frequent bouts of water weight gain. Some of our top tips for preventing water weight gain include:

  • Reducing the amount of sodium you consume
  • Ensuring that your body is adequately hydrated throughout the day
  • Elevating your legs after long periods of standing
  • Participating in regular physical activity
  • Wearing supportive compression stockings on the feet and calves

Putting it all together

So, what have we learned?

While it is completely normal for your body weight to fluctuate, sudden increases in your weight and the development of mild puffiness and swelling may signify that you are carrying some extra water weight. And this isn’t always a bad thing!

As a mild and non-life-threatening condition that will likely resolve within a day, water weight symptoms can be a helpful sign that you may want to adjust your current lifestyle habits.

Just because your scale shows a weight increase, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you have gained muscle or fat mass — it can mean that your body is merely holding on to a little extra water for a while. However, if you notice your water weight symptoms persisting, it’s advised that you consider contacting your healthcare provider.

We hope this article has been a helpful resource for dispelling some of the most common misconceptions about weight gain and fluid retention. Maybe it will also act as a reminder to show your body some extra compassion and TLC the next time water weight gain happens to you!

Reducing Chronic Disease Risk: 5 Ways Improving Body Composition Helps

By Body Composition, Health, Medical

Chronic conditions are extremely prevalent in the United States. According to a 2019 survey conducted by the CDC, more than half of American adults ages 18 to 34 years old are dealing with at least one chronic condition!

Unfortunately, some of the most common chronic conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, depression, and cancer, can have a huge negative impact on your quality of life.

Conversations about preventing chronic conditions tend to focus on maintaining a certain weight or BMI. But another proactive way that you can potentially reduce your vulnerability to these diseases is by managing your body composition!

Your body composition can be a factor in whether or not you develop some chronic conditions.

In this article, you’ll learn how improving your body composition can lessen your risk of developing several common chronic diseases.

5 Ways That Improving Your Body Composition Can Decrease Your Risk For Chronic Conditions

1. Improves insulin sensitivity

The first way that improving your body composition can decrease your risk for chronic conditions is through its positive effects on your insulin sensitivity.

Glucose is a broken-down carbohydrate molecule that your cells use for energy, and insulin is an important hormone because it is responsible for shuttling glucose to your cells.

Unfortunately, high levels of body fat have been linked to insulin resistance, which means that your cells allow less glucose into your cells.

As a result, glucose remains in your bloodstream, leading to elevated blood sugar levels. If this goes on for too long, you may acquire Type 2 diabetes or metabolic syndrome.

As you can see, your body fat percentage definitely plays a role here. But perhaps even more interestingly, there is evidence that the place where you accumulate your fat tissue may be more important than your total fat levels!

Abdominal obesity, or the fat tissue that accumulates around your midsection, is especially pertinent when it comes to your risk of insulin resistance.

Researchers have found that high levels of abdominal fat may increase the release of free fatty acids and signal molecules called adipokines, which can increase your risk for chronic conditions like Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. 

The good news is, there’s plenty of evidence that improving your body composition can help you manage your blood sugar levels. A more balanced body composition can even contribute to a healthier metabolism!  

Some of the most obvious body composition-related improvements to your health come from losing fat. Take this study that evaluated how body composition improvements (from exercise or a reduced-calorie diet) could impact participants’ insulin resistance.

The researchers found that either exercise or reduced calorie intake could be comparably effective for improving insulin resistance. These improvements were linked to changes in body weight, total fat mass, and visceral fat volume.

Your muscle mass can play an important role in your health as well, which is why looking at your body composition instead of your weight or BMI alone can be beneficial.

A study that evaluated the insulin resistance of 132 healthy adults found that, in male subjects, having more lean muscle mass was associated with greater insulin sensitivity, independent of the subjects’ fat tissue.

Another study on Korean adults found that participants with higher muscle and lower fat body compositions had significantly lower insulin resistance than those with low muscle and low fat levels.

So in order to manage your insulin resistance, you may need to focus on both your body fat and your muscle mass — or in other words, focus on body recomposition.

2. Decreases chronic inflammation

Another important way that your body composition can affect your risk of chronic conditions is through inflammation.

Inflammation is a normal response that your immune system conducts to keep you healthy. When it detects an unfamiliar and potentially dangerous invader like a bacteria or virus, your immune system increases blood flow to the infection site.

Your white blood cells then release chemicals that “attack” the invader, ultimately keeping you healthy and safe from harm.

Unfortunately, under certain conditions, inflammation can also become chronic. In these cases, your body may have inappropriate inflammatory reactions even in the absence of an actual threat, which means that your immune system can begin attacking your body’s own tissues.

Chronic inflammation is linked to a wide array of serious health issues, including diabetes, heart disease, inflammatory arthritis cancer, gastrointestinal disorders, and metabolic syndrome.

A high body weight tends to be one of the most prevalent risk factors talked about when it comes to inflammatory diseases, but another promising method for lowering inflammation is through managing your body composition.

Consider the “BMI paradox.” It’s been observed that overweight people are more likely to develop cancer but also have lower mortality rates. Researchers have found that this phenomenon may have more to do with their body composition than their weight alone.

Having more muscle mass seems to offer more protection than fat tissue, which is linked to higher inflammation (as well as other chronic disease risk factors, such as insulin resistance and higher cholesterol levels).

Why? There is some evidence that fat tissue, especially the visceral fat tissue found deep in your abdomen, can be inflammatory.

In fact, the state of obesity itself is considered chronic low-grade inflammation, since it is associated with several inflammatory markers, likely due to excess fat tissue.

In addition to metabolic and cancer-related chronic illnesses, your body composition can also play a role in other chronic conditions.

For example, inflammation is associated with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a chronic inflammatory lung disease that can block your airways and make it hard to breathe.

Researchers have found that low muscle mass is linked with systemic inflammation.

Ultimately, having a lower body fat mass and a higher muscle mass may protect you from chronic inflammation, which can give you better protection from a huge array of chronic conditions.

3. Improves cholesterol levels and blood pressure

Did you know that your body composition can heavily influence your heart health, through its effects on your cholesterol levels and blood pressure?

Cholesterols are fatty substances that are produced in your liver and travel through your bloodstream. They perform various roles in your body, like helping you to digest fat-soluble vitamins and building important hormones.

There are several kinds of cholesterol. Two of the most important are low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL).

LDL is sometimes considered the “bad” kind of cholesterol, because it sticks to the sides of your arteries as it travels through your bloodstream. HDL, on the other hand, can carry excess cholesterol away from your organs, which is why it’s known as the “good” kind of cholesterol.

When someone has high cholesterol levels (especially high levels of LDL and lower levels of HDL), cholesterol may adhere to the sides of your arteries and develop into plaque. This plaque can then harden, making it more difficult for your heart to pump blood to all the places it needs to be delivered to. Eventually, this can contribute to high blood pressure (hypertension), which increases your risk of cardiac events like heart attacks and strokes, ultimately affecting your heart health for the worse.

Your body composition may play a major role in how cholesterol impacts you.

Research has found that obesity can actually change the way that your body metabolizes fats, which is linked to its promotion of insulin resistance. This can cause your body to produce more LDL and less HDL, contributing to issues with your heart health.

However, you can lower your risk or reduce the severity of your current heart issues by improving your body composition.

For example, a study on older adults found that reductions in fat mass of approximately 1 kg predicted a reduction in triglyceride levels, which are another type of fat that can be found in your bloodstream and fat tissue.

Similarly, the study also found that gaining lean muscle mass led to improved triglyceride levels.

4. Strengthens bones

Because your muscle tissue and bone mass are so closely interlinked, increasing your muscle mass can protect your bones, which is great for reducing your risk of chronic bone conditions like osteoporosis and osteoarthritis.

This link between your bone health and muscle mass seems to start in childhood, with studies finding that the body composition of children and adolescents significantly influences their development of bone mineral density early in life, and that higher body fat percentages seem to negatively affect bone acquisition.

This finding may be especially relevant to older adults, as your bone density tends to decrease as you get older.

Because bone mass and muscle mass are so closely linked, there’s evidence that older populations that are prone to bone diseases like osteoporosis may benefit from resistance training programs that improve these body composition metrics.

5. Better mental health

Finally, improving your body composition may also do a world of good for your mental health! In addition to physical health issues, mental illnesses like depression are among some of the most prevalent chronic conditions.

This may in part be due to an association between higher-risk body composition metrics and lower physical activity levels. For example, a 2020 study found that less physical activity, higher body fat mass, and lower muscle mass all were associated with stronger depression severity

There may also be a link between behavior and the gut microbiome, or the microbes that live in your gut, since they play a variety of roles in your body, including regulating your moods and behavior via the microbiota-gut-brain axis.

In the same vein, some researchers believe that improving your gut microbiome diversity can influence factors that play a role in your body composition, such as insulin sensitivity!

However, more research needs to be done to determine the exact links between body composition, the gut microbiome, and mental health. 

The bottom line: it’s important to note that body composition hasn’t been proven to be a cause of chronic mood and mental disorders like depression.

Instead, there’s some evidence that points to the idea that the actions you take to improve your body composition, such as exercising more frequently, can help reduce your mental illness risks and/or severity.

Conclusion

Chronic conditions are serious health concerns that can alter one’s quality of life and even shorten your lifespan.

While there are several factors that can contribute to your risk for chronic conditions, such as genetics and age, one proactive way that you can manage your risk is to improve your body composition, by focusing on gaining lean muscle mass and reducing your body fat.

The Relationship Between Body Composition and Liver Function

By Body Composition, Health, Medical

Your liver is a true powerhouse of an organ. It has a hand in some of your body’s most crucial regulatory processes, from the digestion and metabolizing of various nutrients to the detoxification of your blood. So, when there’s something wrong with your liver, the consequences can be serious. And unfortunately, a damaged liver may not always emit any overt or obvious signals that something is wrong. That means that major liver issues may go undetected for a long time.

But, as it turns out, one of the most telling indicators of your liver function is actually your body composition, which makes it much easier to keep tabs on your own health! Read on to find out how your body composition impacts your liver function, and how you can use this information to proactively protect your wellbeing.

The liver: what it is and why it matters

Your liver is a large organ that sits in your abdominal cavity, near your stomach, intestines, and kidneys. As a part of the digestive system, your liver plays a huge variety of roles in your body, including:

  • Producing bile for digestion
  • Metabolizing fat-soluble vitamins
  • Processing drugs
  • Producing cholesterol
  • Regulating carbohydrates and proteins
  • Detoxifying blood by removing drugs and other potential toxins

Liver issues

Because it’s an integral factor in so many different bodily processes, your liver’s health directly impacts your overall health. Unfortunately, under certain circumstances, your liver can become prone to conditions and diseases that lessen its ability to function normally, such as nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)

As you might be able to guess from the name, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (or NAFLD for short) is a set of conditions in which excess fat accumulates in your liver. This type of fat accumulation can also occur from excess alcohol consumption, in a disease aptly named “alcohol-related liver disease” (ARLD). But, unlike ARLD, NAFLD can occur in the absence of excessive alcohol consumption, influenced instead by factors like your lifestyle and genetics.

While NAFLD does not always cause symptoms on its own, having it can increase your risk for other serious health issues, such as cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes.

There are two different kinds of NAFLD: 

  • Nonalcoholic fatty liver (NAFL): People with NAFL have an enlarged liver with excess fat accumulation, but this type of NAFLD comes with minimal inflammation or damage to the liver itself.
  • Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH): People who have this kind of NAFLD can experience inflamed livers. Twenty percent of these patients will progress to cirrhosis (scarring), which can damage the liver itself. These devastating impacts mean that NASH has even been linked to liver cancer and liver failure, and it is highly associated with the necessity for liver transplants.

Generally, people with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease will develop either NAFL or NASH. However, some people with one form of NAFLD may later be diagnosed with the other form.

So, how does fatty liver disease develop in the first place? As it turns out, your body composition plays a big part in it.

How your body composition affects your liver function

Your body is primarily composed of four components: body water, minerals, skeletal muscle mass, and body fat. While all of these factors can have a major impact on your overall metabolic health Two of these factors, your skeletal muscle mass, and your body fat mass, can have a huge impact on your overall metabolic health. In this case, they can also influence how much fat is accumulating in your liver.

Some specific body composition risk factors that can affect your liver function include excess body fat, uneven body fat distribution, and low skeletal muscle mass.

Excess body fat mass

Obesity is one of the biggest body composition risk factors for developing nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and other liver issues.

Under typical circumstances, the dietary fat that you consume breaks down into fatty acids which are then stored primarily in your fat tissue, although small amounts are also stored in your liver. But it’s thought that the high amounts of fat tissue present in obese patients increase the rate at which fatty acids are released into circulation, which then goes on to increase the rate at which the liver accumulates fat. More specifically, researchers have found that increased risk for NAFLD occurs if the total percent body fat exceeds 32.23% in women and 26.73% in men.

Body fat distribution

You don’t necessarily even need to be obese for your body fat to impact your liver health either, because the location in your body that your fat tends to accumulate also matters.

High levels of visceral fat, aka “central adiposity” (or, even more simply, belly fat), seem to play a key role in how your liver is affected by your body composition when compared to other kinds of fat accumulation. For example, one study discovered that, after averaging the weight of its subjects, higher levels of central adiposity were associated with increased instances of fatty liver. Meanwhile, subjects who had more fat stored in lower extremities, such as their legs, were found to have fewer instances of fatty liver.

Low skeletal muscle mass

Your body composition can contribute to liver complications beyond a NAFLD diagnosis. In conjunction with high levels of body fat mass and central adiposity, low levels of skeletal muscle mass can also cause further complications like fibrosis, or scarring of your liver, which can lead to more serious issues like cirrhosis. A cross-sectional 2021 study found that, among 149 participants being treated for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, instances of liver fibrosis were significantly and inversely associated with skeletal muscle mass, and significantly and positively associated with fat mass, waist-hip ratio, and visceral fat.

Other considerations

There are also some other common risk factors that you could use to predict the health of your liver and its subsequent functioning. While these factors might not necessarily be body composition measurements, they tend to be positively correlated with both metabolic conditions and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease — and both of these can be influenced by body composition.

Take metabolic syndrome, for example. Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of metabolic conditions like high blood sugar, high cholesterol, and abdominal obesity that can increase your risk for developing serious chronic conditions, including heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. Because metabolic syndrome and nonalcoholic fatty liver are both heavily influenced by obesity and other body composition factors, scientists often find an association between the two. For example, one global epidemiological review found that there was a 42.54% association between NAFLD and metabolic syndrome. Interestingly, a fatty liver overproduces both blood sugar and triglycerides, two of the key components found in metabolic syndrome. So, while having metabolic syndrome might not cause fatty liver, or vice versa, having high triglyceride levels and/or blood sugar levels might indicate that it’s time to have your liver checked by a doctor.

Triglyceride levels

In addition to the amount of stored fat tissue in your body, there’s also the fat in your blood to consider, otherwise known as your “triglyceride levels.”

One of your liver’s jobs is to create triglycerides, a form of fat that it releases when your body needs energy. These triglycerides are then delivered to your cells via your bloodstream, where they can provide energy. But, under certain conditions, such as obesity, your body’s ability to process its fats can change, contributing to the accumulation of fat on your liver. In fact, a 2014 study found that, among 168 NAFLD patients, elevated triglyceride levels were the strongest predictor of NAFLD compared to other metabolic issues, including cholesterol and blood glucose levels.

Insulin resistance

Another risk factor for the fatty liver disease has to do with insulin resistance, which is also associated with obesity and high body fat percentages.

Under typical circumstances, the hormone insulin helps your body store glucose, which is what carbohydrates are broken down into upon digestion in your body. Insulin also suppresses lipolysis, which is the process by which your body breaks down its stored fat for energy. But your cells can become insulin-resistant for a variety of metabolic-related reasons, including regular overconsumption of calories. Unfortunately, some scientists believe that insulin resistance can impact your ability to suppress lipolysis, leading to increased fat storage in your liver instead. Insulin resistance can also promote inflammation, which may further contribute to liver damage.

Assessing your risk

Regular visits with your primary care provider are critical for diagnosing diseases like nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. But, short of ultrasounds, CT scans, and invasive liver biopsies, you can also keep an eye on your risk factors for fatty liver diseases simply by keeping track of your body composition and taking regular blood tests.

 

  • Body composition testing is an easy, non-invasive way to keep an eye on those body composition factors that have been linked to liver function, such as your body fat percentage, skeletal muscle mass, and visceral fat. While body composition testing can’t help you diagnose diseases or conditions, it can certainly help you keep track of your risk for fatty liver and other metabolic conditions — and help you be proactive about monitoring your liver function without involving more expensive or invasive testing methods. The great news here is that if you do experience NAFLD or other liver issues, dietary changes and weight management may be able to help. Researchers have found that high-calorie diets and excessive fructose consumption are often associated with instances of NAFLD, but losing just 5-10% of your total body weight can lead to improvements.

 

  • Blood tests are an invaluable tool for taking a closer look at other risk factors that could be affecting your liver function. For example, triglyceride tests/cholesterol panels and blood sugar tests can provide key insights into your metabolic health and indicate if something more serious is going on that needs to be addressed.

 

If you do find that either your body composition tests or your blood tests indicate that you may be at a higher risk for developing NAFLD or other liver complications, you can check in with your doctor to ensure that any potential issues are detected in a timely manner.

Conclusion

A healthy liver is critical for an overall healthy body, but you may not always be able to tell that there’s something wrong with this important organ until it is too late. But by monitoring key body composition measurements, you can take a proactive role in managing your risk factors.