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The Secret Life of Fat: The Science Behind the Body's Least Understood Organ and What It Means for You Hardcover – December 27, 2016
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“Finally, a book that sheds some light on understanding body fat―specifically, its role, why it is so difficult to fight, and how it works differently for different people… This genuinely enlightening book will be a revelation to those engulfed in self-blame and shame about their weight.” (Publishers Weekly)
“Body fat is so much more than a passive calorie storage depot, as Sylvia Tara brilliantly shows. Read The Secret Life of Fat to make friends with this misunderstood and critically important organ.” (David S. Ludwig, MD, PhD, Professor, Harvard Medical School and author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Always Hungry?)
“For years we presumed that body fat is just a depot for energy, but current science is proving that it is actually the largest endocrine gland in our body. This enigmatic organ conveys many paradoxes and surprises; depending on its location, color and genetic makeup it might be either dangerous or protective. Sylvia Tara dove deeply in science of fat and adeptly explains it all in this fascinating book.” (Osama Hamdy, Medical Director of the Obesity Clinical Program at Joslin Diabetes Center and author of The Diabetes Breakthrough)
“You can outsmart your body fat, but first you must understand it! With the right lifestyle, eating, and exercise approach you can lose weight and keep it off. Learn how in this engaging and informative masterpiece.” (Michael Dansinger, MD, MS, founding director of the Diabetes Reversal Program at Tufts Medical Center in Boston)
“Dr. Sylvia Tara addresses important concepts related to the development, prevention, and treatment of obesity. This book will be a very interesting read for lay people interested in fat and obesity, as well as for many in the scientific community―I really enjoyed reading it!” (Carl Lavie, MD, author of The Obesity Paradox)
“Powerful… [Tara’s] research and insight is deeply perspective-shifting.” (Melissa Wuske - Foreword)
“Like comfort food for anyone carrying around a lifetime of guilt for eating an extra cookie.” (Carol Saline - Hadassah Magazine)
“Biochemist Tara gives readers the skinny on fat in a lively discussion that incorporates sumo wrestlers, a bloated diet industry, [and] genetics… Readers will discover that, regardless of body size and shape, fat does some heavy work on our behalf.” (Tony Miksanek - Booklist)
“[Tara] ably combines an accessible explanation of how the body’s metabolism works with a clear survey of the latest research on obesity. [The Secret Life of Fat] should have wide appeal, not only to those fighting the battle of the bulge.” (Kirkus)
About the Author
Sylvia Tara holds a PhD in biochemistry from the University of California at San Diego and an MBA from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. She was a consultant with McKinsey & Company and has worked at the world’s largest biotechnology companies. Tara lives in the Los Angeles area.
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Top Customer Reviews
Tara has a lovely description of fat: glucose is like cash, glycogen (chains of glucose) like a checking account, and fat is a certificate of deposit. There are three kinds of fat – white, beige and brown. White is the classic, energy store. Beige waits for signals to change to brown, which is saturated with mitochondria and burns energy instead of storing it. This, for obvious reasons, has become an obsession for research.
-Like any other organ, fat will fight for life. Constant diet changing, losing and regaining a few pounds, only makes it tougher. It has the communication and receptor tools to keep itself in control. It manipulates the brain and participates in brain signals.
-Fat signals the body for angiogenesis – it orders up new veins and arteries to approach it, in order to feed it, just like a tumor.
-Fat knows when there is too much of it and signals the body to manufacture cytokines – inflammatories – the usual first line of defense.
-Fat is an endocrine organ – it produces hormones (leptin) that latch onto the brain’s hypothalamus and tell it to be hungry – or not.
-By reducing leptin levels, remaining fat makes people feel hungrier than they were before reducing.
-Fat circulates adiponectin which helps clear the blood - of fat. Those with high levels can be very fat and perfectly healthy. Hard exercise increases levels.
-More than 50% of cells in the fat of the obese are immune cells, vs 5% in the fat of the normal or thin.
-Fat resurges by lowering energy levels, so dieters have to work harder than normal to keep weight off. Only consistent, hard exercise overcomes the return of fat - even following liposuction.
-Half a pound of fat can contain 50 million stem cells, used to rebuild muscle, bone and organs throughout the body. Doctors are quickly learning to repurpose them.
-Hard exercise overcomes genetic predispositions to fat and weight in most cases.
Chapter 8 is all about how women’s bodies deal differently with fat. Their fat is a better kind (subcutaneous vs visceral), but there is more of it, and it takes them disproportionately more effort in the gym and less at the table to achieve the goals men see more easily.
There is a fascinating analysis of sumo wrestlers, those hugely fat men whose sole job in life is to push other obese opponents out of the ring. The surprise is their blood levels are excellent, and they are extraordinarily healthy – as long as they keep to the training regimen and diet. Once they retire, they quickly slide into fat hell.
Oddly, the chapter I was expecting – how do people with no fat and extreme, reduced calorie diets – fare – is missing. In animal studies, such diets extend lifespans and energy levels dramatically. So is fat really necessary, or are we better off without it altogether? No mention in The Secret Life of Fat.
Tara’s book is a lovely combination of the emotional and the scientific, the personal and the universal, narrative and science. It is lean and muscled and terrifically readable.
A group of health professionals and I have studied long-term effects post adipose removal surgery for the past five years. Adipose removal is done during breast reduction and liposuction / lipectomy. Liposcution is done as part of some breast reconstructions after cancer, abdominoplasties, stem cell harvesting, fat transfers, and procedures referred to as cosmetic, when in reality, these procedures create long-term health and contour problems. I wrote The Adipose Removal Research paper based on our years of study.
The Health Advisory Technology Committee stated, “The increasing number of liposuction procedures has led to a growing number of iatrogenic (medically induced) fat tissue deformities, in addition to those of traumatic and disease-related nature.” I was disappointed by the short bit in Chapter 5 of The Secret Life of Fat titled, "Tales of the Liposucked." I feel this quick pass at a significant topic missed a necessary opportunity to call out adipose removal surgeries for the harmful, money-making shams that why are.
Surgeons often remove fat cells from people who are at their best weight and fitness. Since fat cells provide important functions in the body, long-term homeostasis will be changed regardless of whether one is obese or fit at the time of surgery. Fat cells in the remaining areas of the body grow larger in 100% of cases regardless of diet and exercise.
It's better health wise, for example, for women to have fat stores in the breasts and hips rather than in the abdomen or viscera, so removing these essential fat stores is not in the best interest of the patient. Internet sites and medical boards run on the revenue of plastic surgery do not give accurate statistics regarding bad outcomes from breast reduction or liposuction. Bad to severe outcomes are sometimes litigated, and lesser harm is not even acknowledged as such. Instead of learning from mistakes, surgeons are often focused on covering up the harm.
Often breast surgery and other adipose removal is paid for in cash, and / or done in outpatient clinics, and there are not accurate statistics on these surgeries. Doctors in ambulatory centers run their own show without checks and balances; the anesthesiologist call this carte blanche in their May, 2012 article. The surgeons can and sometimes do falsify their records. I know of many cases in which this has been done. Bad outcomes from breast reduction and adipose removals run along a spectrum of harm from slight dissatisfaction to severe deformity to long-term disease processes, infertility and death.
I will come back to this review and flush it out along with posting links to useful studies. I just wanted to get something written here for the time being.
and where we are today with understanding fat. Some amazing data. Did you
know you can catch "being fat" from a virus.... And there may even be some
animal viruses that humans can be infected by and then they "catch being
fat". I did not know that fat is now considered an organ (at least it acts
like one). Did you know fat talks with the rest of the body via chemical
messages and vise versa...The last 50 or 60 pages provide a set of tools to
help mitigate the sneaky things fat does to stay with us. A great
explanation of the body's "set point" and what happens when we lose
weight..... The "fat" wants to get back to where it was so it modifies the
body's metabolism by slowing it down. So you can be have a diet with the
same calories of a person that has not had to diet, and they can stay at
weight, but you will need to reduce your calorie intake by 20 - 25 % to stay at