Pathways from weight fluctuations to metabolic diseases: focus on maladaptive thermogenesis during catch-up fat

Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2002 Sep:26 Suppl 2:S46-57. doi: 10.1038/sj.ijo.0802127.


It has long been known that obesity is a high risk factor for cardiovascular diseases. In more recent years, the analysis of several large epidemiological databases has also revealed that, independently of excess weight, large fluctuations in body weight at some point earlier in life represent an independent risk factor for type 2 diabetes and hypertension-two major contributors to cardiovascular diseases. High cardiovascular morbidity and mortality have indeed been reported in men and women who in young adulthood experienced weight fluctuations (involving the recovery of body weight after weight loss due to disease, famine or voluntary slimming), or when weight fluctuations occurred much earlier in life and involved catch-up growth after fetal or neonatal growth retardation. This paper addresses the pathways from weight fluctuations to chronic metabolic diseases by focusing on the phenomenon of accelerated fat recovery (ie catch-up fat) after weight loss or growth retardation. Arguments are put forward that, during catch-up growth or weight recovery on our modern refined foods, the mechanisms of adaptive thermogenesis that regulate catch-up fat are pushed beyond the limits for which they were meant to operate and turn maladaptive. The consequences are enhanced susceptibilities towards skeletal muscle insulin resistance and overactive sympathetic activity, both of which are major contributors to the pathogenesis of chronic metabolic diseases. Since weight fluctuation earlier in life (independently of excess weight later in life) is an independent risk factor for metabolic diseases, the mechanisms by which body fat is acquired would seem to be at least as important as the consequences of excess fat per se in the pathogenesis of diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular diseases.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue / physiopathology*
  • Animals
  • Basal Metabolism
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / etiology
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / etiology*
  • Humans
  • Hypertension / etiology*
  • Insulin Resistance
  • Muscle, Skeletal / drug effects
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiopathology
  • Obesity / physiopathology
  • Risk Factors
  • Sympathetic Nervous System / physiopathology
  • Thermogenesis*
  • Weight Gain*
  • Weight Loss*