Decreased energy levels can cause and sustain obesity

J Theor Biol. 2003 Nov 7;225(1):33-44. doi: 10.1016/s0022-5193(03)00218-2.


Obesity has reached epidemic proportions and has become one of the major health problems in developed countries. Current theories consider obesity a result of overeating and sedentary life style and most efforts to treat or prevent weight gain concentrate on exercise and food intake. This approach does not improve the situation as may be seen from the steep increase in the prevalence of obesity. This encouraged us to reanalyse existing information and look for biochemical basis of obesity. Our approach was to ignore current theories and concentrate on experimental data which are described in scientific journals and are available from several databases. We developed and applied a Knowledge Discovery in Databases procedure to analyse metabolic data. We began with the contradictory information: in obesity, more calories are consumed than used up, suggesting that obese people should have excess energy. On the other side, obese people experience fatigue and decreased physical endurance that indicates diminished energy supply in the body. The result of our work is a chain of metabolic events leading to obesity. The crucial event is the inhibition of the TCA cycle at the step of aconitase. It disturbs energy metabolism and results in ATP deficiency with simultaneous fat accumulation. Further steps in obesity development are the consequences of diminished energy supply: inhibition of beta-oxidation, leptin resistance, increase in appetite and food intake and a decrease in physical activity. Thus, our theory shows that obesity does not have to be caused by overeating and sedentary life-style but may be the result of the "obese" change in metabolism which is forcing people to overeat and save energy to sustain metabolic functions of cells. This "obese" change is caused by environmental factors that activate chronic low-grade inflammatory process in the body linking obesity with the environment of developed countries.

MeSH terms

  • Aconitate Hydratase / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Aconitate Hydratase / metabolism
  • Adenosine Triphosphate / metabolism
  • Adipose Tissue / metabolism
  • Bacterial Infections / complications
  • Bacterial Infections / immunology
  • Bacterial Infections / metabolism
  • Chronic Disease
  • Cytokines / blood
  • Data Collection / methods
  • Developed Countries*
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Fatigue / complications*
  • Fatigue / immunology
  • Fatigue / metabolism
  • Fatty Acid Synthases / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Leptin / metabolism
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Nitric Oxide / metabolism
  • Obesity / etiology*
  • Obesity / immunology
  • Obesity / metabolism
  • PubMed


  • Cytokines
  • Leptin
  • Nitric Oxide
  • Adenosine Triphosphate
  • Fatty Acid Synthases
  • Aconitate Hydratase