Getting Fatter as You Get Older? Here’s One Reason Why

Gaining these as you age? It’s not just
about calories in and out anymore!

If you’re getting older, you may have noticed something. Something disturbing is happening to your waistline and other parts.

It’s very common for people to gain weight and body fat as they get older. So common, in fact, that it’s been largely an accepted reality, even though we really haven’t understood why. At least, not completely.

While we still may not know completely why, new research is shining a brighter light on the mechanism behind age-related fat gain. The researchers at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden believe they have found the answer: lipid turnover, or a lack of it, to be more precise.

What is lipid turnover, you ask? Lipid turnover is the rate at which fat (known as lipid to it’s friends) gets removed and stored. Caloric expenditure under the proper body conditions removes fat from fat cells. It gets stored again when caloric intake exceeds the body’s need for and expenditure of calories. At least that’s how it’s supposed to work. Until you get older, apparently.

The study from the Karolinska Instititutet found that as we age, lipid turnover decreases, throwing off the equation and making it easier to gain weight and body fat. The study was just published in the journal Nature Medicine and done in collaboration with researchers at Uppsala University in Sweden and University of Lyon in France.

In a 13 year-long study, scientists observed the fat cells of 54 men and women, looking for changes over time. Lipid turnover decreased in all participants, regardless of whether they lost or gained weight. Some compensated for this change by dieting. Those that didn’t saw their weight increase by an average of 20 percent.

One of the things researchers were curious about was whether bariatric surgery for weight loss affected the lipid turnover rate for those who have it. So they examined 41 women who’d had the surgery to see how their lipid turnover rate impacted their ability to maintain their weight loss for four to seven years post-surgery. They found that only those with a low turnover rate prior to surgery saw an increase in the rate, which seemed to aid their ability to keep the weight off. It’s likely these subjects had more “upside” to their lipid turnover rate than those with a low pre-surgery lipid turnover rate.


“The results indicate for the first time that processes in our fat tissue regulate changes in body weight during ageing in a way that is independent of other factors,” says Peter Arner, professor at the Department of Medicine in Huddinge at Karolinska Institutet and one of the study’s main authors. “This could open up new ways to treat obesity.”

It’s been revealed by previous studies that exercise is a good way to crank up your lipid turnover rate. This research certainly strongly indicates that if you add exercise to your lifestyle after bariatric surgery, your likelihood of keeping the weight off increases.

“Obesity and obesity-related diseases have become a global problem,” says Kirsty Spalding, senior researcher at the Department of Cell and Molecular Biology at Karolinska Institutet and another of the study’s main authors. “Understanding lipid dynamics and what regulates the size of the fat mass in humans has never been more relevant.”

Like so many other challenges around weight and fat loss, much of the equation relies on some tried and true notions. Like the one that says if you eat right and exercise, you can solve most of the weight gain problems you might run into. You should even be able to rev up your lagging lipid turnover rate!

Keep the faith and keep after it!

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Journal Reference – P. Arner, S. Bernard, L. Appelsved, K.-Y. Fu, D. P. Andersson, M. Salehpour, A. Thorell, M. Rydén, K. L. Spalding. Adipose lipid turnover and long-term changes in body weight. Nature Medicine, 2019

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