Study Shows Evidence That Fat Can Accumulate in Lungs


In spite of several findings on the association between respiratory conditions and obesity, there seems to be no solid conclusion, hence a new study in the journal European Respiratory, has recently shown that fatty tissue can accumulate in the airways of people with obesity, possibly contributing to asthma and other respiratory problems.

According to the World Health Organisation, obesity has become a top issue across the world, in the United States alone; more than one in three adults have obesity.

While this condition is associated with an intensified risk for many other health problems, it is unclear through which mechanisms it contributes to some of these issues.

The study explains how this may be problematic for people who are overweight or who have obesity, as it may contribute to the development of respiratory conditions, such as asthma.

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“Our research team studies the structure of the airways within our lungs and how these are altered in people with respiratory disease,” explains first author John Elliot, from Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital in Perth, Australia.

“Looking at samples of lungs, we spotted fatty tissue that had built up in the airway walls. We wanted to see if this accumulation was correlated with body weight,” he continued.

Study Shows Evidence That Fat Can Accumulate in Lungs
Image of how the lungs truly look like

Using material collected from an earlier study, the researchers looked at lung tissue samples from 52 deceased people: 15 had not had asthma, 21 had had asthma but died due to unrelated causes, and 16 had died due to asthma-related causes.

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The investigators used special dyes to study the structure of 1,373 airways to identify how much, if any, fatty tissue was present in them. The researchers also looked at data regarding each donor’s body mass index (BMI).

The team discovered that fatty tissue does build up in airway walls. They also found that the higher a person’s BMI, the more fat accumulates in the airways.

Additionally, the fat buildup may affect the normal structure of the airways, blocking them and causing inflammation in the lungs, which, in turn, may contribute to asthma and other respiratory problems.

In a related development, another study has also compared obesity to an infectious disease, in the way that we might ‘catch’ unhealthy behaviours from those people around us.

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What the latest study does is suggest another reason why maintaining a healthy weight is so important to the proper functioning of the human body – and the more we know about that, the better we can aim towards it.

“This is an important finding on the relationship between body weight and respiratory disease because it shows how being overweight or obese might be making symptoms worse for people with asthma,” says Thierry Troosters, president of the European Respiratory Society, who wasn’t involved in the study.

“This goes beyond the simple observation that patients with obesity need to breathe more with activity and exercise. The observation points at true airway changes that are associated with obesity,” he added.




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