Today I’m going to write about how easy it is to make rats fat.
I am writing this from Kananaskis, Alberta (hence the title), and I’m here for the Western Obesity Summit, which is a multidisciplinary forum for obesity researchers. I wasn’t here to present, just to learn, and what I’ve learned is that if you restrict calories, you can slow down aging in rats. I’ve also found out that there is some sort of link between obesity and immune function in rats.
I was inspired to write about this, because such research sometimes get filtered through to the general public. As a result, some people change their whole lives, believing, for example, that if you don’t eat very much you’ll live longer. In fact, there’s a whole society dedicated to this (http://www.calorierestriction.org./).
The problem of course is that these are rat studies, not human studies, and that these are very specific rats. The rats used for these studies have a genotype that makes them very easy to make fat and are therefore very specifically chosen by obesity researchers for their studies. (Thanks to my colleague who explained that one to me.)
Indeed, when I went to the calorie restriction website, they had the results of a restricted-calorie mouse model study featured on their homepage as evidence for why you too should skip the chocolate and everything else.
It’s a very dangerous leap from mice to humans. I strategically sat beside a physiologist colleague, so that I could pester him with questions. He told me that there is a classic case of a substance that you inject in a rat and they lose weight. If you inject a human with the same substance, nothing happens. It might come as a surprise to some, but humans are different than rats.
This, I would like to repeat, is not because researchers are making the leap. I think the problem is that as a society we are hungry for solutions. The search for the fountain of youth is not over. So, we see a possibility, and we lunge at it.
Now I’m off for a hike in the mountains.