Saturday, August 11, 2007

The vital importance of body fat

stone age live
A very interesting experiment is running in Switzerland these days. Ten persons, two families and two single young men, selected by a casting of Swiss Television, have been transferred to stone age. In a piece of natural landscape, carefully shielded from civilization (except air traffic noise), a small stone age village has been reconstructed. The participants have been equipped with all the tools, clothes and foods that had been in use more than five thousand years ago in Switzerland. The new stone agers have been living there for three weeks now, under constant monitoring not only by Swiss TV but also by medical experts.

All participants are equipped with motion sensors that allow to calculate the daily energy spending in kilokalories. The weights of all participants are also monitored and all data will be evaluated by scientists. Two young men have left the village more than two weeks ago for a business trip to the alps. Their job is to provide the village with salt that has to be transported in a leather bag from a mine, more than three hundred kilometers (200 miles) away. Now they are on their way back.

beat villiger
Head physician of the project is Dr. Beat Villiger, Chief Medical Officer of the Swiss Olympic Team and a very distant in-law of mine. Yesterday I have watched his medical interim report. The two young men spend four and five thousand kilokalories every day. One has lost more than four kilograms (8 pounds), the other more than seven kilograms (14 pounds) of body weight. Those who have stayed in the village spend much less energy but still about double the amount that they have spent in modern life prior to their time trip to stone age.

The weather is quite cold and rainy these days. The fireplace has sunken into mud. One of the two adult women said that the cold is her most serious problem. The mere idea that I could have been there makes me shiver from cold. I am thin, and I think I just have too little body fat for living in stone age.

The good sides of body fat

Body fat has three main advantages that had once been very important for mankind: Under the skin, it helps to isolate the body against cold. It provides an energy reserve for long trips because even pemmican cannot provide the body with all the energy needed for extreme performance. And it helps to survive a starvation period.

In tens of thousands of years of evolution, the human organism has adapted to optimal management and storage of energy in the form of body fat. In the light of this long history of survival success it is hard to believe that body fat as such, even in amounts of obesity, can have a negative effect on health.

And where are the bad sides?

We all know that an unhealthy lifestyle can make people fat. We know also that they may get sick and die earlier. I think we should blame it on the unhealthy living. But I'll watch medical journals for every new study that may blame the body fat directly. I am very curious if I'll find one in the weeks and months to come. You can be sure to find it posted here. Stay tuned!

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