New Study Finds That Fat Accumulates in the Lungs of Obese and Overweight People

The fat blocks the airways to the lungs, and creates major health issues.
Fabienne Lang

A new study carried out by Australian researchers analyzed lung samples of 52 people and discovered that there was a link between fat accumulation and body mass index (BMI).

This link could explain why being overweight increases the chances of developing asthma. These findings have encouraged researchers in the respiratory studies field to see if the effects could be countered through weight loss. 

The study was published in the European Respiratory Journal.


Higher risk

During their study, a team of Australian scientists led by John Elliot, a senior researcher at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital in Perth, studied post-mortem lung samples. 

Elliot said, "Our research team studies the structure of the airways within our lungs and how these are altered in people with respiratory disease."

New Study Finds That Fat Accumulates in the Lungs of Obese and Overweight People
Micrograph of the inner layer of an airway's walls. Source: European Respiratory Journal via EurekAlert

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

Fifteen samples had no reported asthma, 21 did have asthma but died for other reasons, and 16 died of the condition. 

The scientists studied nearly 1,400 airways from these lung samples by using dyes and observing the samples under a microscope. 

Asthma and weight loss

The researchers found fatty tissue in the walls of the airways was more present in those of overweight people. Furthermore, the fattier airways of these people had been altered and led to inflammation in the lungs. 

Dr. Peter Noble, who was part of the study and is an associate professor at the University of Western Australia in Perth, said: "We've found that excess fat accumulates in the airway walls, where it takes up space and seems to increase inflammation within the lungs."

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Noble carried on, "We think this is causing a thickening of the airways that limits the flow of air in and out of the lungs and that could at least partly explain an increase in asthma symptoms."

Prof. Thierry Troosters, President of the European Respiratory Society, said that more research was needed to confirm whether or not weight loss could counter this build-up in fatty tissues. 

This research may assist in changing how we treat asthma and wheezing in the future. More research and trials on people are needed.