Your Body Has a Built-In Bathroom Scale That Senses Weight Gain

Dec 28, 2017 at 11:21 a.m. ET
Image: Shaun/Getty Images

As the holidays wind down, you may get that creeping feeling that all the overindulging has left you a little plumper than you were a month ago. But it's not just in your head. A new study found that our bodies have built-in bathroom scales that can sense when we gain weight.

Researchers at Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden who recently published their study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the United States of America hope their findings could lead to a better understanding of obesity and potentially drugs that could help prevent and treat it.

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According to Dr. John-Olov Jansson, a professor at Sahlgrenska Academy who participated in the research, said his team discovered a completely new system that regulates fat mass.

"Quite simply, we have found support for the existence of internal bathroom scales," Jansson said in a statement. "The weight of the body is registered in the lower extremities. If the body weight tends to increase, a signal is sent to the brain to decrease food intake and keep the body weight constant."

The research was conducted on already-obese rodents that were then loaded with extra weights, which caused their body fat to decrease and improved their blood glucose levels, resulting in them losing almost as much weight as the artificial load.

This is the first major discovery related to the body fat regulatory system in 23 years, since American scientists discovered leptin — the hormone that helps to regulate energy balance by telling your brain you're satiated and can stop eating. Though hopes were high for leptin when it was initially researched, we now know it is unlikely to be a "cure" for obesity itself, but it does play a role in understanding how and why we eat.

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"The mechanism that we have now identified regulates body fat mass independently of leptin, and it's possible that leptin combined with activation of the internal body scales can become an effective treatment for obesity," Dr. Claes Ohlsson, a professor at Sahlgrenska Academy, Gothenburg University, explained in a statement.

The new findings are also bad news for people who spend a lot of time sitting. It turns out that when we're seated, our internal body scales give us an inaccurately low measure, Ohlsson said. Even worse, because of that, we eat more and gain weight — as if you needed another reason to get up and walk around to break up your workday.

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