If someone is a fake skinny, their immune cells give them away

Immune cells circulate through our blood which, in addition to fulfilling a defense function, can act as metabolic “sneaks” and reveal information about what is happening in other organs of the body. They can even reveal if, despite having a slim body, we are in danger of being “fake slim”. That is, if we are at risk of suffering from diabetes and other obesity-related problems without realizing it.

These cell sneaks are known by the acronym PBMC, which is the English acronym for “peripheral blood mononuclear cells”. Said like this, they may not sound familiar to us, but it includes lymphocytes and monocytes, of which we have all heard.

Normal weight but altered metabolic parameters

Now that we all know what a pandemic is, we can understand why it is so worrying that obesity has reached these levels. Not only that: it is increasingly common for apparently healthy people – that is, with a normal weight – to have several altered metabolic parameters.

We have the false habit of thinking that a weight within the values ​​considered normal makes us automatically healthy. However, being thin but eating an unhealthy diet and living a sedentary life can put our metabolic health at risk.

The reasons are simple to understand. On the one hand, the excess energy we consume is stored in the form of fat, whose main function is to act as an energy reservoir. Unlike what has been happening for thousands of years, when this energy reservoir was needed to cope with long periods of food scarcity, today the storage of fat is a problem for health because we store it in excess and we never got to burn it.

Individuals with a normal body weight but who have fat accumulation, especially visceral fat (the one that accumulates in the abdomen), are known as “false thin”. It is considered that approximately 20% of the world population could be in this situation. It is a problem because it implies that an important part of the population could be at risk at a metabolic level and they would not have indications until some parameter was altered when a control analysis was carried out. Sometimes too late.

How is my liver metabolically?

To prevent this from happening we can take a look at PBMCs. They are unique because they can express most of the genes in the human genome and because, on their journey throughout the body, they interact with various tissues, responding to both internal signals (hormones, for example) and external signals (nutrients and nutrients). even drugs).

This interaction is very relevant. It implies that PBMCs would collect information about what is happening in the liver, in adipose tissue and even in the brain. Subsequently, with a simple blood draw, we can isolate these cells to study their genetic expression and find out what is going on in the different organs of the body.

The research group I am part of has greatly contributed to understanding the role of PBMCs. Studies have been carried out in rodents that have shown that the changes in the expression of certain genes in response to different metabolic situations, for example, in the liver, coincided with those found in PBMC.

Specifically, our group has demonstrated the usefulness of using PBMC as a source of early predictive biomarkers of the risk of pathologies associated with diet and obesity. As we can easily obtain them in a minimally invasive way, they have now become protagonists in human studies related to diet and nutrition.

PBMCs can act as “snitches” and warn us of our metabolic risk

What is interesting is that these cells could be used to identify early predictive biomarkers of diet-associated pathologies. In other words, we could detect metabolic risk early in apparently healthy people (“false skinny”) and thus establish appropriate prevention strategies.

Not only that, but we could also use PBMCs to assess metabolic recovery after a weight loss plan. In most nutritional interventions aimed at losing weight in people who are overweight or obese, anthropometric measurements (weight, BMI or waist-hip ratio) are used to determine their effectiveness. However, wouldn’t it be more important to know if our metabolism has recovered?

This, again, is where the use of PBMCs would help find the solution. Because it would allow us to know if the weight loss or the change in body composition have been enough to recover a good metabolic state.

We must not forget that when our metabolism works well, we obtain the energy that our cells need to carry out all vital functions. PBMCs are presented as an excellent tool to measure whether we are able to respond adequately to the different stimuli to which we are subjected and maintain energy balance. In other words, if we have iron metabolic health.


This article was a finalist in the II edition of the youth disclosure contest organized by the Lilly Foundation and The Conversation Spain.


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