A new mathematical model of the physiological regulation of body weight suggests a potential mechanism underlying the difficulty of losing weight, one that includes aspects of two competing hypotheses of weight regulation. In the January issue of Cell Metabolism, Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) investigators outline a system in which there may be several steady states to which an animal's weight tends to gravitate, rather than a single "set point."
"There are problems with both of the current hypotheses for how the body balances energy intake and expenditure to maintain a stable weight," explains Joshua Tam, a doctoral student working in the Steele Laboratory in the MGH Department of Radiation Oncology, lead author of the study. "While our model has its own limitations, if it holds up, it may help us better understand the body's system for weight regulation."
The well-known tendency for body weight to remain stable in spite of changes in diet or energy expenditure observed in both humans and other mammals led to the development of the "set-point" hypothesis, which holds that an individual's metabolism acts to oppose changes to a physiologically predetermined body weight. Opponents of that theory, who argue that a natural set-point would prevent the development of obesity in the first place, argue that the body's weight "settling point" is determined solely by environmental factors, such as the availability of food, along with physical activity and other behavioral factors. Opposing the settling point theory are study results showing that, if given access only to low-calorie foods, some animals will maintain their weight by increasing the amount of food they consume, supporting a tendency to return to an established weight.
Earlier attempts to develop mathematical models of metabolic weight regulation did not specifically include the neuroendocrine signals that act on the central nervous system to control both fo
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Massachusetts General Hospital