Some comfort in `bad' food

October 16, 2005

Cheese fries and other greasy foods may do the arteries and the waistline no favors, but don't give up hope. Researchers have found evidence that they do serve some good purpose, at least in really chubby rats.

High-fat meals seem to trigger a hormone that reduces swelling in the digestive tract as well as protecting against bacterial infections, according to a study published last week in The Journal of Experimental Medicine. The researchers suggest that triggering the fat-hormone ramp-up before a patient's major surgery or if he has contracted a major infection could help reduce complications from inflammation, including lethal septic shock. The "lean" control rats, fed a strictly low-fat diet, had much less protection against such post-surgical trauma.

Scientists at the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands learned this from poking and prodding the large, lab-created rodents called obese Zucker rats. Because of an inbred genetic anomaly, these fuzzy test subjects weigh in around 2.2 pounds full-grown and show all the symptoms that humans show when they are so out of proportion.

Traditionally, the mutant rats have been used to study the progression into adult-onset diabetes and related health problems and to investigate remedies, but the work has branched out to muscular, nervous and digestive systems. The latest grail researchers seek is a method to fool a body too big to get enough weight-loss exercise into boosting its metabolism anyway.

For now, though, the news that a little fat, even if only in special situations, could do good is heartening. There must be some reason cheeseburgers, fried cornbread, flautas and the like are comfort food for so many people.

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