The Bear Facts of Obesity

My Bariatric Life Health Guide
  • bear obesity research

    Photo By Rosemary Ratcliff

     

    Let’s talk bears. To begin, there are the three bears: Mama, Papa, and Baby. These bears are unusually patient and share good temperament. All the better for that little blonde housebreaker Goldilocks, whose freeloading of porridge and destruction of bear family furniture could have easily ended in a most brutal manner. After all, patient bears with good temperament are still bears.


    Next, there is Yogi Bear. He is the fur-covered twin of Goldilocks in that he is also a thief. Picnic baskets are his game and, despite his neck tie and head gear, his character is questionable. Child services will probably have some questions if they discover he is a mentor to poor old Boo Boo.

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    There are the Chicago Bears, better known in Chicago circles as Da Bears! Walter Peyton, Mike Ditka, and Ken Singletary. Those guys definitely had some growl.


    Finally there is Gentle Ben, a rarity in that he is a user-friendly grizzly bear. And speaking of grizzly bears, you’ll never guess what researchers are up to now.    


    The Use of Grizzly Bears to Research Obesity


    If there is a secret magic for healthy weight gain followed by substantial weight loss, then bears have cracked the code.


    Prior to hibernation, these massive animals gorge themselves with apples, berries and salmon until they gain one hundred pounds or more. Bear bad cholesterol goes way up as does blood pressure. And then they are off to sleep. But that’s it. Just sleep. Nothing else. No clogged arteries, no heart attacks, no diabetes. 


    Researchers are wondering exactly how bears manage this particular trick and are studying grizzly bears to try and find out.


    While a grizzly bear is certainly a lab animal that falls far outside the grid, it was selected not only for its ability to gain and lose massive amounts of weight without compromising its health, but because it is superior to lab rats for this particular research. Like people, bears gain weight through consumption while lab rats must have genes manipulated in order to create obesity.   


    The risk factors for using bears as research subjects are obvious. They are enormous and powerful wild animals capable of crushing small vehicles. But the project was green-lighted in an effort to discover answers that have thus far been elusive.  


    Standard approaches for obesity research have not yielded the desired results. Those drugs that have been approved for weight loss have only had modest success in reducing body weight percentage. So in came the bears. Studies of bear fat and blood samples show that these animals respond to weight gain differently than do most people.  


    The bears seem to be able to adjust their sensitivity to insulin while gaining great amounts of weight prior to hibernation. Insulin is the hormone that determines how much fat and sugar in food is broken down and stored for energy. Once hibernation begins, bears are able to completely shut down insulin responsiveness.


    The goal of researchers is to discover how this is managed.   

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    References:
    Wall Street Journal

Published On: January 01, 2014