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Metabolic consequences of overfeeding in humans

Tappy, Luc

Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care: November 2004 - Volume 7 - Issue 6 - p 623-628
Nutrition and physiological function

Purpose of review Overfeeding leads to obesity and metabolic disorders, including impaired glucose homeostasis, lipid disorders, and hepatic steatosis. The consequences of standardized overfeeding on body weight have shown, however, considerable interindividual variability, which suggests that it also leads to adaptative changes in energy expenditure, in some individuals at least. The present review is mainly focused on the recent developments regarding the effects of overfeeding on energy expenditure.

Recent findings Individuals who gain the less body weight during overfeeding are those who experience a greater increase in total energy expenditure. This increase in energy expenditure has been attributed to stimulation of nonexercise physical activity. Recent developments regarding adaptative increases in physical activity are critically reviewed. Overfeeding also alters the pathways used for carbohydrate storage after a glucose load, by increasing de-novo lipogenesis in the liver and adipose tissue at the expense of glycogen storage. The sympathetic nervous system is a good candidate for energy expenditure increase during overfeeding. The increases in energy expenditure observed during acute stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system were however found to be unaltered by short-term overfeeding.

Summary The mechanisms by which some individuals protect themselves against body weight gain remain poorly understood. Nonvoluntary physical activity may allow one to increase energy expenditure during overfeeding, and may therefore constitute a regulatory factor in body weight control. The biological determinant of spontaneous, nonvoluntary physical activity, however, remains to be investigated.

Department of Physiology and Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism, Lausanne University Faculty of Biology and Medicine, Lausanne, Switzerland

Correspondence to Prof. L. Tappy, Département de physiologie, 7 rue du Bugnon, CH-1005 Lausanne, Switzerland Tel: +41 21 692 55 41; fax: +41 21 692 55 95; e-mail:

© 2004 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.