Turning Fat Cells into Energy Burners

August 17, 2012 at 11:10 am Leave a comment

Cells destined to become white fat—the energy-storing kind that is characteristic of anyone who is overweight—were coaxed in a study to become energy-burning brown fat instead. Brown fat is abundant in babies, which they use as a power source to generate body heat (by expending calories at the same time).  But as we age our brown fat largely disappears and gets replaced by “bad” white fat, which typically sits as a spare tire around the waist.  “Good” brown fat cell was recently discovered in adults; lean people were found to have more brown fat than obese people, which suggests it plays a role in determining body weight. Researchers used chemicals to direct the cells to become brown fat. The hope is that these chemicals could be developed into drugs that increase the amount of brown fat in overweight people and help them lose pounds.

In research that may alarm gym owners, scientists have found a hormone responsible for many of exercise’s health benefits. The newly discovered hormone—named “irisin” after the Greek messenger goddess Iris—turns ordinary white fat cells into energy-burning brown fat, and helps ward off diabetes by improving glucose tolerance, Time reports. Researchers found that the body produces irisin in response to exercise, and the hormone helps muscle cells “talk” to the body’s fat cells.

Scientists believe that the protein could yield “exercise in pill form,” offering new treatments for diabetes and obesity in people unable to exercise. Irisin does not, however, build muscle or strengthen bones. “We’re not trying to replace diet and exercise,” the lead researcher says. “That’s still important.” The catch—as usual—is that irisin injections have so far only been tested on mice, but the hormone is identical in mice and humans, and researchers hope to begin clinical trials relatively quickly.

*Sources: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Jan. 2011 and http://www.Newser.com *


Entry filed under: Diabetes, Diet/Nutrition, Health, Healthy Lifestyle. Tags: , , , .

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