Could we ‘think’ our fat away?

Date:19 January 2015 Author: William Horne Tags:, , , , , , ,

Why don’t your shoulders get fat? Well, scientists believe the answer to that type of question might provide a way to burn fat by naturally convincing your body to…well, just burn it.

The research, recently published in the journal Cell, finds that by utilising the interactions between two hormones, the brain could convince the body to lose excess weight by turning white fat into brown fat.

The molecular mechanism that regulates this natural process is made up of the hormones leptin, an appetite suppressant generated in fat cells, and insulin, produced in the pancreas in response to rising levels of glucose in the blood.

The Monash University researchers found that within the brain these two hormones work in tandem on a group of neurons that convince the nervous system to burn body fat.

“These hormones give the brain a comprehensive picture of the fatness of the body. Because leptin is produced by fat cells, it measures the level of existing fat reserves – the more fat, the more leptin. Whereas insulin provides a measure of future fat reserves because glucose levels rise when we eat,” said lead researcher Professor Tony Tiganis from the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

The persistent type of fat, which causes the bulk of our problems, is stored in a specific kind of cell called adipocytes, which constitutes ‘white fat’.

Around the neck and shoulders of your body, for instance, the fat is stored differently and is brown. This brown fat is burned much easier because the different kind of adipocytes that comprise brown fat means it is not made to be stored, and the body periodically burns it off with ease.

Essentially, the two hormones leptin and insulin convert white fat into brown fat, but they are inhibited within the hypothalamus section of the brain by a particular enzyme called phosphatases.

The researchers were able to demonstrate in the lab that by reducing the inhibiting power of the phosphatases enzymes on the hormones, the body browned and burned off fat at an increased rate.

The process is a natural weight-management mechanism which serves a very important purpose in human physiology. In diet-induced obesity, however, the process is disrupted and becomes inefficient.

“Eventually, we think we may be able to help people lose weight by targeting these two enzymes. Turning white fat into brown fat is a very exciting new approach to developing weight loss agents. But it is not an easy task, and any potential therapy is a long way off,” Professor Tiganis said.

PM would advise against a celebratory feast for now, then.

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