December 11, 2012

Baby Got Brown Fat

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Transplants have been successfully done with organs, tissues, fluids, and cells. But would you ever want a fat cell to be transplanted into your body? You may consider it if the cell could encourage weight loss and enhance metabolic function.

Brown  fat burns calories rather than storing them like white fat. It’s commonly found in babies and it keeps the body warm. As we grow older, we gain white fat. Our bodies have brown fat between the shoulder blades, along the spine, around the heart, on the side of the neck, and near the collarbones.

Researchers wanted to see if it would be possible to take brown fat from the backs of mice and transplant it into the abdomens of other mice to stimulate metabolic benefits.  Unlike previous studies that were timed and placed ineffectively, the results were dramatically different.

After eight weeks, the mice showed to have better control over blood glucose, less insulin resistance, and were leaner than mice that received placebo injections.

To further test the positive results, researchers gave brown fat transplants to mice on high-fat diets. Although high-fat diets led to weight gain in both groups of mice, the brown fat mice gained less weight and maintained better blood glucose control than the mice who were not given brown fat.

The reason why brown fat works in mitigating blood glucose and the adverse effects of high-fat diets is complex. The long and the short of it comes down to proteins and molecules that control how the body handles the glucose in the blood.

Many people are wondering when brown fat transplants will be available to humans. Rome wasn’t built in a day and the obesity epidemic cannot be solved overnight. Skeptics of the brown fat fix remind us that the function of brown fat in the body is to produce heat and fight cold exposure, not combat obesity.

In the beginning of time, the pancreas didn’t have a need for insulin-producing cells. The formation of beta cells was an evolutionary afterthought. The human diet didn’t contain processed foods or refined sugars. The diet consisted of meat  and vegetables.

It’s hard to distinguish which came first, the brown fat cell or the islets, but if I had to make an educated guess – it would be brown fat. A newborn infant is likely to experience a chill before it comes face to face with a simple carbohydrate.

Current research shows that the evolutionary advantage to brown fat is a metabolic upper-hand. Not everyone is well endowed with brown fat deposits. In a few more years researchers may have contrived a way to get some of that rejuvenating brown fat back you.

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