"Good Fat" Could Actually Fight Obesity

By Eliza Strickland | August 21, 2008 8:50 am

belly fatAs if heath news wasn’t confusing enough these days (think good cholesterol, bad cholesterol), researchers say they’re zeroing in on a way to promote “good” fat, which efficiently burns energy and could be used to combat obesity. While adults have very little of this beneficial fat naturally, researchers are hunting for pharmaceuticals that could boost production.

[T]here are two distinct types of fat tissue: white ‘bad’ fat acts as an energy store whereas brown ‘good’ fat, which largely disappears by adulthood, helps in burning calories to generate body heat, which is crucial to keep babies warm…. These cells are brown because they are rich in energy burning structures called mitochondria [Telegraph]. Now, two new studies reported in the journal Nature [subscription required] have investigated ways to trigger the creation of these cells.

In one study, a team led by researcher Yu-Hua Tseng delivered a protein that’s known to promote bone growth into mice, which caused the mice to develop more brown fat tissue. [T]hey found mice that developed extra brown fat tissue gained less weight than other mice, suggesting a potential use in weight loss…. “We hope this study can be translated into applications to help treat or prevent obesity,” Tseng said [Reuters].

The other study surprised researchers by showing that brown fat cells are more closely related to muscle cells than to “bad” white fat cells, and found that a single genetic switch turns immature muscle cells into brown fat cells in mice. That raises the possibility that researchers could turn that switch on in adult humans, generating energy-burning caches of brown fat cells that could help people lose weight. But [lead researcher Bruce] Spiegelman, who is now looking for gene-triggering pharmaceuticals, still advised caution. “Would this work with a spoonful of brown fat, or a truckload? That’s not clear at this point,” he said. “It’s not ready for human beings. But we’re excited” [Wired News].

Image: iStockphoto

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