Unprecedented study highlights the many health benefits of brown fat

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January 10, 2021

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A large study recently linked the presence of brown fat to improved heart and metabolic health. Work that confirms the hypothesis suggesting that this type of adipose tissue confers broad benefits on health.

Tens of thousands of scanners analyzed

The body is home to different types of fatty tissue, the most common of which is known as white fat, which we are all trying to get rid of, and which make up the vast majority of fat cells in our bodies. Considered to be much more metabolically active, the brown fat is made up of larger amounts of iron-rich mitochondria that allow the body to burn it quickly. While this type of fat had been shown to be present in large amounts in babies, scientists previously believed that we subsequently lost the ability to generate it.

In 2009, a team found that brown fat was still present in adults in small amounts. A discovery that sparked a wave of work looking for ways to turn white fat into brown fat to treat obesity as well as other metabolic disorders.

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Brown fat cell – © Scientific Animations / CC BY-SA 4.0

Until now, the main obstacle in researching possible beneficial effects of brown fat has been the difficulty in detecting this particular type of adipose tissue. As part of this new study published in the journal Nature Medicine, Tobias Becher and his colleagues fromRockefeller University relied on a method of medical imaging known as positron emission tomography (TEP).

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To gain insight into the effects of brown fat on a large population, researchers looked at data from more than 50,000 patients who had scans TEP for routine cancer assessment. After adjusting for the influence of different types and stages of cancer, the researchers were able to establish a significant correlation between the presence of brown fat and a number of cardiometabolic conditions.

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Analysis of PET scans of over 50,000 subjects has revealed a correlation between detectable brown fat levels and improved metabolic and heart health – © Courtesy of MSKCC radiologists Andreas G. Wibmer and Heiko Schöder

A significant correlation

Their research confirmed that the presence of brown fat was associated with a lower prevalence of several chronic diseases. Subjects with brown fat were significantly less likely to have type 2 diabetes, and the latter was also associated with lower levels of hypertension and coronary heart disease.

While obesity is generally associated with a decrease in brown fat function, obese people in whom brown fat activity persists appear to be protected against conditions associated with being overweight. Write the authors of the study. ” This notion further supports the potential of brown fat as a therapeutic target beyond weight loss itself, as a means of dissociating obesity from the disease.. “

If scientists knew that brown fat was being used as an energy source by the body much earlier, its association with lower rates of hypertension suggests that it may lead to broader health benefits.

We are considering the possibility that brown adipose tissue is doing more than consuming glucose and burning calories, and perhaps even participating in hormonal signaling to other organs. “, Explain Paul cohen, co-author of the study.

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– My_Gook / Shutterstock.com

Different avenues explored to push the body to produce more brown fat

In recent years, a great deal of research has focused on identifying ways to get the body to make more brown fat, or to turn pre-existing white fat into its more metabolically beneficial cousin. The methods offered range from hormones that mimic physical exercise to injections of nanoparticles, drugs and even gene therapies that could act as a “ fat switch “.

The question that comes naturally is: What can I do to gain more brown fat? “, valued Cohen. ” We do not yet have a definitive answer to this question, but it will be an exciting area of ​​research for scientists in the years to come.. “

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