Obesity, Type 2 Diabetes Curbed by Brown Fat

Obesity drugs generally focus on boosting the body’s metabolism, but few would have suspected that fat can actually help the body burn more calories. A new study shows that “brown” fat can help fight obesity and type 2 diabetes, and these findings may lead to the development of drug-based treatments.

patient_on_scale_jpgWe’ve all heard of “good” cholesterol — but “good body fat”? Surely, there is no such thing.

Well, good body fat does exist, and it’s actually baby fat — that is, the fat that children have naturally.

This healthy fat is also known as “brown fat.” And the good news is that brown fat is a metabolism booster—fighting obesity and type 2 diabetes.

Everyone has normal, white fat – the kind that stores up the calories and causes obesity. But brown fat is different – it actually burns off the calories. And when it does, it helps you regulate your body temperature by generating heat.

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Babies are born with brown fat, which lets them adjust their metabolisms to the right level. But brown fat disappears quickly in adults. And that’s a shame, because the more of it you have, the closer to your ideal weight you tend to be.

However, there may be a way to get your brown fat back. It involves a protein called PRDM16.

Back in 2007, Nature magazine reported on a study that showed PRDM16 could transform adult stem cells into brown fat. Now, researchers at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston have found another protein, C/EBP-beta, that can work together with PRDM16 to trick human skin cells into changing into brown fat.

And if scientists can find a way to use this protein cocktail to kick-start the body into making enough energy-burning brown fat to boost metabolism, they could be on track to developing an effective drug-based treatment for obesity.

Of course, research on the relationship between these two proteins and the production of brown fat has been largely limited to rats – so far. But since rats have a similar metabolism to us humans, it’s a good bet that what works for them will work for us.