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Weight Loss Science Fact: Odd but True


Okay boys and girls, time to grab those love handles and hold on tight, because it’s another round of weight loss science fact. With a little luck [and a little reading] you won’t be holding them for long. With that let’s just jump right in, for those who are not in “the know” there are two types of fat: white adipose tissue and brown adipose tissue. The normal person’s body will preferentially choose white adipose tissue over brown. I’ll let you guess which one is the better of the two.

[Loony Hint: Before we go any further, adipose tissue is a fancy science term for fat. Those love handles and back rolls– don’t worry we’ve all been there– you guessed it, it’s adipose tissue.]

White adipose tissue is lazy kind of like me. Your body gives it a constant pass on doing anything other than storage, sort of like that storage locker your creepy aunt has, you know the one where she horded everything she could grab… anyone? [It can’t just be me…] In any case white adipose tissue is the default for storage and can be a pain to get rid of, especially when insulin comes into play, which just happens to LOVE white adipose tissue.

Brown adipose tissue on the other hand actually does something. It helps produce body heat and is the prefered way to store fat as a child [to help keep the little guy [or girl] warm. There is a very science based reason behind this difference. It involves different hormonal pathways, namely the mTORC1 pathway. This particular pathway let’s fat be used as energy [Lipolysis, for you science buffs] and heat [Thermogenesis, and again an interesting article for you science folk].

It is important to note however, this pathway [mTORC1] is in both white adipose tissue and brown adipose tissue, it is just more active in brown. Again, it just so happens that a key player in all of this is [my favorite hormone, because I’m weird cool like that] insulin.

Insulin will inhibit lipolysis from happening and if you look at the handy dandy [a science term I assure you] image below you can sort of see how that works [having trouble seeing it, squint really hard… still a no? Sorry, that’s all I have to help].

You can also see from this image that insulin promotes lipogenesis [also known as fat storage for anyone interested], which is why that hint about fiber in your diet was one of my better tips.

mTORC1 pathway

Fear not! This is after all weight loss science fact, so if there was no good news to report then I would not be writing this. Or at the very least it would be pretty mean to trick you into reading this far without some good news.

My handy dandy [again it’s a science term, deal with it] image kind of gives this one away, but exposure to cold will help increase mTORC1 expression. This means that you can crank up that weight loss by [of all things] cooling off.

The study [published this week] I am referring to, shows that you can change white adipose tissue into brown by exposure to cold temperatures. This inhibits the mTORC1 pathway and therefore helps you burn that extra fat. The team reporting also found that Grb10 [as seen in the image] is the on/off switch for the whole process.

Now this isn’t to say the only way to do this is to jump into your nearest pool and drop the pounds [although this research shows that the cold pool water along with the exercise might be the ideal way to drop the weight]. The team is working with different drugs that will do the same thing, in fact they already found one in particular that science has known about and is being used today.

Sirolimus, an interesting drug– which is used to help keep organ donor recipients from rejecting the new organs– will inhibit the mTORC1 pathway all by itself, no cold environment needed. This opens all sorts of fun doors to help target the obesity epidemic [and with it the rise of type 2 diabetes].

Of course, what fun would this be without other added benefits. It just so happens that inhibiting the mTORC1 pathway is also [positively] associated with aging, cardiovascular disease and cancer. So increasing mTORC1 expression in the body will not just help keep you thin, it will keep you healthy and living longer.

But until they come out with an over the counter drug [or even one prescribed for weight loss] jumping in that pool might be your best bet. One thing is for sure, the sauna isn’t going to cut it, so if you are going to torture yourself you might as well do it in the cold and say byebye to those pesky pounds that follow you around.

Edited: Thanks Brendan for pointing out my error and for the cool link. 

Liu, M., Bai, J., He, S., Villarreal, R., Hu, D., Zhang, C., Yang, X., Liang, H., Slaga, T., Yu, Y., Zhou, Z., Blenis, J., Scherer, P., Dong, L., & Liu, F. (2014). Grb10 Promotes Lipolysis and Thermogenesis by Phosphorylation-Dependent Feedback Inhibition of mTORC1 Cell Metabolism, 19 (6), 967-980 DOI: 10.1016/j.cmet.2014.03.018

5 responses

  1. Brendan

    I think there is a bit of a mix up. From that figure and likewise in the Cell summary “Grb10 directly *inhibits* mTORC1 via a phosphorylation-dependent feedback mechanism”, not activating mTORC1.

    This change also applies to mTORC1 activation and negative association with lifespan and many diseases: since it is a negative correlation, we want to *inhibit* mTORC1 which is was cold exposure (and caloric restriction, etc) does.

    So *inhibiting* mTORC1 is what confers the benefits of cold exposure, which coincides with the mechanisms behind caloric restriction as well.

    Also, there is the potential of this sort of thing to confer health benefits through lifestyle interventions such as the recently tested Wim Hof Method (http://www.wimhofmethod.com/scientific-proof-wim-hof-method/). Contained in that link is the link to a PNAS study in which participants were trained (includes cold exposure) to control their immune response to a bacterial endotoxin challenge. Preliminary, to be sure, but potentially exciting for realizing lifestyle and non-pharmacological browning health benefits if it hold up under further study.


    June 13, 2014 at 10:26 am

    • Foot in mouth disease my friend, you are correct. That’s what happens when I’m in a hurry, thanks for the correction and I’ll update it when I have a second more than I do, between moving and what not life has been more hectic than usual. Thanks for sharing that link, very interesting, I’m excited to see how it plays out. Also thanks for taking the time to correct my post, as much as I hate it, I would hate giving out the wrong information more.


      June 13, 2014 at 5:19 pm

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    June 20, 2014 at 9:28 am

    • I typically am not a fan of shameless plugs, but I will let this one slide. You know, just this once.


      June 20, 2014 at 7:36 pm

  3. Pingback: The Iceman Cometh | Loony Labs

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