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Scientists use the brain to direct fat burning


Does it seem like no matter what you do, you still can’t shed the pounds? You know what to eat, how to eat and workout regularly, but the weight just won’t go away, well you may not be alone. There are many different medical conditions that limit your ability to lose weight, but thankfully science has now found how to use your brain to shed the weight.

The findings give new insights into how the brain regulates body fat and may lead to more effective ways to lose weight and prevent obesity by promoting the conversion of white fat to brown fat.

Researchers unravelled a molecular mechanism that depends on the combined action of two hormones – leptin, an appetite suppressant generated in fat cells, and my favorite hormone — insulin. Produced in the pancreas in response to rising levels of glucose in the blood insulin shuts down (in simple terms) the fat burning machinery in your cells . However, the big discovery is that their research shows that the two hormones act in concert on a group of neurons in the brain to stimulate the burning of body fat via the nervous system.

Discovering the combined action of these two hormones could assist in the shedding of excess fat.

“These hormones give the brain a comprehensive picture of the fatness of the body. Because leptin is produced by fat cells, it measures the level of existing fat reserves – the more fat, the more leptin. Whereas insulin provides a measure of future fat reserves because glucose levels rise when we eat,” Professor Tony Tiganis, from the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology said.

Fat in adult humans is typically stored in adipocytes, specialised cells that comprise white fat. But around the neck and shoulders, there is a second form of fat made of brown adipocytes. Rather than storing fat, these cells can be induced to burn it off.

The research team discovered leptin and insulin interact with proopiomelanocortin (POMC) neurons in the brain’s hypothalamus, causing them to send signals through the nervous system promoting the conversion of white fat into brown fat. Which in turn, leads to burning off of excess fat.

In laboratory work, researchers were actually able to show that the process is regulated in these neurons by enzymes known as phosphatases, which inhibit the actions of each of the hormones. When the levels of these inhibitors were reduced, the browning and burning of fat increased.

This fundamental process normally serves to maintain body weight, but in diet-induced obesity this mechanism goes awry.

“Eventually, we think we may be able to help people lose weight by targeting these two enzymes. Turning white fat into brown fat is a very exciting new approach to developing weight loss agents. But it is not an easy task, and any potential therapy is a long way off,” Professor Tiganis said.

While I think people should focus on losing weight by eating right (not easy given all the misinformation and fad diets on line praying on unknowing people desperate to lose the weight), this could help people suffering from medical conditions that inhibit weight loss.

Dodd, G., Decherf, S., Loh, K., Simonds, S., Wiede, F., Balland, E., Merry, T., Münzberg, H., Zhang, Z., Kahn, B., Neel, B., Bence, K., Andrews, Z., Cowley, M., & Tiganis, T. (2015). Leptin and Insulin Act on POMC Neurons to Promote the Browning of White Fat Cell, 160 (1-2), 88-104 DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2014.12.022


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