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Scientists Discovered How to Convert Fat Cells Into Energy Burners


Most fitness enthusiasts know that, broadly speaking, there are two different types of adipose tissue collections inside the body. One is white and the other is brown, but alongside those white cells sit beige deposits too, and that’s essential to know, because brown fat cells begin to disappear in the first year of life, while beige cells persist. This makes the recent act of converting existing white cells into beige a historical step, because it sets up an environment that allows us to burn more calories. Here’s what you need to know about this exciting development in the battle of the bulge.

The report, submitted by researchers at the University of California – San Fransisco, and published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation, explains how scientists have figured out how to change white fat cells to beige.

The Three Types of Fat Cells:

White Fat Cells: Store energy

Brown Fat Cells: Burn energy by releasing heat

Beige Fat Cells: Combine both characteristic but are also embedded near white cell deposits

How are White Fat Cells Turned to Beige?

“A lot of people thought this wasn’t feasible,” said the studies’ senior author; professor Brian Feldman of making the conversion. “We showed not only that this approach works to turn these white fat cells into beige ones, but also that the bar to doing so isn’t as high as we’d thought.” That process involves inhibiting a protein known as KLF-15 in the white cells. Experiments have shown that mice bread to lack KLF-15 experienced the conversion of white cells to beige. “Our results raise the exciting possibility that targeting KLF-15 could induce an alternative adrenergic input pathway for white adipocytes that promotes energy utilization,” states the study. “These discoveries not only expand our understanding of adipose biology, including the plasticity of mature white adipocytes, but they also elucidate and define previously unrecognized pathways with plausible prospects for being more relevant, and therefore potentially more effective, therapeutic targets for humans than other approaches.”

The hope is that the ability to manipulate fat cells in this way will open up new possibilities for treating obesity. Going even further than that, it is thought that any resulting therapies may even avoid existing weight-loss drug side effects like nausea since this new line of medication targets the cells, and not the brain for reducing our appetite for example. Converting white cells into beige is a positive outcome in those that have an over-abundance of white cells that are storing energy as fat.

The beige cells torch calories because they help to regulate body temperature, and while they are created by humans for a number of reasons, including a response to colder climates, until now, scientists had a hard time mimicking the process and thought stem cells may be the only solution. Impeding KLF-15 has unlocked the secret however. “We’re certainly not at the finish line, but we’re close enough that you can clearly see how these discoveries could have a big impact on treating obesity,” said Professor Feldman.

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