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Brown Fat Could Help Treat Obesity and Diabetes
By Daniel H. Rasolt
Posted: Friday, April 10, 2009
(Defeat Diabetes® News) -- Brown fat, which helps
use energy and burn calories, and was previously believed to only to exist in
babies, has recently been shown to occur in adults as well. The discovery of the
presence of this "good fat" in adults lays foundations for potential obesity and
diabetes treatments that stimulate brown fat growth.
Most types of fat,
known as white fat, store energy, and account for weight gain. While energy
storage is essential, excess calories, often a result of unhealthy diets, lead
to excess fat/energy storage, and subsequent obesity. More than 30% of Americans
are considered obese, which puts them at increased risk for the rising epidemics
of diabetes and heart disease.
A recently published study has shown that
an alternative type of fat, called brown fat, is "metabolically active" in
adults, a surprising finding, as brown fat was previously thought to only be
active in babies. Instead of storing energy, brown fat helps utilize energy and
burn calories, making this fat a potentially useful tool for weight loss, and
improved glucose metabolism. Says senior author, Dr. C. Robert Kahn, "The fact
that there is active brown fat in adult humans means this is now a new and
important target for the treatment of obesity and type 2 diabetes."
study was performed through an analysis of 1,972 patients who received what's
known as positron emission tomography/computed tomography (PET/CT) scans, which
can show fat deposits, among other things. Several general observations were
made through analysis of these scans. It was found that younger individuals had
a higher occurrence of brown fat, and females more often had larger brown fat
deposits than males (specifically, 7.5% of females had "substantial" brown fat
deposits, opposed to 3% of males), and the majority of brown fat deposits were
found in the neck. Also, brown fat levels were seen to be higher in individuals
of normal weight and healthy blood glucose levels, which was to be expected due
to brown fat's calorie burning properties. Brown fat was also seen to be more
"metabolically active" in individuals living in cold weather, because the
burning of energy naturally generates heat within the body.
commented on some of the above observations: "What is of particular interest is
that individuals who were overweight or obese as measured by higher Body Mass
Index (BMI) were less likely to have substantial amounts of brown fat. Likewise,
patients taking beta-blockers and patients who were older were also less likely
to have active brown fat. For example, individuals both over age 64 and with
high BMI scores were six times less likely to have substantial amounts of brown
The author's also believe that the observed incidence of brown fat
is an underestimate, due to limitations of PET/CT scans, suggesting even further
potential for future brown fat utilization. Says Dr. Kahn, "these numbers
clearly represent an underestimate, since PET/CT can only detect collections of
brown fat cells of a certain size and activity, and could miss smaller and less
It is the hope of the author's that the observed, and
expected larger abundance, of brown fat in human adults, can be utilized through
new therapies that stimulate it's growth. If this were shown to be possible
through further research, new techniques for battling obesity and diabetes could
result. Concludes Dr. Kahn, "this study demonstrates that it [brown fat] is both
present and appears to be physiologically important in terms of body weight and
glucose metabolism. We hope this opens up a new therapeutic area for obesity and
type 2 diabetes by modifying the activity of brown fat."
Source: Defeat Diabetes Foundation: Kahn, C. Robert. Jastive, Kira. New England Journal of Medicine press release. April 2009.
Daniel H. Rasolt writes for Defeat Diabetes® News. Read more of his original content articles.
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