Not all fat is created equal and researchers just figured out a way to change the “bad” fat that builds up and makes our clothes tighter into the “good” type of fat that burns calories to keep us warm. The new animal study is causing a stir as it could offer an effective, and, more importantly, an easy solution to stubborn weight gain.
Researchers from Washington University School of Medicine figured out a way to convert obesity causing white fat into energy-hungry “beige” fat in lab rats. According to the study, now published online in Cell Reports, the team found that blocking the activity of a specific protein called PexRaP in white fat caused the cells to transform into more healthy beige fat. When the researchers then went on to create mice that were genetically altered to suppress this protein, they noted that the genetically altered mice were leaner than their siblings, despite consuming the same amount of food. The results suggest that one day this finding could be turned into a treatment for human obesity.
"Our goal is to find a way to treat or prevent obesity," said first author Irfan J. Lodhi in a statement. "Our research suggests that by targeting a protein in white fat, we can convert bad fat into a type of fat that fights obesity."
When most of us think of body fat we picture white fat. This is very plentiful, especially in the belly and thighs, and works to help store energy and produce certain hormones. Too much white fat can make you overweight and lead to obesity.
Brown fat, on the other hand, is more abundant in lean people and less abundant in overweight and obese people. Brown found is found in greater amounts around the neck and shoulders, and is more common in children than adults. This type of fat helps to keep you warm, and actually can burn white fat to accomplish this.
Beige fat is in between these two, and a relatively new concept that was only revealed in 2015. According to the researchers, it works very similarly to brown fat, and for this reason their findings may yield to a more effective weight loss treatment.
This is not the first time that researchers have noted that turning white fat cells into beige fat could be an effective way to combat obesity: A 2015 study published in the International Journal of Obesity Supplements suggested the same thing.
Though the idea of an anti-obesity treatment sounds appealing, we’re not quite there yet. The team noted that they needed to figure out a way to accomplish the same results in humans without causing them to overheat or develop a dangerous fever, as beige fat creates heats.