Good fat, bad fat. Brown fat, white fat. But is there a way that the bad fat in your body be endowed with the characteristics of good fat?
In a report in the New England Journal of Medicine report, scientists write that they have connected the dots between the strongest gene associated with obesity and a way to make white fat more active.
But why should white fat be more active, like its brown cousin? White fat tends to store energy as large fat droplets. It tends to accumulate around the middle and in our tissues, potentially leading to health problems.
Brown fat, on the other hand, has much smaller droplets. It is derived from muscle tissue and usually found in the front and back of the neck and upper back. It burns calories to generate heat, helping us burn, not store, calories. Found mainly in hibernating animals and newborns, brown fat in the body significantly decreases as we grow up. Research has shown that adults who have comparatively more brown fat tend to be younger and slender and have normal blood sugar levels.
No wonder that the presence of brown fat is desirable. But generating it isn’t easy. Regular exercise, high-quality sleep and exposure to the cold can transform white fat to brown.
The research, led by Melina Claussnitzer and senior author Manolis Kellis from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, revealed the ability to create a composition of fat cells more amenable to generating energy and heat, and less inclined to sequester into fat stores.
Does that mean we’ll be able to turn white to brown – or even beige – without exercise? According to the scientists, the results reveal that “we can reprogram all major fat stores in humans by intervening in this particular pathway”. If they can actually manipulate the process that coverts pre-fat cells to white or brown, it may change the treatment of weight problems and obesity.