Ever Heard Of Brown Fat? Here Is How It Can Fight Obesity

    Fat tissue, SEM
    Fat tissue. Coloured scanning electron micrograph (SEM) of fat cells (adipocytes, round) surrounded by fine strands of supportive connective tissue. Adipocytes are among the largest cells in the human body, each cell being 100 to 120 microns in diameter. Almost the entire volume of each fat cell consists of a single lipid (fat or oil) droplet. Adipose tissue forms an insulating layer under the skin, storing energy in the form of fat, which is obtained from food. Magnification: x400 when printed 10 centimetres wide.

    Scientists have unravelled the secret of brown fat, also called brown adipose tissue, that could help fight against obesity and diabetes. The research, published in the journal Nature, explains the role played by brown fat in maintaining human health and could eventually lead to the discovery of new medications for treating obesity and type 2 diabetes.

    Brown fat is considered to be a heat organ and few grams of it can be found in areas like the neck, collarbone, kidneys and spinal cord in human beings. It tends to get activated by cool temperatures. Brown fat utilises sugar and fat from the blood to generate heat in the body. According to the study, brown fat could also assist the body in the filtering and removing of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) from the blood.


    The BCAAs (leucine, isoleucine and valine) are found in food items like eggs, meat, fish, chicken and milk and also in some of the supplements used by athletes and others who wish to increase their muscle mass. When found in normal concentrations in the blood, these amino acids play a vital roll in maintaining good health. However, if found excessive amounts, it leads to diabetes and obesity.

    The researchers have found that people with little or no presence of brown adipose in their body have reduced ability to metabolise BCAAs from their blood which can prove to be dangerous. This study also solved a 20-plus year mystery about brown fat: How BCAAs enter the mitochondria that generate energy and heat in cells. The scientists found a novel protein called SLC25A44 that controls the rate at which brown fat clears amino acids from the blood and utilises them to generate heat and energy.

    “Our study explains the paradox that BCAA supplements can potentially benefit those with active brown fat, such as healthy people, but can be detrimental to others, including the elderly, obese and people who are diabetic,” said Labros S Sidossis, a professor at Rutgers University-New Brunswick.

    Researchers now want to determine if uptake of BCAAs by brown adipose can be controlled by environmental factors like exposure to mildly cold temperatures or consumption of spicy foods or by drugs. This could help in improving blood sugar levels which play a vital role in controlling diabetes and obesity.

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