Over the years, researchers have proven time after time that beige fat possesses both the qualities of white and brown fat. This “hybrid fat” can not only hoard energy, like white fat, but also burn energy, similar to brown fat.
In 2015, researchers discovered another interesting feature of beige fat: it has the ability to switch between storing and burning energy. Most recently, researchers at the University of California, San Francisco found a way of keeping beige cells in the energy-burning state.
Why does this matter? By preventing beige fat cells from digesting their own mitochondria, researchers actually protected mice against obesity and symptoms of prediabetes. A graduate student who worked on the study, Svetlana Altshuler-Keylin, explains. “We knew that the color of brown and beige fat comes from the amount of pigmented mitochondria they contain, so we wondered whether something was going on with the mitochondria when beige fat turns white.”
The University of California researchers found a cluster of genes related to mitochondria were actually very active in beige fat and then declined significantly once it turned to white fat. While this was an important finding in and of itself, the researchers took it to the next level by controlling a process called autophagy.
Autophagy occurs when cells digest their own internal components so the team boosted beige fat levels in mice that were either exposed to cold temperatures or given drugs to trick the body into thinking it was cold. Why cold temperatures? Because exposure to cold is one of many stressors that converts beige fat into an energy-burning state.
After this process, the mice that had key autophagy genes deleted retained beige fat longer than normal mice did. These mice also burned energy more quickly. These mice were also placed on a high-calorie diet for eight weeks but gained less weight and had better insulin resistance than their counter-parts.
While there is plenty of research and work that needs to happen to transition this study to humans, the research team believes their finding could help with research pertaining to boosting beige fat in obese individuals. Since these people are typically more at risk of developing type 2 diabetes, this research has the potential to prevent this.
With age, we typically lose our beige fat, which means we are not burning as much. This phenomenon is thought to be one of the main drivers of age-related obesity, especially because we usually do not alter our calorie intake. The goal of this research is to better understand the role of beige fat, learn how to hold on to beige fat and ultimately help prevent obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Original Source: Diabetes
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