Your fat could burn itself, say scientists in weight-loss breakthrough


Weight loss can be tricky, but scientists might have finally found a way to help: a cheat code for burning calories without exercising or changing your diet. And it all comes down to a fat-burning mechanism you already have in your body known as ‘beige fat’.

Of course, exercise and diet are still two of the most crucial factors. But a team of researchers at UC San Francisco in the USA have discovered a way of turning ordinary white fat cells into beige fat cells.

While these sound like two sides of the same coin, there’s a difference. Lots of mammals, including humans, have three types of fat cells: white, brown and beige. White cells store calories for energy, brown fat cells burn energy to release heat and beige ones combine both tasks.


By switching from white to beige, the body could effectively be burning fatty cells naturally without assistance.

While the discovery is based on tests on mice, it could lead to the development of a new class of weight-loss drugs and even explain why clinical trials of related therapies haven’t been successful.

Researchers have long believed that creating beige fat requires starting from stem cells. The new study, which was published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, demonstrated that ordinary white fat cells can transition into beige fat just by limiting the production of a certain protein known as KLF-15.

“A lot of people thought this wasn’t feasible,” said Brian Feldman, Professor in Pediatric Endocrinology at the University of California and senior author of the study. “We showed not only that this approach works to turn these white fat cells into beige ones, but also that the bar to doing so isn’t as high as we’d thought.”

KLF-15 plays a role in metabolism and the function of fat cells. Feldman and his team investigated how the protein functions in mice, which retain brown fat throughout their lives. They found that KLF-15 was much less abundant in white fat cells than in brown or beige fat cells.

The team bred mice with white fat cells that lacked KLF-15 and discovered that these mice converted the cells from white to beige. Not only could they make that switch, but without the protein the default setting became beige.

So why does KLF-15 have this effect? Using cultured human fat cells, the team discovered that the protein controls the abundance of a receptor called Adrb1, which helps to maintain natural energy balances.

Previous research used drugs to target the similar Adrb3 receptor in mice. This caused the mice to lose weight, but human trials had disappointing results.

According to the team, a drug that targets the Adrb1 receptor is much more likely to work and could have advantages over current weight-loss drugs. Mainly, it could limit the number of side effects and could have longer-lasting effects.

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