Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Molecular Switch to Cause White Fat to Burn Energy

The use of lifestyle modification, diet, exercise, obesity drugs, and weight loss surgery makeup the leading methods for addressing weight loss. Brown fat, which has gained a lot of attention lately, could give us another tool for inducing with weight loss. Brown fat appears to burn energy rather than store it as does white fat. And some researcher have found a molecular switch which may allow white fat to burn energy. 

“The researchers, led by Harvard Professor Bruce Spiegelman, found that the protein TRPV4, a switch molecule, is highly expressed in white fat cells, which store excess calories and become engorged in obese individuals. Flipping a newly discovered molecular switch in white fat cells enabled mice to eat a high-calorie diet without becoming obese or developing the inflammation that causes insulin resistance…”

The researchers go on to say that the "role of TRPV4 as a mediator for both the thermogenic and pro-inflammatory programs in adipocytes, or fat cells, could offer an attractive target for treating obesity and related metabolic diseases.’

Since brown fat burns energy rather than store it the way white fat does, brown fat is more desirable than white fat.  Spiegelman, in a past article, reported that exercise can turn white fat into brown fat. He suggested that as mice exercise, their muscle cells release irisin, a newly discovered hormone.  And irisin converts white fat cells into brown cells. Spiegleman went on to say that humans may also convert white fat into brown fat in a similar manner.

Now, with his more recent research, Spiegleman indicates that white fat can act like the more desirable brown fat, with the right switch setting. With more research, we may know how to target the switching mechanism in white fat to make it burn energy. This could be a great tool for medical weight loss service providers.  Of course, more research is needed to translate the results from mice into treatments for humans. But the research has potential. 

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Monday, October 15, 2012

Markers to Help Predict Childhood Metabolic Syndrome

The metabolic syndrome is a set of  medical conditions that, when they occur together, can increase a person’s risk of serious illness. The conditions comprising the set of conditions vary depending on who is giving the definition. However, most definitions of metabolic syndrome include high blood  pressure, higher than normal cholesterol, and obesity. And as the number of conditions increase, a person has an increasing risk of stroke, heart disease and diabetes. Further, there is some argument that metabolic syndrome is tied to a decline in mental capabilities.

A study consisting of 110 American teenagers concluded that teenagers who had metabolic syndrome “scored lower on math and spelling tests and [had] shorter attention spans than their metabolically healthier classmates. They also had smaller hippocampi — brain areas involved in learning and memory — according to brain imaging.”

Since metabolic syndrome can have negative consequences for an adolescent, it would be useful to know which adolescents will likely experience metabolic syndrome. Knowing which teenagers are likely to have to deal with metabolic syndrome would allow healthcare providers to recommend aggressive lifestyle changes that can lower the risk of metabolic syndrome.

Fortunately, research is moving in the right direction to meet these ends. Some results show that there are inflammatory markers that can predict metabolic syndrome in adolescents. Indeed, “Leptin, adiponectin and PAI-1 may be used as biomarkers to predict MetS among adolescents.”

Further, there may be other markers of metabolic syndrome. A Chinese study suggested that “Frequent snoring was associated with an elevated MetS risk independent of lifestyle factors, adiposity, inflammatory markers and adipokines in apparently healthy Chinese.”

Since metabolic syndrome is associated with lower cognitive abilities in adolescents, it is incumbent on us all to do what we can to lower the risk of metabolic syndrome – especially in adolescents. Lowering childhood obesity is one of the ways of lowering the risk of metabolic syndrome. And using metabolic syndrome markers may help healthcare providers better treat the condition.

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