Converting White Fat to “Good” Brown Fat

We have all heard about how important the good and bad fats are for our diet. For instance, some good fats are tree nuts, olive oil, coconut oil, avocados, etc. Some examples of bad fats are bacon, lard, margarine. This article is about two other types of fat.

Brown fat helps to burn calories while preventing obesity and related conditions and referred to as the “good” fat.  Scientists have revealed it how a drug used to treat a form of skin cancer could increase the body’s stores of brown “good” fat.

They found that mice fed a high-calorie diet developed more brown fat and burned more calories, had less total body fat and experienced less weight gain when treated with bexarotene, a drug approved for the treatment of cutaneous T cell lymphoma, compared to the rodents that did not receive the anticancer drug.

Sheng Ding, PhD, senior researcher of the Gladstone Institutes in San Francisco, CA and colleagues published their findings in the journal Cell Reports.  Adipose tissue, or brown fat, is one of the two main types of fat in the human body, with the other being white fat.  Storing energy and heat insulation is the responsibility of white fat, where brown fat is responsible for burning energy through heat production or thermogenesis.

Brown fat makes up to around 5% total body mass in babies and helps to keep them warm, but as we age, the amount of brown fat we possess is reduced.

It has been suggested in recent years that adults who have greater amounts of brown fat are leaner and by increasing the production of brown fat it may be an effective weight loss strategy.

First study author Baoming Nie, Ph.D, a former postdoctoral scholar at Gladstone, notes that the introduction of brown fat is an exciting new approach to treating obesity and associated metabolic diseases such as diabetes.   Weight loss drugs can control appetite, but there is nothing on the market that targets energy expenditure, so if we can create additional stores of brown fat and boost its function in the body, we could burn off the energy stored in white fat more easily.

Researchers have been searching for ways to increase brown fat stores by turning white fat cells into brown fat cells.  More than 20,000 chemicals were tested with the aim of identifying ones that could do just that.  It was found that the anticancer drug Bex was most effective.  The team found that by activating a protein called retinoid X receptor (RXR), Bex prompted a series of changes in white fat cells and muscle precursor cells that convert them into cells that mimic brown fat.  They also found that when Bex activated RXR, genes responsible for brown fat production were also activated, and genes associated with white fat and muscle were deactivated.  Researchers then set out to determine the effects of Bex on body weight in mice.  They were fed a high-calorie diet for 4 weeks.  Half of the mice received Bex and the remaining half did not receive the drug.

Higher amounts of brown fat were found in the rodents that received Bex, burned more calories, had less total body fat and gained less weight, even though both groups were being fed the same diet.  They believe their findings indicate that Bex could offer an effective way to boost brown fat production and reduce obesity, however there are several potential side effects that might arise from taking it.

This article was fun to write and interesting to me but I would not be one to choose to take the drug bexarotene. The study did not mention the side effects that could come with taking Bec. As we know, all medications have some soda of side effects.

Dr Fredda Branyon