Fat and muscle tissue can increase the amount of fat they burn, paving the way for new treatments to protect against obesity and type 2 diabetes, research has higlighted.
The study, published in Nature Communications, looks at how the body burns fat and examines how different types of fat cells release messages and ‘talk’ to other organs.
The messages are released as small molecules called metabolites, and the researchers found that increased levels of metabolites led to weight loss.
Dr Lee Roberts, an associate professor at the University of Leeds who was involved in the study, said: ‘Although this research is at an early stage, discovery of the way metabolite signals communicate to fat and muscle tissue to increase fat burning may form the basis of new therapies or therapeutic approaches for obesity and the prevention of type 2 diabetes.’
Fat, also known as adipose tissue, comes in three different types, white, brown and beige, each with a distinct function. White fat cells store energy as fat, whilst brown fats cells dissipate chemical energy as heat and keep us warm. Beige fat can behave like both white fat cells and brown fat cells.
This study targeted the brown and beige fat cells and found that metabolites released from these cells can send messages to fat and muscle tissues to tell them to increase the amount of fat they burn. By increasing the levels of metabolites in obese and diabetic mice, the researchers observed weight loss and improved blood sugar levels.
In the Government’s 2020 ‘Tackling Obesity’ strategy, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) stated that around two-thirds of adults in the UK are above a healthy weight. Of these, half live with obesity.
It is hoped that this research will lead to studies on the effects of these metabolites in people, and the implementation of new weight loss treatments as well as the discovery of alternative ways to prevent obesity-associated diseases such as type 2 diabetes.
Anna Morris, assistant director of research at Diabetes UK, added: ‘We’re excited to see the results of Dr Robert’s innovative research, which we hope will pave the way for the development of new ways to prevent and manage type 2 diabetes. As the number of people affected by type 2 diabetes grows we want to discover new, innovative ways to treat the condition.’