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In a discovery that could lead to treatment for obesity and type 2 diabetes, prevent cardiovascular complications and ease weight management, scientists at the University of Montreal have identified retinoic acid, a derivative of Vitamin A, as the magic wand that turns fat cells brown.
Known as the body's "good fat," brown fat is preferable to white fat because of its ability to generate heat. This is called thermogenesis, and it's what makes an active metabolism. The mitochondria of brown fat cells are able to rapidly oxidise fatty acid to produce heat.
To make this happen, researchers say exercise isn't necessary. This means brown fat cells increase the basal energy metabolism, also called the "resting metabolism." For example, that friend everyone has who eats like a horse and never exercises might just have a lot of small brown fat cells.
"Known as the body's 'good fat,' brown fat is preferable to white fat because of its ability to generate heat. This is called thermogenesis, and it's what makes an active metabolism."
Brown fat is prevalent in hibernating animals, which researchers say have the largest accumulations of Vitamin A in their livers.
The researchers conducted a study on hibernating animals, known for their resistance to diabetes, and non-hibernating mice prone to diabetes and obesity.
For obese mice treated with retinoic acid, a number of cardiac benefits resulted, including increased cellular lifespan, prevention of muscle decay and the stimulation of cardio-protective genes, says the first author of the study, Daniel-Constantin Manolescu.
Retinoic acid plays a role in cell maturation and differentiation, according to researchers, and appears to coax formative, young fat cells to become brown.
The findings were presented earlier this month at the Annual Conference of the Canadian Nutrition Society in Saint John's, Newfoundland, and the study was published in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism.