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Study suggests brain could coach body to burn fat

The brain could be a powerful fat burning tool, say scientists at Monash University in Melbourne who discovered that two naturally occurring hormones interact to convert energy-storing white fat into energy-burning, “good” brown fat.

“Turning white fat into brown fat is a very exciting new approach to developing weight loss agents,” says lead author Professor Tony Tiganis from the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. “Eventually, we think we may be able to help people lose weight by targeting these two enzymes.”

One of the enzymes, leptin, is an appetite suppressant that’s generated in fat cells and the other is insulin, which comes from the pancreas when levels of glucose in the blood start to rise.

Professor Tiganis’ research shows that the two hormones act together and persuade a group of neurons — called proopiomelanocortin (POMC) neurons — in the brain to convert the fat from white to brown, thereby igniting the fat-burning process.

“These hormones give the brain a comprehensive picture of the fatness of the body,” says Professor Tiganis. “Because leptin is produced by fat cells, it measures the level of existing fat reserves — the more fat, the more leptin. Whereas insulin provides a measure of future fat reserves because glucose levels rise when we eat.”

If all this has you wondering why you can’t just think your way skinny, chances are enzymes called phosphatases that inhibit the actions of leptin and insulin could be working against you.

 

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