Study shows obe­sity may be all in the head

The Star Early Edition - - HEALTH - AN­DREW GRIF­FIN

SCI­EN­TISTS have found the brain’s “on switch” for burn­ing fat. The discovery could lead to a huge break­through in treat­ing obe­sity, which is reach­ing epi­demic lev­els. The new study helps solve the puz­zle of how the body chooses to burn or store fat, and how it makes use of the en­ergy from food that peo­ple eat.

Sci­en­tists looked specif­i­cally at how the body con­verts white fat, which stores en­ergy, into the brown fat that is used to burn it.

Fat is stored in special cells that are able to change from brown to white, and so help the body burn or keep the en­ergy it eats. They found when a per­son eats, the body re­sponds by cir­cu­lat­ing in­sulin. The brain then sends sig­nals to en­cour­age the brown­ing of fat, so it can ex­pend en­ergy.

Like­wise, when some­one is not eat­ing or is fasting, the brain sends in­struc­tions to special cells, adipocytes, telling them to turn fat white.

That helps store the en­ergy when peo­ple aren’t eat­ing, and makes sure a per­son’s body weight stays sta­ble. That com­plex process is con­trolled by a switch-like mech­a­nism in the brain.

It switches it­self off and on ac­cord­ing to whether a per­son has eaten, and helps reg­u­late how the body uses fat. But in obese peo­ple, the switch doesn’t seem to work prop­erly – it gets stuck in the on po­si­tion. When peo­ple eat, it doesn’t turn to off – and so en­ergy isn’t ex­pended.

“What hap­pens in the con­text of obe­sity is that the switch stays on all the time – it doesn’t turn on-off dur­ing feed­ing,” said lead re­searcher Tony Ti­ga­nis, from Monash Univer­sity’s Biomedicine Discovery In­sti­tute.

“As a con­se­quence, brown­ing is turned off all the time and en­ergy ex­pen­di­ture is de­creased all the time, so when you eat you don’t see a com­men­su­rate in­crease in en­ergy ex­pen­di­ture – and that pro­motes weight gain.” Now the sci­en­tists hope they can ma­nip­u­late the switch, turn­ing it off and on to help peo­ple bet­ter con­trol how their body deals with fat.

“Obe­sity is a ma­jor and lead­ing fac­tor in over­all dis­ease bur­den world­wide and is poised, for the first time in mod­ern his­tory, to lead to falls in over­all life ex­pectancy,” Ti­ga­nis said in a state­ment.

“What our stud­ies have shown is that there is a fun­da­men­tal mech­a­nism at play that nor­mally en­sures that en­ergy ex­pen­di­ture is matched with en­ergy in­take.

“When this is de­fec­tive, you put on more weight. Po­ten­tially we may be able to re­wire this mech­a­nism to pro­mote en­ergy ex­pen­di­ture and weight loss in obese in­di­vid­u­als. But any po­ten­tial ther­apy is a long way off,” he said. – The In­de­pen­dent

With the obese, the brain’s switch doesn’t turn off dur­ing feed­ing

WEIGH­ING IN: A new study raises hopes of a huge break­through in the fight against the bulge. PIC­TURE: TOURMEDICA.CO.UK

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