Today, the problem of obesity has reached epidemic proportions. This is not just overweight, but a diagnosis. The disease is causing a declining population but is treatable by a range of physicians, including internists, nutritionists, cardiologists, gastroenterologists and psychotherapists. Imagine if there was a special button that would start burning fat in the body, and the process of losing weight would go faster? It looks like such a “button” really exists.
Scientists have found a region in the brain that works like a “switch” to burn fat after a meal. They observed how the body converts white fat, which stores energy, into brown fat, which is used to burn that energy. Fat is stored in special cells in the body that help the body burn or store the energy it receives from food.
Researchers have found that during a meal, the body responds to circulating insulin. The brain then sends signals to stimulate the fat to heat up so that it can begin to expend energy. Similarly, when a person is not eating and is starving, the brain sends instructions to special cells known as adipocytes to turn brown fat into white fat. This helps to conserve energy when people do not eat for a long time, and ensures the stability of body weight. In other words, fasting simply does not include the process of burning fat.
It turns out that this whole complex process is controlled by a special mechanism in the brain, which can be compared to a switch. It turns off or on depending on whether the person has eaten and helps regulate fat usage. But for obese people, the “switch” does not work properly – it gets stuck in the “on” position. When people eat, it does not turn off and no energy is wasted.
“In obese people, this mechanism is always on,” said study author Tony Tiganis of the Institute of Biomedicine at Monash University. – As a result, fat heating is permanently switched off, and energy costs are reduced all the time. Therefore, when a person eats, he does not see a commensurate increase in energy expenditure, which contributes to weight gain.
Now scientists are hoping they can manipulate the switch, turn it off or on, to help people better control the fat-burning process.
“Obesity is one of the major and leading diseases worldwide. For the first time in history, we are facing a reduction in overall life expectancy as a result of being overweight,” adds Tiganis. “Our research has shown that there is a fundamental mechanism that ensures energy consumption. When the mechanism is broken, you gain weight. Potentially, we can improve it to stimulate energy expenditure and weight loss in obese people. But that is still a long way off.”