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How Can Brown Fat Help Control Diabetes?

Categories: Current Research

What’s Brown Fat?
Brown adipose tissue is a type of fat that is found in mammals, including humans. The tissue is located in the back, the upper part of the spine, and the shoulders. Researchers are interested in this fat because of its ability to efficiently break down fatty acids and glucose for heat.

This unique fat is found more prominently in newborns, hibernating animals, and people who live in colder weather. The fat’s role is to create heat, helping newborns and animals avoid shivering to keep warm. The tissue gets its brown hue from the large amount of iron in its cells.

What’s the difference between brown and white fat?
In contrast to brown adipose tissue, white adipose tissue is used to store energy, held in fat cells and used by muscle and cardiac tissue as a source of fuel. White adipose tissue is made up of a single lipid(fat) droplet, while brown fat is composed of many droplets and mitochondria.

The mitochondria in the brown fat are what produce heat, by allowing the protons produced with energy for the cell to run back through the mitochondria without producing the ATP that the cell uses for energy. In this way, warm-blooded mammals regulate their body temperature.

Can brown fat have a role in diabetes treatment?
Findings on the tissue were published in the November 2014 issue of the Journal of Cell Biology, stating that “Brown adipose tissue is the primary site for thermogenesis and can consume, in addition to free fatty acids, a very high amount of glucose from the blood…”.

This discovery opens the doors to the possibility of its use in the cure for diabetes and obesity. IF the brown fat can be somehow activated, diabetic patients could avoid the use of insulin injections altogether.

The brown fat transports glucose independently of insulin’s method of the same job. The difference is clear as the brown fat produces ten times the amount of glucose transporters as insulin does.

Little is known about why some people have this good fat and others don’t. Researchers must find out how to produce it before any real progress can be made toward a cure for obesity and diabetes. Unfortunately, we do know that it is more common in younger and able-bodied people, so people with diabetes are much less likely to have it in their bodies.

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