Energy-burning brown fat could help fight heart disease
Not all fat, it turns out, is bad for you. Researchers recently discovered that in addition to the white fat (white adipose tissue) that stores energy and accounts for weight gain, the adult body also carries leftover reserves of the heat-producing brown fat needed by infants to keep warm. Lately brown fat has gotten a lot of buzz for its calorie-burning properties and therapeutic potential in battling obesity and type 2 diabetes.
In a recent study of 33 Quebec patients with coronary artery disease, Dr. Kanta Chechi noticed the presence of brown fat cells in a fat depot that usually surrounds the heart (epicardial fat). Previously, this depot was thought only to contain calorie-storing white fat, too much of which can promote heart disease.
Dr. Kanta Chechi, a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Denis Richard's team – just one of two research groups worldwide examining the link between brown adipocytes of epicardial fat and heart disease – also found that brown fat cells of this depot can likely affect metabolism. The study showed that the capacity of brown fat cells to burn fat was related to having more of the good cholesterol and less of triglycerides in the blood of these patients.
Dr. Chechi has since expanded her research to animal models and additional patients to study how brown fat around the heart can be utilized to reduce the mass and inflammation of epicardial fat. She also hopes to examine the therapeutic potential of brown fat cells to manage obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
"I'm quite optimistic about the possible impact of this research," says Chechi. "If we can target these adipocytes therapeutically, it could become a new tool for managing coronary heart disease in humans."
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