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Study: Colder temperatures can activate body's 'good' fat

By Allen Cone
Study: Colder temperatures can activate body's 'good' fat
Brown fat cells, known as "good" fat, appear with the white fat cells, which are known as "bad" fat. Researchers found that exposure to cold temperatures can increase levels of "good fat." Photo by Patrick Seale/Universitty of Pennsylvania School of Medicine National Institutes of Health

March 21 (UPI) -- Lower temperatures can activate "good" fat formation in cells, leading to better ways to curb obesity, according to new study.

For the first time, researchers at the University of Nottingham in England learned that these fat cells can be influenced by weather conditions. Their research was published Tuesday in the journal Scientific Reports.

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"In the future, it could be used as a testing ground to rapidly screen potential treatments by looking at how specific molecules interact with the cells," Dr. Virginie Sottile, associate professor in Stem Cell Biology & Cell Differentiation at Nottingham said in a press release. "We could even use patients' own cells to develop a tailored approach to finding out how we can more effectively treat them for diseases such as diabetes."

The researchers found that the body isn't "pre-programmed" early in life as previously thought. Conditions even affect adult cells.

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"The good news from these results is that our cells are not pre-programmed to form bad fat and our stem cells can respond if we apply the right change in lifestyle," Sottile said.

Over two years, researchers looked at "good" brown adipose tissue and "bad" white cells.

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The "good" fat can burn fat, sugar and excess calories, as well as help regulate blood sugar, while white adipose tissue, or "bad" fat, stores energy and accumulates, causing people to gain weight.

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Brown fat is found usually in babies and hibernating animals to keep warm while they are most vulnerable. But scientists have recently discovered that a small amount of brown fat is found in adults.

"It has been known for quite some time that exposure to lower temperatures can promote the formation of brown fat but the mechanism of this has not yet been discovered," Sottile said. "The trigger was believed to be the body's nervous system and changes in the way we eat when we are cold."

In the study, a new vitro system was made from bone marrow stem cells and researchers studied how the cells would be affected by ambient temperature falling below 98.6 Fahrenheit -- the natural temperature of the human body. When it hit less than 89.6, it triggered the production of brown fat cells.

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"The next step in our research is to find the actual switch in the cell that makes it respond to the change of temperature in its environment," Sottile said. "That way, we may be able to identify drugs or molecules that people could swallow that may artificially activate the same gene and trick the body into producing more of this good fat."

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