Tag Archives: fat

Scientists figure out a way to add fat to lab-grown meat

A research team has simultaneously engineered both muscle tissue and fat from sampled cattle cells, an achievement that could eventually bring higher quality cultured meat to dinner tables.

Image credits: Naraoka et al.

As people are becoming more and more aware of the negative environmental and ethical problems associated with meat consumption, the alternative meat industry is booming. Veggie burgers have become commonplace in many places, and meat alternatives are only becoming more and more diversified. Until now, these alternatives only mimicked the properties of meat. But soon, meat alternatives could be actually meat.

Lab-grown meat, meat grown from animal cells without actually killing animals, is not only more ethical, but perhaps also more environmentally friendly, producing less CO2 emissions and using less water and soil than traditional meat productin. Since the industry is just starting out, we don’t know exactly how eco-friendly it would be, but there are already reasons for optimism.

“The current process of meat production using livestock has significant effects on the global environment, including high emissions of greenhouse gases. In recent years, cultured meat has attracted attention as a way to acquire animal proteins,” write the authors of a new study.

Whether or not the lab-grown meat industry will succeed, though, will likely depend on two things: price and taste/texture.

The price is already looking pretty decent. Although it’s not quite at the same price as regular meat, lab-grown meat has gone from $325,000 a burger in 2013 to around $10 in 2020. In Singapore, the only place that has currently regulated lab-grown meat and is selling it so far, a serving of chicken nuggets goes for $23 — it’s still expensive, but not extremely far away from parity, and as production scales and matures, cost will undoubtedly continue to go down.

Which leaves us with how the meat actually tastes. Part of what makes lab-grown meat so attractive (other than the fact that it’s better for animals and the environment) is that you can grow any type of meat. Sure, $10 for a burger or a steak sounds like a lot, but you don’t have to grow regular steaks, you can grow luxury, expensive steaks. For instance, wagyu steaks can cost up to $200 per pound and by comparison, $10 doesn’t sound as bad. But to engineer different types of meat, researchers need to be able to not just produce meat, but also produce the fat around it. Now, researchers working in Japan have found a way to produce both muscle tissue and fat from sampled cattle cells, which could enable scientists to engineer higher-quality meat.

For most of the lab-grown meat, muscle cells are cultivated to produce fibers, while the fat is injected afterward to resemble the “real” thing. However, with the new approach, muscle and fat can be grown at the same time, using cells from an animal’s skeletal muscle. This type of cell is easy to grow, the researchers explain.

Currently, researchers can use small chunks of meat, 0.5 millimeters in diameter, to grow pieces of up to 1.5 centimeters in diameter — not enough for a full-grown steak, but this is still just the first study describing the method. It takes around 21 days for beef to be grown using this method.

What makes this even more exciting is that different types of oil and fat can be added into the product this way, making the resulting lab-grown meat healthier and richer in nutritional supplements.

It’s still early days, but this type of study shows just how quickly the field of lab-grown meat can progress. It went from little more than a pipe dream ten years ago to already becoming a reality in 2021 — in several countries, including the US and Israel, the factories are already ready, it’s just the regulatory approval that’s lacking. So, would you go for a lab-grown steak?

The study “Isolation and Characterization of Tissue Resident CD29-Positive Progenitor Cells in Livestock to Generate a Three-Dimensional Meat Bud” has been published in the journal Cells.

Eating animal fat increases stroke risk — while vegetable fat may decrease it

Eating high amounts of red meat and animal fat can be bad for your heart, but vegetable fat may not be as bad. According to a new study, vegetable fat may actually decrease the risk of stroke. However, the findings are still preliminary, and the study has one big caveat: almost all participants were white.

It’s the first study to comprehensively analyze the impact on stroke risk from different types of fat, the study authors say, and the findings are intriguing.

“Our findings indicate the type of fat and different food sources of fat are more important than the total amount of dietary fat in the prevention of cardiovascular disease including stroke,” said Fenglei Wang, Ph.D., lead author of the study and a postdoctoral fellow in the department of nutrition at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston.

Researchers investigated data gathered over 27 years from over 117,000 participants in the Nurses’ Health Study (1984-2016) and Health Professionals Follow-up Study. At the beginning of the study (and every 4 years) participants were asked to complete food frequency questionnaires that included that amount and type of fat in their diets over the previous year. They split the participants into 5 groups (or quintiles) based on how much animal and vegetarian fat they consumed. Although self-reporting is not entirely reliable, it’s one of the best options researchers have for tracing the eating habits of a large number of participants.

“Among those who consumed the most non-dairy animal fat (in the highest quintile of non-dairy animal fat), the non-dairy animal fat intake is ~17% of total energy and vegetable fat intake is ~ 13%; among those who consumed the most vegetable fat (in the highest quintile of vegetable fat), the non-dairy animal fat intake is 10% and vegetable fat intake is ~ 20%,” Wang told ZME Science.

Out of all these participants, 6,189 had a stroke. Those in the highest quintile of non-dairy animal fat were 16% more likely to experience a stroke than those in the lowest quintile. Dairy products (such as cheese, butter, or milk) did not appear to influence the risk of stroke. Meanwhile, participants in the quintile that ate the most vegetable fat were 12% less likely to experience a stroke compared to those who ate the least.

“Our interpretation is that higher intake of non-dairy animal fat is associated with higher stroke risk, whereas higher vegetable fat intake is associated with lower stroke risk,” Wang explained for ZME Science.

However, the participants may not be representative of the entire population. Of them, 63% were women, all were free of heart diseases and cancer at enrolment, and most notably, 97% of them were white.

“Our findings might not be generalizable to other populations. Further studies are needed to investigate these associations in other demographics,” Wang explains.

There’s also a problem of not knowing what types of animal or vegetable fat participants consume. Researchers didn’t have access to this detailed information, which would be useful in evaluating this association, says Wang.

“For example, we did not observe associations between saturated fat and stroke risk. But the associations might differ for saturated fat from vegetable, dairy, or non-dairy animal foods. For future steps, finer categories will help us better understand how types and sources of fat are associated with the disease risk.”

Although these are still preliminary findings, the researchers do offer a suggestion: that we eat less animal fat, especially fat associated with red meat.

“We would recommend the general public to reduce consumption of red and processed meat, minimize fatty parts of unprocessed meat if consumed, and replace lard or tallow (beef fat) with non-tropical vegetable oils such as olive oil, corn or soybean oils in cooking to lower their stroke risk,” Wang concludes.

“Many processed meats are high in salt and saturated fat, and low in vegetable fat. Research shows that replacing processed meat with other protein sources, particularly plant sources, is associated with lower death rates,” said Alice H. Lichtenstein, D.Sc., FAHA, the Stanley N. Gershoff professor of nutrition science and policy at Tufts University in Boston, and lead author of the American Heart Association’s 2021 scientific statement, Dietary Guidance to Improve Cardiovascular Health, where the new study will be presented.

Scientists may have found out why belly fat is so stubborn during weight loss

Credit: Pixabay.

Studies show that fasting is one of the best ways to lose weight. However, visceral fat can be particularly stubborn to weight loss, even through fasting. A new study offers a few clues as to why this happens — and it’s all the body’s way of saying that it really is fond of all that belly fat.

Repeated fasting may prime belly fat to become more resistant

Researchers led by Dr. Mark Larance of the University of Sydney examined various types of fat tissue from different locations in the bodies of mice in order to understand their role during every-other-day fasting, where no food is ingested at all on alternate days.

When fasting, the body starts burning fat tissue rather than glucose from food. You’d think that all fat tissue is the same and location makes no difference, but as the researchers found this is simply not true — location does matter.

Using a mass spectrometer, the researchers examined more than 8,500 proteins located in fat deposits, which enabled them to catalogue changes occurring during fasting.

The mass spectrometer, a machine at the heart of proteomics, in the midst of analysing the sample. Credit: Mark Larance.

This investigation, known as proteomics — the study of all proteins — revealed the inner workings of fat tissue, alerting the researchers of major cellular alterations caused by intermittent fasting. It also showed that visceral and subcutaneous fat increased their ability to store energy as the body entered fasting. The body is basically compensating for the lost fat stores by rapidly rebuilding them before the next fasting period is triggered.

“Our data show both visceral and subcutaneous fat undergo dramatic changes during intermittent fasting,” said Dr. Larance, who is also a Cancer Institute of NSW Future Research Fellow.

According to the researchers a history of repeated fasting may trigger a preservation signal pathway in visceral fat that basically tells the body ‘I really need this fat so we must make it costly to lose it’.

Although the researchers used an animal model, the researchers are pretty confident that the results are analogous to humans as well. In any event, they plan on repeating this investigation in humans.

These findings, however, may not apply to different fasting regimes, such as 5:2 diets (fasting 2 days out of 7) or calorie restriction, the latter of which is most common among people seeking to lose weight.

This is why the researchers plan to do more research that may paint a more complete picture of fat storage dynamics and reveal what’s the most efficient diet for getting rid of stubborn belly fat.

“This sort of research has been enabled by these new instruments that allow us to ‘look beyond the streetlight’ – it’s hypothesis-generating; we knew we would find something but we didn’t know what,” Dr. Larance explained.

“Now that we’ve shown ‘belly fat’ in mice is resistant to this diet, the big question will be to answer why, and how do we best tackle it?”

The findings appeared in the journal Cell Reports.

Our genes could make us seek, or avoid, fatty foods

While most of us would agree that fat (when properly used) makes food taste amazing, new research shows this isn’t a steadfast law. Our enjoyment of fats lies, at least in part, on having the right genes for it.

Image credits Steve Buissinne.

New research from the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania found that our genetic makeup plays an important role in our enjoyment (and even perception) of fatty foods.

Fat chance

“Person-to-person diversity in the positive perception of fattiness derives partially from an individual’s genetic make-up,” said senior author Danielle Reed, PhD, Monell Associate Director.

“How the taste, smell, and flavor of food and drink affect liking, and therefore the amount and type of food consumed, ultimately affects human health.”

The team worked with identical and fraternal twins who had reached adulthood and attended the annual Twins Days Festival in Twinsburg, OH, in 2018.

Participants were asked to rate how good low- and high-fat potato chips tasted, and estimate how much fat they contained. Participants also gave a saliva sample so the team could look at their DNA.

Genetically-identical twins had more similar preferences for the chips compared to fraternal twins (which are more genetically-distinct). The team also sequenced the genetic material of these participants, looking at hundreds of thousands of locations in their DNA strands where relevant genes were likely to lie.

The use of twins allowed the team to compare very similar genomes, and they identified two new specific gene variants that correlated with the enjoyment of fatty food.

The findings are important because our enjoyment of food drives our purchasing patterns, the authors explain.

“Most people assume more liking drives more intake, but decades of research tell us the reverse is true — we avoid what we don’t like,” said Hayes. “I may love bacon, but if I listen to my cardiologist, I’m still not going to eat it every morning.”

The results suggest that although fats are an important part of our food, some people are born with a genetic makeup that pushes them to like, or avoid, fat. In the future, the team plans to examine whether such factors are universal by testing people around the world with different types of fat in different food items.

The paper “Studies of Human Twins Reveal Genetic Variation That Affects Dietary Fat Perception” has been published in the journal Chemical Senses.

Analysis of 19 million cats shows how our pets’ weight evolves throughout their lifetimes

New research is looking into how fat our cats are.

Orange cat.

Image credits Tasos Lekkas.

Fat cats — they’re definitely adorable. But, until now, we didn’t have any reliable way to tell if they’re getting too fat. New research based on over 54 million cat weight measurements hopes to establish a baseline body weight value that veterinarians and cat owners can use to gauge the health of domestic cats.

Chunky fur babies

“As humans, we know we need to strive to maintain a healthy weight, but for cats, there has not been a clear definition of what that is. We simply didn’t have the data,” said Prof. Theresa Bernardo, the IDEXX Chair in Emerging Technologies and Bond-Centered Animal Healthcare, the paper’s corresponding author.

“Establishing the pattern of cat weights over their lifetimes provides us with important clues about their health.”

The researchers from the University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) report that most cats keep putting on weight as they age, peaking at an average of eight years old. Another finding is that the average weight of our cats is also on the rise. The team looked at 54 million weight measurements recorded at veterinarian offices on 19 million different cats. They then broke this dataset down by gender, breed, and neutering status. The study is the first one to draw on such a large pool of data, and it provides important baseline information for owners and veterinarians.

Male cats tend to reach higher peak weights than females, and neutered or spayed cats tend to grow heavier than unaltered cats. Siamese, Persian, Himalayan, and Maine Coon breeds (who the team write are the four most-common purebred cat breeds), reached peak weight between 6 and 10 years of age. Your common domestic cats reached mean peak weight at around 8 years of age. Finally, the team notes that the mean weight of neutered, eight-year-old domestic cats increased between 1995 and 2005 but remained steady between 2005 and 2015.

“We do have concerns with obesity in middle age, because we know that can lead to diseases for cats, such as diabetes, heart disease, osteoarthritis and cancer,” said Dr. Adam Campigotto, the study’s lead author.

“Now that we have this data, we can see that cat weights tend to follow a curve. We don’t yet know the ideal weight trajectory, but it’s at least a starting point to begin further studies.”

Over half (52%) of the cats used in the study only had one body weight measurement on file, the team adds, which suggests that their owners either didn’t bring them back in for regular vet checkups or took them to a different veterinary clinic. The authors explain that it’s important to monitor weight changes in cats.

“Cats tend to be overlooked because they hide their health problems and they don’t see a vet as often as dogs do. So one of our goals is to understand this so that we can see if there are interventions that can provide more years of healthy life to cats,” Bernardo explains.

“The monitoring of body weight is an important indicator of health in both humans and animals. It’s a data point that is commonly collected at each medical appointment, is simple to monitor at home and is an easy point of entry into data-driven animal wellness.”

Campigotto advises pet owners who are concerned about their cat’s health or weight to buy a scale and form a habit of weighing the animal at home. He explains that weight gain or loss can be “an indicator of an underlying problem.” In the future, the team plans to analyze if automated feeders with built-in scales can be used to reduce cat obesity, in an effort to change “the emphasis to cat health rather than solely focusing on disease.”

The paper “Investigation of relationships between body weight and age among domestic cats stratified by breed and sex” has been published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).


Fossil fats reveal the ‘oldest macroscopic animal’ that lived 558 million years ago

Fossils of an animal that lived 558 million years ago — the oldest animal ever discovered — shed light on the shapes early life took on Earth.


Dickinsonia fossil. Image credits Ilya Bobrovskiy et al., 2018, Science / The Australian National University (ANU)

An international team of researchers, led by members from The Australian National University (ANU), has made a stunning discovery: the team identified intact fat molecules in a fossil of the oldest animal discovered to date. The animal, called Dickinsonia, could grow up to 1.4 meters in length, being formed of rib-like segments.

The discovery yields an unprecedented view into the Ediacaran Biota, the first complex multicellular organisms known to have spawned on Earth. The findings help piece together our own evolutionary history as the Ediacaran lifeforms are the forefathers of each and every animal on the planet today.

Life, Beta Version

The Ediacaran Biota developed roughly 20 million years prior to the Cambrian explosion, a period of rapid evolution of animals in a greater number of species of more complexity than ever before. This period sees complex, multicellular organisms such as mollusks, worms, arthropods, and sponges start to dominate the fossil record — and laid the groundwork for life as we know it today.

Viewed in that light, the Ediacaran Biota is the evolutionary touchstone that made further diversification possible. As such, it is the ancestor of all the animals that ever walked, swam, or flew upon the face of the Earth.

The team’s findings are a paleontologists’ holy grail — they discovered a Dickinsonia fossil so well preserved in a remote area near the White Sea in the northwest of Russia that the tissue still contained molecules of cholesterol, a type of fat that is the hallmark of animal life.

“The fossil fat molecules that we’ve found prove that animals were large and abundant 558 million years ago, millions of years earlier than previously thought,” said Jochen Brocks, paper co-author and Associate Professor at the ANU Research School of Earth Sciences.

“Scientists have been fighting for more than 75 years over what Dickinsonia and other bizarre fossils of the Edicaran Biota were: giant single-celled amoeba, lichen, failed experiments of evolution or the earliest animals on Earth. The fossil fat now confirms Dickinsonia as the oldest known animal fossil, solving a decades-old mystery that has been the Holy Grail of palaeontology.”

Dickinsonia costata.

Artist’s rendition of Dickinsonia costata. Image via Wikimedia.

While paleontology usually looks at the structure of fossils, the team wanted to look at organic matter in the case of Dickinsonia, not just its imprint. This is because the species forms the bridge between ‘old’ biology (which was dominated by bacteria), and the first complex animals. Macrofossils from the Ediacaran are “‘as strange as life on another planet’ and have evaded taxonomic classification, with interpretations ranging from marine animals or giant single-celled protists to terrestrial lichens,” the paper explains. Without a look at their biochemistry, we simply couldn’t know for sure if they were animals or something else.

The main challenge was finding Dickinsonia fossils that still retained organic matter, the team reports.

“Most rocks containing these fossils such as those from the Ediacara Hills in Australia have endured a lot of heat, a lot of pressure, and then they were weathered after that,” explains ANU PhD scholar Ilya Bobrovskiy. “These are the rocks that palaeontologists studied for many decades, which explained why they were stuck on the question of Dickinsonia’s true identity.”

Bobrovskiy traveled to a remote area near the White Sea in the northwest of Russia — a region known for Ediacaran-biota-bearing rocks — to find the fossil the team needed. The Dickinsonia fossil was recovered near the Lyamtsa locality, while a second fossil species used in the study (Andiva) was recovered near Zimnie Gory.

“I took a helicopter to reach this very remote part of the world — home to bears and mosquitoes — where I could find Dickinsonia fossils with organic matter still intact,” he recounts.

The fossils were recovered from rocky outcrops along the White Sea. The cliffs themselves are “60 to 100 meters high” (196 to 328 feet) high, Bobrovskiy explains, which he had to scale in order to investigate.

“I had to hang over the edge of a cliff on ropes and dig out huge blocks of sandstone, throw them down, wash the sandstone and repeat this process until I found the fossils I was after.”

Chemical analysis of the Dickinsonia specimen revealed a “striking abundance of cholesteroids” and a marked difference in several key chemical markers that differentiate the organism from background microbial activity. By contrast, “biomarker signatures of Andiva specimens from the Zimnie Gory locality are less well differentiated from the microbial mat background signal and do not display a clear elevation of cholesteroids relative to the background,” the authors explain.

Further chemical analysis and comparison “firmly place dickinsoniids within the animal kingdom, establishing Dickinsonia as the oldest confirmed macroscopic animals in the fossil record (558 million years ago) next to marginally younger Kimberella from Zimnie Gory (555 million years ago),” the paper concludes.

When Ilya showed me the results, I just couldn’t believe it,” Brocks says. “But I also immediately saw the significance.”

The paper “Ancient steroids establish the Ediacaran fossil Dickinsonia as one of the earliest animals” was published in the journal Science.

How birds stay slim even when they overeat

If you put a bird feeder in a populated area, you’ll likely see that most birds don’t shy away from a free snack. But despite all the extra food they may be munching on, the birds don’t really seem to get fat. It could be that all the fatter birds are eaten by predators, but if that were the case, then the over-eating behavior would likely be weeded out by evolution. So what’s going on? Why aren’t the birds getting fat?

Image credits: Alejandro Bayer Tamayo.

London environmental biologist Lewis Halsey found himself asking himself the very same question. He wanted to see whether songbirds regulate their activities to somehow consume more energy and stay slim.

“The passerine birds at the bird feeders near my home never seem to get fat despite having this buffet constantly available to them, but there are people who get heavy when exposed to that kind of all-you-can-eat environment,” says Halsey (@lewis_halsey), of the University of Roehampton.

Recent studies indirectly suggest that birds can adjust how much energy they derive from the food they ingest, but there still isn’t a very clear mechanism. So Halsey set out to do a literature review on the matter.

“For a given amount of food, an animal can unconsciously adjust how efficiently it uses the energy from it either behaviorally, for example by changing wingbeat frequency or singing patterns to use more or less energy, or physiologically, in terms of digestive or cellular metabolic efficiency,” Halsey says.

The results he found support this previous research. He says that we need to redefine the idea that calories are what goes through the mouth — instead, it’s not only what’s eaten but also the way the food is digested.

This, he explains, doesn’t only apply to birds — it can also be important for humans.

“We need to remember that ‘energy in’ isn’t what’s shoved down the beak but what’s taken up through the gut and then what’s extracted by the cells; looking at it as just the amount of food consumed is too simplistic,” he says. “And this goes for humans and other animals, not just songbirds.”

He says he wants to continue this research avenue in the future, by giving birds the equivalent of ice cream and observing if they still stay slim. He also wants to carry out more detailed lab experiments to assess exactly how this mechanism works. Perhaps, in time, it could be harnessed and ultimately replicated for medical treatments.

Journal Reference: Trends in Ecology & Evolution, Halsey: “Keeping Slim When Food Is Abundant: What Energy Mechanisms Could Be at Play?” https://www.cell.com/trends/ecology-evolution/fulltext/S0169-5347(18)30185-X


Why we can’t resist donuts — our brain is wired to love fats and carbs together


Credit: Pixabay.

Humans have a soft spot for carbs or fats. But boy, oh boy, do our brains go haywire when you combine the two. According to a recent study, people are willing to pay more for foods high in both, such as donuts or Doritos, than for products rich in only one of the two. After delving deeper, the researchers found that our brains flare-up in craving centers when we’re presented with the magic combination.

“Our study shows that when the signals are combined they make foods more reinforcing,” said Dana Small, professor of psychiatry at Yale and senior author of the paper, in a statement.

The research team at Yale University recruited 56 hungry volunteers and scanned their brains as they were shown pictures of various foodstuffs high in fat, high in carbohydrates, or high in both. The participants were Caucasian, roughly equally distributed among males and females, had an average age of 25 and an average BMI of 22.6 (normal weight).

After the brain scanning, each participant was asked to bid cash in an auction for the kind of food they wanted to snack on. The stimuli were chosen to depict equi-caloric portions, be similarly liked, and familiar. For instance, cheese for fat, pretzels for carbs, pastries for both.

As predicted, the participants are willing to pay more for snacks with fat and carbohydrate, compared with fat or carbohydrate alone. What’s more, the amount they’d pay for the combination foods was more than you would predict by summing the prices for fats and carbs separately.

Examples of each macronutrient group are displayed in (A). . A picture of a food item to be bid on was displayed for 5 s. Participants then had 5 s to make a bid on the item. They moved a trackball inside the scanner to move a cursor back and forth between 0 and 5 euros. After they submitted their response it remained on screen for the remainder of the 5 s. Credit: Cell Metabolism.

Examples of each macronutrient group are displayed in (A). . A picture of a food item to be bid on was displayed for 5 s. Participants then had 5 s to make a bid on the item. They moved a trackball inside the scanner to move a cursor back and forth between 0 and 5 euros. After they submitted their response it remained on screen for the remainder of the 5 s. Credit: Cell Metabolism.

When the researchers took a look at the brain scans, they found that activity in two brain areas in particular, the caudate and putamen, was much stronger in response to both fats and carbs together than either one alone. These brain areas are associated with craving, reward, and goal-oriented actions, and release dopamine when a person encounters an exciting stimulus.

In the modern food environment that is rife with processed foods high in fat and carbohydrate like donuts, French fries, chocolate bars, and potato chips, this reward potentiation may backfire to promote overeating and obesity,” Small said.

Foods that are high in both fat and carbs do not exist in nature, with one single exception: breast milk. Fruits are high in sugar, but not in fat, and meat is high in fat but not high in carbs. So modern food is hijacking the neural systems that evolved in the course of thousands of years — no wonder obesity is such a problem in the developed world.

Knowing that the human brain is vulnerable to such stimuli should encourage people to pay particular attention to this class of foods in order to avoid becoming overweight or obese. Bear in mind that junk food companies have known this intuitively for a long time, and directly market to our cravings.

The findings appeared in the journal Cell Metabolism.

Researchers develop a pill that mimics the effects of exercising

Isn’t that great? If you’re as lazy as I am, this incredible news. Just imagine sitting on a couch all day and having rocking six-pack abs at the same time. Wow. But things aren’t that simple — well, not yet.

Via Pixabay/bosmanerwin

Scientists have been working on an “exercise pill” for quite some time. Studies conducted on mice show promising results, but FDA approval is still needed for the drug to be available to patients. Unfortunately, the FDA does not see the inability to exercise as a disease that requires treating.

Who really has the time now to exercise as much as the body needs? We’re constantly on the run, yes, but mostly metaphorically. We all know the tremendous benefits of working out on a regular basis, but let’s be honest: if we’re stuck in a stressful office environment, like a large part of the population is, where can we find the energy to work out at least half an hour each day? Or even the time? I’m not trying to make excuses for everyone. However, obesity rates are rising, and we should face the facts: our ancestors engaged in more physical activity than we do today. Our food is different as well — we mostly eat high-energy processed foods, not home cooked meals or fruits and vegetables from our own gardens.

Some would argue that lifestyle is a choice and that we are fully responsible for our health. I agree, but let’s take into the consideration that a healthy lifestyle is hard to maintain, with sugar addiction being one of our worst enemies.

Researcher Ronald Mark Evans, a biologist at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, wanted to fight against obesity, so he and his team developed a drug that mimics the effects of exercise while eliminating the need to run a mile three times a week.

How does this pill work?

The compound, known as GW1516, or 516, essentially tricks the body to burn fat instead of glucose for energy; this typically takes longer for the body to do, as it prefers to use glucose first, then fat. The human body uses the same metabolic pathway when exercising: it preserves the sugar for the brain during periods of physical stress and signals the muscles to burn fat instead.


Ali Tavassoli, a professor at the University of Southampton, has also been studying similar effects using a drug known as compound 14.

Compound 14 changes the body’s metabolism by affecting the functionality of an enzyme called ATIC. By inhibiting this enzyme, researchers trigger a chain reaction that leads the cells’ central energy sensor to think it’s running out of sugar. In consequence, the cell’s metabolism and sugar uptake are fastened. Its developers think that if Compound 14 was successfully tested on humans, it could help substantially in the fight against obesity, which affects more than a third of the U.S.’s adult population.

“If you can bring them a small molecule that can convey the benefits of training, you can really help a lot of people,” Evans told Washington Post. 


Researchers aren’t only developing this drug for those who don’t have time to exercise; the drug’s main target is people physically incapable of working out. Helping people with muscle-wasting diseases and movement disorders, the frail, the very obese and post-surgical patients is the team’s principal priority.

Alas, FDA doesn’t recognize “the inability to exercise” as a condition. So Evans decided to make them listen: he targeted 516 young people with Duchenne muscular dystrophy. He thinks this approach has the best chance to get FDA approval.

“This [disease] afflicts kids who can’t exercise and ultimately die of muscle wasting, often at a relatively early age, at 15 or 16,” Evans says. “It’s a disease with a large unmet medical need.”

The drug is now undergoing a small human safety study. Evans says the compound has “a potentially wide application,” including for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and Huntington’s disease, and for “people in wheelchairs.”

He also believes it could be crucial for patients who develop acute kidney injury — a potentially fatal side effect of cardio-bypass surgery that is often associated with irreversible organ damage.

“The organ or tissue changes its metabolic properties and begins to burn sugar, and because it happens quickly, it’s very hard to stop,” Evans says. “Our drug helps to draw the tissue back to a more healthy state, returning it from a chronic inflammatory damaged state. It soaks up sugar. If you do this carefully and quickly, you can override the damage response.”

Scientists admit that some problems might appear if the drug becomes available to the general population. There will be no way to control abuse. Even professional athletes might be tempted to take it in order to boost their performances. The experimental 516 already is banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency, according to Evans, and “I’m sure any [future] version of it will be, too.”

Evans concludes: “I like exercising, and that’s good enough for me. People are designed to move. But if they can’t, it’s not healthy to be sedentary. That’s why we are developing this drug. We are trying to take science out of the laboratory and bring it into the clinic in a way that can change people’s lives. If we can do that, it would be a game-changer.”

Eating quickly might favor weight gain, study suggests

Japanese researchers found a link between eating speed and weight gain. They interviewed almost 60,000 type 2 diabetes patients about their eating habits and then analyzed the data.

Credit: Pixabay/PublicDomainPictures

The satiety mechanism

When people eat too fast, hormones in the gut that relay the “I’m full” signal to the brain aren’t given enough time to work. This means you’ll eat more food, falsely believing you aren’t full yet. More calories result in weight gain.

As partially digested food enters the small intestine, a series of hormones are released into the bloodstream. Cholecystokinin (CCK), is released by the intestines in response to food consumed during a meal. Leptin, another hormone implicated in satiety, is an adiposity signal that communicates with the brain about long-range needs and satiety, based on the body’s energy stores. Research suggests that leptin amplifies the CCK signals, increasing the feeling of being full. By eating too fast, people may not give this intricate hormonal system the needed time to tell the brain that the stomach is full.

Eating slower lowers obesity development

Study authors Haruhisa Fukuda and Yumi Hurst of Kyushu University Graduate School of Medical Sciences in Fukuoka, Japan, confirm this hypothesis in their paper published in the journal BMJ Open.

Researchers measured the participants’ Body Mass Index (BMI) and waist circumference. Obesity is defined as 25 or more BMI points. Next, the participants answered a set of questions about their eating speed (‘fast’, ‘normal’ and ‘slow’), whether they had dinner within 2 hours of sleeping, but also habits concerning after-dinner snacking, skipping breakfast, alcohol consumption frequency, sleep adequacy and tobacco consumption.

The results showed that 21.5% of the slow-eating group was obese, compared to almost 30% of the normal-speed eaters and 45% of the fast-eating group. Slow eaters had an average BMI of 22, normal eaters had a BMI of approximately 23.5, and fast-eaters had an average BMI of 25. Waist circumference was found to be directly proportional to eating speed as well.

No sleep loss, not skipping breakfast and not eating dinner two hours before bed were all associated with a lower BMI.

This is an observational study because researchers did not measure calory intake and physical activity, which could have affected the results in an unknown manner.

Also, the terms ‘fast’, ‘normal’ and ‘slow’ were used by the participants of this study just as a self-evaluation, without a strict definition of the eating speeds, and without timing the participants while eating.

The verdict: eat slow and enjoy your meals, stop living your life on fast forward and take your time to savor the delish in your dish.

“Interventions aimed at altering eating habits, such as education initiatives and programmes to reduce eating speed, may be useful in preventing obesity and reducing the risk of non-communicable diseases,” the authors conclude.


Fridge raid

Have dinner earlier if you’re trying to lose weight, study says

A preliminary human trial has shown that changing your eating schedule could help with weight loss. The results show it can help reduce swings in appetite and change fat and carbohydrate burning patterns in the body.

Fridge raid

Image credits bark / Flickr.

It’s an old wives’ tale that might have actually gotten it right. The first human trial or early time-restricted feeding (eTRF) has shown that the practice could help you get rid of the holiday belly. It’s a pretty straightforward practice: eat your last meal by mid-afternoon and then fast until breakfast the next morning.

Which is bad news, since I can’t remember having a single breakfast with ‘a.m.’ still showing on the clock since starting college.

“Eating only during a much smaller window of time than people are typically used to may help with weight loss,” said Courtney Peterson, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Nutrition Sciences at UAB.

“We found that eating between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. followed by an 18-hour daily fast kept appetite levels more even throughout the day, in comparison to eating between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., which is what the average American does.”


All you have to do is eat a very early dinner, or even skip it altogether. Your body works by following has several internal timetables, called circadian rhythms. They power-up and shut down systems throughout the body, and several key metabolic processes are most efficient in the morning. Eating in tandem with these processes means your body is better prepared to absorb and process the nutrients in your food.

For the study, Peterson and her team followed 11 men and women with excess weight two four-day periods. First, were asked to eat between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m., then between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. They noted the impact of eTRF on the numbers of calories burned, the amount of fat burned, and appetite levels. The participants followed both schedules, ate the same number of calories during both, and were supervised throughout the testing period.

The team reports that although eTRF did not affect the participants’ calorie intake or how many they burned off, it reduced hunger swings throughout the day and increased levels of fat being burned during several hours at night. They also report that the practice improved metabolic flexibility — the body’s ability to switch between burning carbs and fats.


However, keep in mind that this is still very early research and definitively not conclusive on its own. It’s still not clear if eTRF helps with long-term weight loss or brings other health benefits to the table. Peterson says that a larger, more comprehensive study is required to confirm or contradict the findings.

ETRF has previously been proven effective in animals, helping lab rats burn off more fat and decreasing the onset of chronic diseases. This trial shows that humans too could maybe benefit from the practice.

The paper was presented at The Obesity Society Annual Meeting at Obesity Week 2016 in New Orleans, Louisiana.


This protein might be the key to developing the fabled slim-pill — that actually works

Either because of the quality of our environments or due to the radical shifts in diet and lifestyle we’ve seen since the industrial revolution, more and more people around the world are becoming overweight. This translates into a growing number of patients suffering from associated conditions, such as diabetes or cardiovascular diseases. As most of us can’t muster enough motivation to exercise (sans drugs, that is) many pin their hopes on the pharmaceutical industry finding a pill to burn love handles right off.

And such a pill could be available sooner rather than later — an international team has discovered that by inhibiting Gq protein production in adipose tissue, cells can be re-purposed from storing fat to burning it.

Prof. Dr. Alexander Pfeifer and Katarina Klepac from the Institute of Pharmacology and Toxicology at University of Bonn.
Image credits Barbara Frommann/Uni Bonn

Adipose or fat tissue is usually made up of white cells that store energy, brown cells that burn it to heat us up when we’re cold and beige cells that can perform either role. In the case of significantly overweight people this type of tissue contains a large number of white cells but lacks the brown variety. Prof. Dr. Alexander Pfeifer from the Institute of Pharmacology and Toxicology at the University of Bonn has spent the last few years researching a way to make the cells switch from one role to the other.

“We are looking for targets for new pharmaceutical products to one day be able to effectively combat obesity as the cause of numerous widespread diseases, such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease,” Pfeifer said.

Pfeifer worked closely with a team made up of members from San Diego and Bethesda, USA, Gothenburg, Sweden and the Universities of Heidelberg and Leipzig in Germany. They observed that mouse and human brown fat cells have a particularly high number of Gq protein receptors. As this protein is known to function as a medium for information transfer within the body, the team decided to test if it could perform the switch they were looking for.

When they activated the Gq protein in mouse fat cells, the number and quality of the brown cells decreased.

“On the other hand, if Gq is blocked with an inhibitor, more brown fat cells mature,” says Ph.D. student Katarina Klepac from Prof. Pfeifer’s team.

This also holds true for beige cells, and the team now has their hopes pinned on them. As they don’t have a fixed role in adipose tissue, blocking the Gq protein causes them to develop primarily into fat-burning mechanisms. The team re-checked their theory using human cells cultured in the laboratory, with the same effect.

“Even in human fat cells, it was shown that brown fat cells can grow much better once Gq proteins were blocked,” says Prof. Pfeifer.

According to him, this could be the starting point for the development of active substances which boost fat burning in obese patients. But their work is still in an early phase, and more work has to be done before it can lead to a safe and efficient drug.

“To date, there are no drugs which directly cause white fat cells to convert into brown fat cells. However, we still have a long way to go,” Pfeifer concludes.

The full paper, titled “The Gq signalling pathway inhibits brown and beige adipose tissue” has been published online in the journal Nature Communications and can be read here.


Study finds why New Year’s resolutions to lose weight fail

Throughout our hunter-forager days, humans have developed a subconscious urge to over-eat and became less and less psychologically equipped to avoid obesity, especially during the winter months, a University of Exeter study recently found. Evolving in an environment where food security was only a pipe dream, the lack of an evolutionary mechanism to help us resist the temptation of sweet, fatty and unhealthy food is understandable, researchers state.

People ultimately are animals themselves, and like all animals we’ve evolved and adapted to living in the wild, tailoring our biology to the rigors of an often harsh and unforgiving environment. In the wild, from a survivalistic point of view being overweight brings much to the table for relatively little cost, but being underweight could be life threatening. So we’ve developed an urge to eat in order to maintain body fat; an urge that only gets stronger in the winter, when food became scarce in the natural world.

Ahaha, way ahead of you dawg!
Image via funnyjunk

This, scientists believe, explains why our winter holidays traditionally revolve around bountiful meals and why our New Year’s resolutions to lose all the extra weight fail so utterly. We don’t live in the wild any more though, and we know that being overweight is detrimental to our health in the modern world, so..

Why don’t we put the fork down?

 “You would expect evolution to have given us the ability to realise when we have eaten enough, but instead we show little control when faced with artificial food,” said Dr Andrew Higginson, from the College of Life and Environmental Sciences at the University of Exeter, lead author of the study.

Higginson’s team used computer modelling to predict the optimal amount of fat that animals (including humans) should store, assuming evolution has given them physiological and psychological tools to maintain their healthiest weight. Their results show a strong correlation to the availability of food and predatory risks; in other words, when food is scarce animals should attempt to build their fat reserves to have a better chance of surviving if they can’t find anything to eat, and shed the extra pounds when food is readily available to give them a better chance of escaping predators (and looking less tasty.)

Overall, the model shows that there is sort of a tipping point, a target body weight above which the animal should try to lose weight and below which it should attempt to gain fat. But their simulations also showed that usually there’s only a small negative effect on energy stores (i.e. carrying those love-handles around) when exceeding the optimal point; evolution understands this really well, so any subconscious mechanisms working against becoming overweight are a feeble defense to the immediate physical reward of eating tasty food. In modern society where food is really tasty and readily available, the urge to eat becomes much more powerful than our internal weight-o-meters.

“Because modern food today has so much sugar and flavour the urge humans have to eat it is greater than any weak evolutionary mechanism which would tell us not to,” Higginson goes on to say.
 And during winter, our survival instincts kick in big time, making us much more likely to over-eat just so that we’ll survive winter; and making New Year’s weigh-loss resolutions throughout the world fail before they begin.

“The model also predicts animals should gain weight when food is harder to find. All animals, including humans, should show seasonal effects on the urge to gain weight. Storing fat is an insurance against the risk of failing to find food, which for pre-industrial humans was most likely in winter. This suggests that New Year’s Day is the worst possible time to start a new diet.”

The evolutionary model also shows that there is no evidence to support the “drifty gene” hypothesis, which some researchers have previously suggested would explain why some people become overweight and others do not.

The research, “Fatness and fitness: Exposing the logic of evolutionary explanations for obesity” is published online in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Trying to lose weight? (of course you are) — fish oil to the rescue

The fatty acids in fish oil (such as omega-3) help with a wide range of conditions, with WebMD detailing benefits ranging from improving the health of the heart and circulatory system all the way to fighting dyslexia, kidney disease and improving your child’s IQ.

Adding to this already impressive list of benefits, scientists from the Kyoto University found that feeding fish oils to lab mice made them gain considerably less weight than their fish-less counterparts. Their work suggests that fish oil determines the transition of fat-storing cells to fat-burning cells; should the same process occur in humans, fish oil could help us reduce weight gain and counteract the body’s natural loss of fat-burning cells as we age.

Fish oil capsules.
Image via sciencealert

Most of our fatty tissue’s primary function is to store energy for our other cells to dine on in case food is scarce but it isn’t limited to acting as a pantry. Where white fat cells store fat, brown fat cells are specialized in breaking it down — metabolizing it to keep our body’s temperature stable. These cells are more prevalent in our youth and they make it easier for us to burn through our adipose reserves, but their numbers go down as we age.

Researchers have also discovered a third type of fat cell they named beige fat cells. They function much like the brown variety of fat cells in both humans and mice, and are also known to become scarcer as we age. And this is where fish oil comes into play.

“We knew from previous research that fish oil has tremendous health benefits, including the prevention of fat accumulation,” said food scientist Teruo Kawada from Kyoto University. “We tested whether fish oil and an increase in beige cells could be related.”

Multilocular or Brown Fat tissue, a special adipose tissue involved in burning fat reserves to maintain body temperature.
Image via allposters

For the study, the team fed one control group of mice fatty food, and the other with the same diet with fish oil additives mixed in. The results, published in the journal Scientific Reports, detail the weight changes of the animals and show that the group that had fish oil included in their diet gained between 5 to 10 percent less weight in total and 15 to 25 percent less fat. Not bad for a little oil, but why does it happen?

Their theory is that the oil activates sympathetic receptors in the digestive system that directs storage cells to metabolize fat. In essence, the fish oil determines the transformation of white cells to beige cells, increasing the rate at which the tissue burns fat and leading to a spike in energy expenditure — and all this energy comes from the white cells, reducing the rate of fat accumulation and ultimately, weight gain.

The results of the mice experiments are very encouraging, but right now we don’t really know if the findings also apply to humans. Further studies are needed to determine this, but the team believes that fish oil could become an effective treatment for obesity.

“People have long said that food from Japan and the Mediterranean contribute to longevity, but why these cuisines are beneficial was up for debate,” said Kawada. “Now we have better insight into why that may be.”


Fat is recognized as the sixth basic taste, but it’s awful on its own

Distilling tastes and flavors to their most basic constituents is essential to making food the tastiest it can be. We currently know of five basic tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter and the somewhat hard to pin down umami (think savory or anchovies, tomato juice, the likes). Now, a group claims it has pinned down the sixth: fat. Bacon lovers throughout the world might rejoice at the news. However, if you like bacon you should feel grateful you didn’t take part in this study because isolated fat molecules are reportedly awful tasting. Distinct yes, but quite awful. In fact, to distinguish from what people generally refer to as “fat”, the researchers at Purdue University propose a new term to describe the sixth basic taste: oleogustus.


The inside of the mouth is littered with taste buds, each with 100 or so receptors that chemically bind with the food and send a signal to the brain. This signal is what we eventually perceive as a taste or flavor. The most taste buds are found on the tongue, but you’ll find other buds on the throat, top, bottom and side of the mouth. The average person has around 10,000 taste buds in their mouth and throat. The peak is hit in childhood then these progressively wither as you age. The older you get, the less better you’ll be at discerning the various tastes and flavors found in the food you ingest.

Though there are a myriad of flavors and tastes, these can be broken down to a couple of basic tastes. Similarly to how the primary colors (yellow, blue, red) can be combined to rend other colours, so can basic tastes combine in various degrees to form new flavors. Taste is a bit more complicated than sight though, and a lot more subjective. “There is no accepted definition of a basic taste,” said Michael Tordoff, a behavioral geneticist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. “The rules are changing as we speak.”

So, the jury is definitely not done with what constitute the basic tastes, but scientists are working it out. For good reasons, too. Understanding vision and how colours work is essential to the latest display technology like smartphones or LED TVs we all know and love. Similarly, the food industry can use molecular interactions to make food tastier or come up with new flavors altogether. Pinning down what the basic tastes becomes quite important in this context. So far, there are six such basic tastes, the latest one being oleogustus.

To confirm fat as the sixth basic taste, Richard Mattes, a professor of nutrition science at Purdue University, offered more than 100 participants isolated solutions which contained one of the six tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, umami and fat (nonesterified fatty acids). The participants were asked to group each solution they sampled in a group. They had no problem grouping three basic tastes:  sweet, sour and salty. The rest were a bit ambiguous to the participants. So, most grouped the rest of the samples into one large group that served as a stockpile for all that is weird, gross and essentially awful (even bitter and umami taste terrible when isolated).

Elucidating further, the researchers made a new experiment with another group of participants. This time, only three isolated tastes were offered. This time, the participants easily divided the solutions into three distinct tastes, as expected. While there was some overlap with the solutions for sour and umami tastes, the majority of people were able to identify oleogustus as a taste distinct in itself, as reported in Chemical Senses.  

“There isn’t a firm agreement about what characteristics are necessary, but we have a pretty solid sense,” said Mattes. “We just needed to prove that it produced a sensation that was unique from the other primary tastes.”

“Understanding this could have huge implications for the food industry,” said Mattes. “It could make a lot of food taste a lot better.”

What about the seventh or eighth basic taste? Well, there may be other candidates as well. These include metallic (self explanatory), piquance (the burn you feel on your tongue from peppers), coolness (minty and fresh sensation from peppermint or menthol) or carbon dioxide (the zingy fizz you get from soda, beer, champagne and other carbonated beverages).

The development of babies’ brains relies directly on fat from the mother’s bottom and thighs

We like big butts and I know why: because it helps babies develop their brains properly. Researchers have found that, especially during breastfeeding, the development of babies’ brains relies on fat supplies stripped directly from the mother’s thighs and bottom.

Compared to men and other primates in the wild, females have much more total body fat. The distribution of body fat is also very different – with women having more fat and less abdominal and visceral fat than men, resulting in lower waist-hip ratios. Researchers wanted to see why this happens, and why women with high hip to waist ratios are generally considered more attractive.

Different hip-to-waist ratios. Image source.

They found that the quantity of fat on those areas of the body directly affect the baby’s chances of survival, as well as the child’s intelligence (though with a very small effect). This may indicate why men prefer curvier women.

According to Professor Will Lassek of the University of Pittsburgh, the fats in women’s buttocks and thighs are high in a chemical called docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA. DHA is essential for the growth and functional development of the brain in infants. DHA is also required for maintenance of normal brain function in adults. The inclusion of plentiful DHA in the diet improves learning ability, whereas deficiencies of DHA are associated with deficits in learning.

“The fat in these areas is a depot for building a baby’s brain,” said Professor Lassek, who has published a number of science papers and a book on the subject, Why Women Need Fat. “You need lots of fat to make a nervous system and the fats in these areas are also enriched in DHA, which is a particularly important component in the human brain. It looks as if women have evolved to accumulate these fats and hold on to them — until a baby arrives.”

Until this study, researchers had basically no idea why women have so much fat.

“Mammals’ and primates’ bodies typically have about 5-10 per cent of fat but in human women that rises to 30 per cent on average,” Lassek added.

In a way, this is similar to hibernation – except the fat is not for feeding the woman herself, but rather her baby. It’s an interesting evolutionary trade which may have contributed to our development as a species.

“This is similar to the levels seen in bears going into hibernation or whales living in cold Arctic seas. Women have traded muscle for fat so they are about a third as strong,” Lassek said.

Scientific Reference: Waist-hip ratio and cognitive ability: is gluteofemoral fat a privileged store of neurodevelopmental resources?

8,000-Year-Old Olive Oil Found in Ancient Clay Pots

We know that ancient populations really liked olive oil, and it’s not that uncommon to find oil-filled pots from Ancient Greece. However, archaeologists were really excited to find that pressed olive oil goes as back as 8,000 years ago. Researchers found residues of the Mediterranean-diet staple on ancient clay pots dating back to the 6th millennium B.C.

8,000 year old olive oil was found in Israel. This is the earliest evidence of olive oil production. Credit: Courtesy Israel Antiquities Authority

“This is the earliest evidence of the use of olive oil in the country, and perhaps the entire Mediterranean basin,” Ianir Milevski and Nimrod Getzov, excavation directors at the Israel Antiquities Authority, said in a statement.

Today, Spain acounts 43.8% of world production of olive oil, while Italy accounts for 21.5% of the world’s production and Greece comes in at 12.1%. But in ancient times, things were very different. It is not clear when and where the olive tree was domesticated, but the word comes from Asia Minor (today’s Turkey and Syria), so it’s likely that the origin of olive oil lies there. Before this study, the earliest surviving olive oil amphorae date to 3500 BC (Early Minoan times), though the production of olive was assumed to have started before 4000 BC.

Now, we have evidence to place olive oil production 2 millennia before that – in 6000 BC. The team actually discovered the clay vessels by accident. The government required an excavation at En Zippori in the Lower Galilee region of northern Israel before the Netivei Israel Co. could widen Highway 79. The researchers unexpectedly found the pottery during the excavation, which lasted from 2011 to 2013. It’s not uncommon for this to happen – sometimes, construction works take place in area with rich history, and archaeologists are called to ensure that nothing will be destroyed. When Milevski and Getzov found the vessels, they were understandably excited and wanted to find out what was the content of the vessel.

Olive Oil is one of the healthiest sources of fats. Image via Olive Oil Excellence.

I’m gonna be honest with you… I’d be tempted to just taste it. But alas, science doesn’t work like that – you can’t just go tasting stuff from 8,000 years ago, no matter how cool it sounds. The real analysis showed that the pottery contains olive oil, and the oil is actually very similar to the one produced today. In all, the researchers studied 20 pottery vessels, including two that date back to about 5,800 B.C., indicating that the oil was well preserved inside the vessels for almost 8,000 years. This confirms the theory that the olive tree was domesticated in 6000 BC.

“Although it is impossible to say for sure, this might be an olive speciesthat was domesticated and joined grain and legumes — the other kinds of field crops that we know were grown then,” Milevski and Getzov said.

Olive oil is  the main cooking oil in countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, also used as a dressing for salads and even as a skin treatment. It’s also one of the healthiest sources of fats in nature, with study indicating that it can may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease due to the monounsaturated fats if it replaces other types of saturated fats (not in addition).


Fat grizzlies stay diabetes free thanks to protein shut down


Photo: redorbit.com

Grizzly bears are fat, I mean really fat. They have to in order to survive through winter hibernation and long-lasting periods when there isn’t any game or food about. What’s odd is that even when they’ve stuffed themselves plenty with fat (a grizzly can gain 100 pounds prior to hibernation), they stay metabolically healthy and free of diabetes. Such an extreme weight gain would  strike most mammals, including humans, with disease. Researchers at the Washington State University Bear Center in Pullman have found how the grizzlies do it: a key protein found in fat cells gets shut down. The findings might help transfer this mechanism to humans via a drug to prevent weight gain related metabolic illnesses.

Grizzlies shut down a protein to protect them from metabolic diseases

When normal people gain weight, their liver, fat and muscle cells become less sensitive to the hormone insulin, paramount to regulating sugar levels in blood. The increased resistance prompts the body to inject more insulin. In turn, the high insulin level in the blood makes it harder to breakdown fat cells, so a vicious cycle can ensue. If left unchecked, the loop can cause full-blown insulin resistance or diabetes. For life.

Bears are cool, though. They can gobble up as much fat as they want without fear of becoming diseased or looked down upon by other bears because they’re fat. Bears don’t have prejudice – they’re all fat. And this was exactly what appealed to Kevin Corbit, a senior scientist at Thousand Oaks, California–based drug company Amgen.

Him and colleagues at Washington State recorded blood sugar levels, insulin levels, body weight, and other markers of the metabolism in six captive grizzly bears before, during, and after hibernation—in October, January, and May. They found that even after gaining more than 100 pounds prior to hibernation, the bears still retained normal insulin sensitivity. Then only resistance was recorded during hibernation, but this was temporary and became completely reversed come springtime. “This type of physiology had never been described before and was completely opposite what’s seen in humans,” Corbit says.

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Upon closer inspection after analyzing many key molecules in liver, fat and muscle cells, the researchers found that a protein called PTEN was controlling insulin sensitivity or resistance independently of weight gain. This protein is virtually the bears’ secret to their winter time survival. Without the protein, the bears wouldn’t be able to store as much sugar in their bodies.

How would this apply to humans? We don’t know yet

Before bears hibernate, their PTEN protein becomes shut down allowing them to maintain insulin sensitivity despite weight gain. If the same pathway could be shut down in humans it might prevent or even treat diabetes. Interestingly, he points out, a previous study found that people missing one gene for PTEN production are less likely to develop metabolic or cardiovascular disease even as they gain weight.

[ALSO READ] Healthy habits dramatically reduce risk of diabetes

As always, animals models are not to be trusted. Less than 40% of medical research on mice, for instance, can be transferred to humans. Also, there’s always the possibility of doing more harm than good. Shutting down PTEN in humans might avert diabetes, but it might also cause excessive weight gain.

“You might create a situation where patients are metabolically healthy but you’re trading that for joint problems and back problems and arthritis,” says Abhimanyu Garg of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

Findings appeared in the journal Cell.