“Good” v. “Bad” Fat: Is One Type the Key to Fighting Obesity?

We talk about weight and weight loss quite a bit on this blog, and there’s a reason. Although there IS a faction of  healthy BMI individuals who have been or will be diagnosed with NAFLD, statistically, overweight individuals are more likely to have the condition.

For that reason, many of our readers are overweight/overfat and looking to reduce fat in their bodies, in an effort to also reduce the fat percentage in the liver. (Greater than 5% is considered a fatty liver condition; if unrelated to alcohol consumption, the diagnosis is non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, or NAFLD.)

But is all fat bad – even in the overweight individual?

Actually, there are two basic types of fat, usually generalized to the terms “brown” and “white” fat. Here’s the skinny on the different types of fat and whether you want them, want to reduce them, and how each impacts your health.

Brown Fat: Yes, You Need It

If you’ve heard of “brown fat,” that’s because in recent decades, it’s made the news – though not always in a clear and understandable way. What is brown fat? Should we like it or lump it?

Interestingly, brown fat is not only essential (particularly along the brain), it may, according to recent research, help combat less-healthy, excess white fat.

The reason: brown fat burns glucose (yes, really) and appears to help counter issues such as systemic inflammation.

By contrast, the reason white fat is white is because of lipids, something we all need but in controlled amounts; too much white fat and an unhealthy overall condition begins to exist that goes deeper than simple vanity and a thickening middle.

Brown fat was previously believed to exist only in infants (and certain small mammals). But as of 2009, brown fat is acknowledged as being present in human adults as well.

New Research Yields a World of Health Possibilities

Boston University biochemists say that mice grew more brown or “brown-like” fat under certain laboratory conditions using various methods. This most recent attempt revealed that the use of a chemotherapy drug, Roscovitine, showed the most promise to date.

The drug encouraged the growth of brown fat within existing white fat and also appeared to increase the mice’s metabolism and energy expenditure.

This is groundbreaking information that has the potential for use in humans, researchers suggest.

Three Types of Brown Fat

The research also separated brown fat into three categories as opposed to simply referring to the type of fat as “brown fat.”

Each arises from a separate pathway. They are categorized as classic brown, beige and brite.

All this new information means scientists could be on the verge of a new breakthrough in treating obesity and over-fat conditions, but more research is needed, critics of the study say.

“This is a provocative study, which really illustrates that brown and beige fat are druggable targets in a meaningful physiological way,” said Bruce Spiegelmann, professor of cancer biology, Harvard Medical School. He added, “Whether or not Roscovitine should be used is still an open question; it’s a toxic drug—but this study shows that drugs can be used.”



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