SUNDAY, May 6, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Scientists who found a way to make white fat behave more like brown fat say their discovery could lead to new obesity treatments.
Brown fat burns energy (preventing obesity), while white fat stores energy (causing weight gain). White fat cells are associated with fat accumulation around organs in the belly, and this so-called "visceral fat" has been linked to an increased risk for diabetes and heart disease, the researchers explained.
The new study, published in the May 6 online edition of the journal Nature Medicine, reports that U.S. researchers found that they could make white fat take on the characteristics of brown fat by blocking vitamin A metabolism in white fat.
"Brown fat, and mechanisms that might allow white fat to take on brown fat characteristics, has been receiving increasing attention as a possible way to treat obesity and its complications," study leader Dr. Jorge Plutzky, director of the Vascular Disease Prevention Program at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, said in a hospital news release.
"Although more work is needed, we can add specific aspects of retinoid metabolism to those factors that appear involved in determining white versus brown fat," he added.
One-third of adults in the United States are obese, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Exercise, diet changes, medications and surgery are among the current methods used to fight obesity.
The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has more about treatments for overweight and obese people.