Cut the fat, lose the weight. That's the primary credo of many nutritionists. But a team of Texas scientists has found that a diet high in a particular type of fat may actually increase metabolism and help people lose weight.
According to a new study published in The Journal of Lipid Research, Texas Tech University researchers report that the skeletal muscles of obese people contain a particular enzyme — called SCD1 — that breaks down saturated fats, effectively converting them into monounsaturated fat, which is easier to metabolize.
They said the findings, which are based on studies of mice, could lead to the development of new supplements and diets that aim to speed up metabolism while reducing muscle fatigue.
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Chat Paton, an assistant professor of nutritional biochemistry who helped lead the study, said his team made the discovery by analyzing mice that had been genetically modified so that their muscles would constantly produce the enzyme.
"We used a transgenic mouse model, and we took the gene that makes the enzyme that's not normally expressed and took away its regulation to make it active all the time," Paton said. "What we found in those animals is they had a hypermetabolic rate compared to the wild mice, increased energy consumption, and greatly increased these animals' exercise capacity."
Normally, he noted, skeletal muscle produces the enzyme only during heavy exercise or in the case of obesity. But the mice bioengineered to produce the enzyme were able to exercise longer and burn more calories than typical mice.
"They were increasing their energy consumption, and they experienced greatly increased exercise capacity," he said. "For example, on the exercise wheels, normal mice fatigue after seven to 10 minutes. These genetically modified animals wouldn't fatigue for about 70 minutes. So they were running a lot longer. Sedentary mice looked more like exercise-trained mice. That really made us look in a lot more detail what was happening in the skeletal muscle."
While genetically modifying humans isn't an option, Paton noted the experiment could hold useful information for supplementing human diets to achieve the same results.
"You can't change the human genome," he said. "But that gives us insight if you could activate the same part of the DNA in human in skeletal muscles that burn off excess energy as heat instead of storing it. Perhaps it's a supplement people could take that will turn on the cells' metabolic machinery, burn off energy and increase mitochondria."
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