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Collaborative Success Stories: What can Brown do for you?


University of Missouri scientists say brown fat might be key to a healthy weight.

All fat is not created equal. White fat can lead to complications such as obesity and fatty liver, but brown fat—found in newborn babies and hibernating animals—generates heat and burns energy. Scientists used to think that brown fat in humans disappeared as part of the aging process; however, recent research reveals that brown fat is present in adults.

But does brown fat translate to weight loss? That’s a question that Vicki Vieira-Potter, principal investigator of the Fit Fat Lab at MU’s Department of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology, wants to answer. Vieira-Potter teamed with Dr. Jaume Padilla, who researches vessel function, to study menopausal rats who—like humans—tend to gain weight as their ovarian hormones disappear. The scientists found that rats who had high levels of fitness before menopause began did not experience weight gain. These “high-fit” rats also had higher levels of brown fat and were protected from reductions in the relative amount of brown fat that the “low-fit” rats experienced following ovariectomy (i.e., loss of ovarian hormones).

Vieira-Potter and her colleagues are conducting a follow-up study to determine whether lowering the rats’ brown fat levels will increase weight gain. Their findings could help identify new strategies for maintaining healthy weight.

Drs. Vicki Vieira-Potter and Jaume Padilla are assistant professors of nutrition and exercise physiology in MU’s Department of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology.

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Related Initiative(s):
Food for the Future, One Health/One Medicine,