Scientists have discovered that brown fat has a heating action at the break of dawn. This has several repercussions on health status.
Brown fat has a crucial role in preventing the body from getting cold in conditions of frigid temperatures. Now, scientists have found that this fat has a role to play in the circadian rhythms as well.
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Glucose consumption takes place via the brown fat. Glucose is fuel that is meant for heating up the body. The rhythms that allow the brown fat to heat up the body during the morning hours may have had evolutionary benefits.
"Marked day-to-day glucose variations have been proposed to be a precursor of diabetes," says lead author Paul Lee, a clinician scientist and endocrinologist at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Australia.
"For modern humans who do not rely on it for cold protection, the energy-consuming brown fat rhythm may act as a glucose buffer, smoothing glucose fluctuations and lessening the stress on the pancreas."
Our hunter gatherer ancestors must have felt warmer at the crack of dawn so as to be able to utilize their energy and face the cold temperatures. This was all the better to hunt for animals in the early morning with more agility and acumen.
The research appeared in a journal. The blood sugar roller coaster we modern day descendants of cavemen experience has been indicated in diseases such as diabetes.
For those of us who are well-off and can afford internal temperature control in our homes, this brown fat may act as a buffer for glucose control.
The pancreas can only take so much wear and tear. So the brown fat may relieve them of their load. The homeostasis of the internal body temperature may have more to do with the balance of bodily functions than the instincts for hunger and thirst.
In response to cold temperatures, brown fat burns glucose and lipids in order to keep the body warm. Also cold exposure leads to brown fat stores being activated. This leads to lipolysis. Calories are burnt and fat stores are used up as a result.
Both obesity and diabetes (termed diabesity) are warded off thanks to this strategy. What is unclear is whether brown fat regulates glucose stores in the absence of cold weather.
What was shown by the scientists was that brown fat followed its own circadian rhythms. Especially, prior to waking up in the morning, the rise in brown fat activity was significant.
Thus brown fat had a lot to do with metabolism. It played a pivotal role in heat production too. Those individuals who had large quantities of brown fat showed little fluctuations in sugar levels.
But those with little brown fat showed wild fluctuations in blood glucose levels. The findings are being taken with a grain of salt though. We shouldn’t go jumping to conclusions regarding the role of brown fat in preventing the onset of diabetes. It is still too early to say anything with dead certainty.
"While interesting and promising, brown fat is not the solution to finding a cure for diabetes, at least not now," Lee says. "A balanced diet and regular exercise are the cornerstones of healthy metabolism and should not be forgotten."
"Pinpointing what switches on this brown fat rhythm may identify new targets in drug design," he says. "This will open new avenues to harness this glucose-response brown fat rhythm for potential therapeutic purposes."
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The research appeared on March 10 in the journal Cell Metabolism.