Georgetown University Researchers Discover Key to Manipulating Fat

WASHINGTON, D.C.

In what they call a “stunning research advance,” researchers at Georgetown University Medical Center say they know how to treat diseases associated with human obesity.

In the paper, the researchers describe a mechanism they found by which stress activates weight gain in mice, and they say this pathway – which they were able to manipulate – may explain why people who are chronically stressed gain more weight than they should based on the calories they consume. 

The discovery, published in Nature Medicine, could revolutionize human cosmetic and reconstructive plastic surgery and treatment of diseases associated with obesity.

“We couldn’t believe such fat remodeling was possible, but the numerous different experiments conducted over four years demonstrated that it is, at least in mice,” said senior author, Dr. Zofia Zukowska, M.D., professor and chair of the Department of Physiology & Biophysics at Georgetown University Medical Center.

“We are hopeful that these findings might eventually lead to control of metabolic syndrome, which is a huge health issue for many Americans,” she said.

The findings could provide some comfort to stressed individuals who blame themselves for a weight gain that seems outsized given the food they eat, added Dr. Lydia Kuo, another contributor to the study.

“This is the first study to show that stress has a direct effect on fat accumulation, body weight and metabolism,” she said. “In humans, this kind of stress-mediated fat gain may have nothing to do with the brain, and is actually just a physiological response of their fat tissue.”

An accumulation of stress-related incidents, such as disagreements with your boss, taking care of a chronically ill child, or repeated traffic road rages, could be acting as an amplifier to a high-calorie diet over time, the authors said.

“Although we don’t expect that, in the future, a person will be able to eat everything he or she wants… and end up looking like a movie star,” said Zukowska, “we are encouraged that these findings could improve human health.” 

For more information, go to http://explore.georgetown.edu/news/?ID=25475
 

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