Do you have any idea how much the average American spends on diet supplements? It’s estimated that 68% of Americans take supplements, with 66% of Americans saying they’ll take more supplements in the next five years. That’s billions of dollars every year going into supplements intended to improve fitness, promote weight loss, and burn fat. They range from natural (green tea extract) to the highly artificial (taurine) and even to FDA-approved drugs (like Orlistat, also known as Alli).
A new drug may be the latest thing to help promote fat burning. Bexarotene, an anti-cancer drug marketed as Bex, was discovered by a team of researchers at Gladstone Institutes to promote the formation of brown fat cells. Brown fat is the healthy kind of fat, which can help the body use energy to produce heat, leading to an increase in both metabolism and fat-burning. Adults with high amounts of brown fat tend to have a lower body mass index, while those with less brown fat tend to have higher quantities of the inert white fat that is the mark of obesity.
Studies have shown that even a minor increase in brown fat (even just 50 grams) could lead to a significant amount of weight loss: as much as 10-20 pounds in just one year. Researchers around the world are looking for more ways to encourage the body to produce brown fat instead of white fat.
According to the research, Bex targeted a specific protein called Retinoid X Receptor (RXR), which led to a series of transformations in muscle precursor cells. It also led to white fat being turned into brown fat, switching off the genes that produce white fat while switching on the brown fat-producing genes.
Animal studies proved the discovery to be sound. Mice given a high-calorie diet for four weeks gained less weight, burned many more calories, and gained less body fat when they were treated with the drug. It proved that the activation of the RXR protein can lead to less white fat and more brown fat.
“We’re very excited about the prospect of using a drug to generate brown fat in the body,” said Gladstone Senior Investigator Sheng Ding, Ph.D. “However, while Bex is very effective at creating brown fat cells, it is not a very specific drug, and there are several potential side effects that may arise from taking it. Our next task is to develop a safer, more targeted drug that only affects genes involved in creating brown fat.”
1. Baoming Nie, Tao Nie, Xiaoyan Hui, Ping Gu, Liufeng Mao, Kuai Li, Ran Yuan, Jiashun Zheng, Haixia Wang, Ke Li, Shibing Tang, Yu Zhang, Tao Xu, Aimin Xu, Donghai Wu, Sheng Ding. “Brown Adipogenic Reprogramming Induced by a Small Molecule.” Cell Reports, 2017; 18 (3): 624 DOI: 10.1016/j.celrep.2016.12.062.