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The Atkins Diet, the South Beach Diet, the Paleo Diet.

We have looked near and far for the key to shedding off pounds, but nothing seems to work. The problem is that not much is known about fat cells, also known as adipocytes. We know that enlarging them will make us fat. We know that shrinking them will make us skinny. But that’s pretty much it. What happens in these cells that causes many of us so much grief?

 We’ve all searched high and low for that one diet that will miraculously help us drop off some unwanted pounds, no matter how complicated the diet seemed.

Image Source: Chris Turner

A research team led by Dr. Christian Metallo of University of California, San Diego (UCSD), may be able to provide us an answer. He and his associates have recently discovered a shift in fat cell metabolism once cells develop from pre-adipocytes (precursors of fat cells) to mature adipocytes.

When the researchers observed pre-adipocytes in their lab, they found that in the early stages of adipocyte development, cells were digesting glucose, the body’s major source of fuel, in order to grow and produce energy. However, once these cells matured into full-fledged adipocytes, they began to metabolize something other than glucose–a small group of essential amino acids known as branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), which include the amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine.

While everyone has BCAAs circulating in their blood, the levels of BCAAs in those suffering from diabetes and obesity are typically much higher than usual. This occurrence perplexed scientists for many years. However, after the discovery of adipocyte metabolism, Dr. Metallo and his team may be able to shed some light into this phenomenon. Though more research must be conducted in order to determine the effect of high BCAA levels in the body, we now know that the increased amount of BCAAs in diabetic and obese patients originate from fat cells. Further investigation as to why fat cell metabolism becomes impaired in certain individuals may lead to new potential diabetes and weight-loss treatments for those suffering from obesity and diabetes–two diseases that affect millions nationwide.

As of 2012, more than 29.1 million Americans and 78.6 million Americans suffer from diabetes and obesity, respectively. A better understanding of fat cell metabolism is much needed. If we can find a way to hijack this biochemical pathway of digesting BCAAs rather than glucose, we can find a way to stop the high prevalence of these two lifestyle diseases.

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