A newly discovered hormone produced in response to exercise may help turn your body's brown fat to white, thereby helping to fight obesity and lower your susceptibility to diabetes, a recent study suggets.
Researchers at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston looked specifically at at a substance called PCG1-Alpha (a substance produced in the muscles during and after exercise) in human and mouse cells. They found that increases of PCG1-Alpha led to a bump in the production of a protein called Fndc5, and that in turn broke down into an unknown hormone that the researchers have now dubbed "Irisin" (after the Greek messenger god).
Instead of remaining in the muscles like many other substances created in the muscles, Irisin was found to enter the bloodstream and attach on to fat cells, turning the deep visceral fat around organs into brown fat.
"Until recently it was thought that only infants had brown adipose fat, and adults didn't," Hannah El-Amin, an RD who specializes in integrative medicine at the Northwestern Memorial Physicians Group, says. "While it's not known if diet can affect your brown fat, you can increase the amount of brown fat in your system with regular exercise, which can lead to a breakdown in white fat cells."
An excess amount of white adipose fat is linked to abnormalities in your blood sugar, El-Amin says, which can make you susceptible to diabetes and other health problems, so in addition to helping you burn more calories, an increase of brown fat may help with blood sugar management, which can lessen your chance of developing diabetes.
Although more research is needed, this hormone does have potential as an obesity drug, the researchers said. If nothing else, it serves to reinforce the positive role exercise plays in our health.