Most of us have combination of 3 fat cell types: mostly white, less beige and even less brown. According to a recent study, beige fat cells, or adipocytes, have a calming effect on the brain, bringing down the inflammation, caused by the more common white fat, and providing protection from dementia.
Beige fat cells are mixed with white fat cells in the subcutaneous fat. If you are on a high-fat diet, your subcutaneous fat without beige adipocytes start acting more like dangerous visceral fat, that wraps around your abdominal organs deep inside your body. Visceral fat is mostly represented by white fat cells, which store energy as triglycerides, another fat type, and increases a risk for heart disease and stroke. Overload of visceral fat sends a message to resident immune cells in the brain, known as microglial cells, to fire up the inflammation, which ultimately damages cognition.
The study showed that male obese mice without beige fat had an accelerated cognitive decline on testing and developed high inflammatory response within a single month. Just to compare, normally it takes mice about 3 months on a high-fat diet to show the same kind of response. Interestingly normal, not obese, male mice didn’t show any signs of inflammation.
To further explore the impact of beige fat, the researchers also transplanted subcutaneous fat from young, lean healthy mice into the visceral compartment of otherwise normal but now-obese mice who had developed dementia-like behavior after remaining on a high-fat diet for 10 to 12 weeks. Transplanting the subcutaneous fat resulted in improved memory and learning abilities. These positive changes were dependent on the beige adipocytes in the donor subcutaneous fat.
The researchers also found that in case of transplantation of the beige fat cells, the immune cells of obese mice seem to reach the brain and not the donor’s immune cells that are transplanted.
How do exactly the beige fat cells communicate with the immune cells?
All fat tends to be packed with immune cells, which can both promote and calm inflammation. The researchers found that beige fat interacts continuously with the immune cells that activate the anti-inflammatory cytokine IL-4 in the subcutaneous fat of the meninges (a sort of multilayer cap that fits over the brain). This activation helps calm down the inflammation and stimulate the “beiging” of white fat, both of which protect the brain cells from any potential damage.
Of course, it’s good news for mice, but what about people? Can the results of this study be applied on us? This requires further investigation. Until then it will not hurt to increase our own beige fat cells by intense exercizing and exposing ourselves to cold temperatures for several hours every day. It will not only help increase the amount of beige fat but also can prompt the beiging of white fat.
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