Australian scientists have discovered a “brain switch” that could help women struggling with yo-yo dieting to take control of their weight.
The researchers from Melbourne’s Monash University released a study detailing their discovery of the mechanism by which the brain coordinates the energy we consume (as in what goes in our mouths) with the energy we expend.
The study also found the molecular switch can potentially control the way the human body stores fat, particularly after long periods of weight loss (or ‘famine’) most commonly experienced by yo-yo dieters when they regain the weight they’ve worked hard to lose.
Essentially, the results confirm what we know from experience of yo-yo dieting – restricting calories for a period of time and then returning to regular eating patterns isn’t conducive to healthy, long-term and sustainable weight loss and management.
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This is because, as Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute’s Associate Professor Zane Andrews explained, repeated dieting may lead to weight gain as the brain interprets these diets as short famines. The molecular brain protein in our hunger-processing brain cells then instructs the body to ‘switch’ into fat storage mode to replace lost fat and prepare for any potential future shortages.
“Manipulating this protein offers the opportunity to trick the brain and not replace the lost weight through increased appetite and storage of fat,” Associate Professor Andrews said, Science Daily reports.
“By regulating this protein, we can ensure that diet-induced weight loss stays off rather than sneaking back on.”
These findings were published on Wednesday in international journal, Cell Reports, according to Science Daily. The study goes on to explain how Associate Professor Andrews and his colleagues have identified the fat storage regulating protein called carnitine acetyltransferase (Crat) in the brain cells of mice.
This news is also important for the development of diabetes and obesity treatments, as manipulating this switch can control the way our bodies sense and produce insulin and coordinate eating with energy expenditure.
“What happens in the context of obesity is that the switch stays on all the time – it doesn’t turn on off during feeding,” researcher Professor Tony Tiganis said.