Being exposed to cold temperatures for a long period of time could reduce the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes, researchers say.
Scientists from the University of Tokyo and Tohoku University believe this link involves the way temperature affects the role of fat cells in the body.
In a new study using mice, the researchers assessed how fat cells reacted to different temperatures. They discovered that long-term exposure to cold temperature caused white fat cells, which store energy, to produce brown-like fat cells, which burn energy.
This is a significant finding because brown fat cells are thought to be healthier than white fat cells, which are usually associated with metabolic conditions such as type 2 diabetes.
The researchers explain that the process begins when the cold kick-starts a change in a protein called JMJD1A. When combined with other proteins, this altered protein changes the way a gene functions in producing heat. Subsequently, a chemical process called thermogensis is initiated which changes epigenetic patterns so white fat cells are transformed into beige fat cells, which function like brown fat cells.
“Understanding how the environment influences metabolism is scientifically, pharmacologically, and medically interesting,” said study author Professor Juro Sakai.
“Our next experiments will look more closely at epigenetic modifications within the thermogenesis signalling pathway so that we may manipulate it.”
Prof Sakai and colleagues noted that the same white-to-beige fat cell transition can be caused without exposure to cold temperatures, so devising a treatment that specifically targets amino acids within proteins could improve health outcomes.
Of course, further research in humans will be required to validate these findings before any fat cell treatments can be developed.
Moreover, people can reduce their risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes by eating a healthy diet low in sugar and getting regular exercise, which can help with weight loss and ensuring normal blood glucose control.
The study was published in the journal Nature Communications.

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