Metabolic Augmentation for Weight Loss – The Scientific Literature
IntroductionThe key to effective and persistent weight loss lies in a very simple premise – calorie management (Clarke and Henry, 2010). This is often confused with the overly simplistic notion that in order to lose weight, one needs to consume fewer calories. Although true, calorie management is a realistic more complex process in which the intake of calories is diverted to utilization (burning) rather than storage as fat! Also important are the sites of fat storage (Cypess and Kahn. 2010). The major players in weight gain and weight maintenance are the adipocytes, the fat storage cells, or more appropriate complex fat storage tissue (De Pauw et al., 2009). Generally, mammals have evolved to be calorie wise in a sense, to defend our energy stores and augment them whenever possible (Seale and Lazar, 2009). This process is termed metabolic efficiency, which is the process where an individual dissipitates calories as heat (Landsberg et al., 2009). In evolutionary terms, mammals that burn excess calories while storing fewer calories are considered metabolically inefficient because in a starvation survival situation, or simply when food is scarce, the individual who is metabolically inefficient would be at an obvious disadvantage.
But similar to our human society, our pets have altered their roles as strictly working animals to cherished family members. As such we created a life style which requires less physical activity and due to our nurturing and good intentions, we often provide excess calories for consumption. So to effectively “utilize” calories several factors need to be in place, for example the equilibrium of stored fat and calorie utilization must be shifted to favor utilization! In this regard, consumed calories are favorably burned metabolically and not simply stored. This process is also associated Non-Exercise Activity Thermogensis (NEAT) (Levine, 2004), which reflects all the calories consumed during the typical day for non-exercise related activities such as breathing, movement, fidgeting and even maintaining posture (Tseng et al., 2010).
The amount of calories burned for any related activity is highly individualistic and depends on the Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). In other words, two pets performing exactly the same task may be utilizing (burning) a different net sum of calories which reflects their BMR (Levine et al., 2006; Levine 2004). A pet with a higher BMR will use a greater degree of calories during the process of NEAT, this in turn may be related to Brown Adipose Tissue (BAT) (Van Marken Lichtenbelt et al., 2009; Wouter et al., 2009) which will be discussed in the next section. In fact the resting metabolic rate (RMR) can account for upwards of 80% of total energy expenditure during a typical day (Landsberg et al., 2009).
In humans, it has been shown in several controlled studies that individuals who had similar caloric intakes and exercise programs still exhibited large differences in their ability to gain and maintain weight (reviewed by Seale and Lazar, 2009). Hence if the BMR is increased or augmented particularly by increasing the process of thermogenesis, a greater proportion of calories are used for NEAT. The persistent maintenance of this state will result in progressive and effectively managed weight loss without a dramatic change to a daily routine or the adoption of short lived, unsustainable and difficult caloric restrictions. The obvious question then resides, is this realistically possible and if so how is this favorable state achieved? The answer partially resides with the discovery, or rather re-discovery of the role of brown adipose tissue (BAT) in humans and may explain the persistent observation made for decades in small mammals!
The discovery of this specialized thermogenic organ (Enerback 2010) has been coined an adipose tissue renaissance (Ravussin and Kozak 2009) and has been suggested that by increasing either the amount of function of BAT can be a safe and effective means for combating weight gain (Seale and Lazar, 2009).
Brown Adipose Tissue (BAT) in mammalsThe importance and role of BAT in mammals has been known of a long time. BAT is responsible for the complex thermogenic, heat producing, cellular process which produces body heat in mammals, birds and fish particularly during periods of cold adaptation and hibernation (Alexander, 1979; Teulier et al., 2010). BAT has been extensively studied in humans and BAT permits the maintenance of body temperature even when the ambient temperature is low (Enerback, 2010; Wouter et al., 2009).
In humans, BAT is predominantly located in the cervical–supraclavicular areas, the chest and abdominal, regions of the body (Tseng et al., 2010; Cypess et al., 2009; Van Marken Lichtenbelt et al., 2009; Cypess and Kahn 2010; Lean 1989) and also scatted within muscle (Mattson, 2010; Tseng et al., 2010 Cinti, 2010). But the highest activity was in the supraclavicular area (Van Marken Lichtenbelt et al., 2009). Truly active BAT in humans was demonstrated under normal conditions by a combination of positron emission tomography and computed tomography (Seale and Lazar 2009). In terms of proportions, for every 200 WAT cells there exists approximately 1 BAT cell (Cinti, 2006). BAT in other mammals can vary and often depends on the type of mammal in question.
The difference between BAT and White Adipose Tissue (WAT) is very evident in that BAT contains smaller amounts of lipid droplets, has a different color (hence it’s name) and is very densely packed with intracellular organelles termed Mitochondria (Mattson, 2010; Lean 1989). At the cellular level, mitochondria are the cells energy generating powerhouse! WAT on the other hand is very rich in lipid droplets but poor in mitochondria. The tendency to gain weight is influence by both the number of WAT cells and their individual size (Couillard et al., 2000). Indeed mitochondrial dysfunction reduced capacity, or reduced density has been shown to be associated with weight gain and maintenance (De Pauw et al., 2009).
At the organismal level, the process of thermogenesis, or body heat production, is mediated by sympathetic nervous system (Morrison et al., 2008; Ravussin and Kozak 2009) which act on BAT to begin burning stored fat via mitochondrial activation by a protein called Uncoupling Protein -1 (UCP1) (Seale and Lazar 2009). BAT has been shown to decline with age and this observation may explain the tendency to gain and maintain weight as our pets age (Saito et al., 2009; Van Marken Lichtenbelt et al., 2009).
A second difference between BAT and WAT, is that BAT is highly vascularized thereby allowing rapid heat exchange within the body (Mattson, 2010; Lean, 1989). BAT is also present in greater proportions in females than in males with a ratio of 2.4:1 and if fully activated, it can burn greater than 4 kg of WAT associated fat per year (Frühbeck et al., 2009; Van Marken Lichtenbelt et al., 2009; Virtanen et al., 2009) making the targeting of energy expenditure an attractive target to enhance weight loss (Tseng et al., 2010; Virtanen et al., 2009).
Long term persistence of weight lossAn important point to note is that if properly achieved, weight loss can be maintained suggesting that bioenergetic adaptations do not wane and can be partially explained by alterations to the efficiency skeletal muscle bioenergetics (Rosenbaum et al., 2008)!
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