Harvard scientists found that cold temperatures can help you lose weight

Researchers have found that cold temperatures can help fight obesity and related metabolic diseases by reducing inflammation.

Brown adipose tissue is activated by the cold and releases anti-inflammatory compounds.

More than 40% of American adults are obese, which increases the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and several types of cancer. By creating low-grade chronic inflammation and immune cells in insulin-sensitive tissues, obesity is a contributing factor to other health problems. Researchers believe that reversing or “resolving” this chronic inflammation may delay the onset of obesity-related diseases such as diabetes and make weight loss easier.

Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Joslin Diabetes Center found that in diet-induced obese mice, cold temperature, insulin sensitivity, and glucose tolerance helped reverse obesity-induced inflammation. Their results were published in a new newspaper Natural metabolism.

The research team also found that the mechanism depends on brown adipose tissue, commonly known as “good fat,” releasing a natural molecule called Maresin 2 in response to cold stimulation. Brown adipose tissue is known as an active endocrine organ because it communicates with other tissues and secretes molecules that control metabolism. It also helps release stored energy and promotes weight loss and metabolic health.

“A large body of evidence suggests that obesity and metabolic syndrome are associated with chronic inflammation, which leads to systemic insulin resistance, so interrupting inflammation in obesity may offer a promising therapy for obesity-related diseases,” says corresponding author Yu-Hua Tseng, Ph.D. .., is a senior researcher in the Department of Integrative Physiology and Metabolism at the Joslin Diabetes Center and a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

“We found that exposure to cold reduced inflammation and improved metabolism in obesity, mediated at least in part by activation of brown adipose tissue. These findings suggest a previously unrecognized function of brown adipose tissue to promote inflammation in obesity.

In two previous experiments, Tseng and colleagues found that brown fat can be activated by cold exposure to produce specific lipid mediators that control nutrient metabolism. In the current study, researchers identified a novel role for a lipid mediator produced in brown fat to resolve inflammation.

In the current study, the researchers created a mouse model that, when fed a standard high-fat, Western diet, developed obesity.

When animals are exposed to a cold environment (about 40 degrees[{” attribute=””>Fahrenheit), the researchers observed that the animals’ insulin sensitivity and glucose metabolism improved and their body weight decreased, compared to control animals maintained at a thermoneutral zone – the environmental temperature where the body does not need to produce heat for maintaining its core body temperature.

What’s more, the scientists also noticed a profound improvement in inflammation, as measured by reduced levels of a major inflammatory marker.

“We found that brown fat produces Maresin 2, which resolves inflammation systemically and in the liver,” said co-corresponding author Matthew Spite, Ph.D., a lead investigator at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Associate Professor of Anesthesia at Harvard Medical School. “These findings suggest a previously unrecognized function of brown adipose tissue in promoting the resolution of inflammation in obesity via the production of this important lipid mediator.”

Moreover, these findings also suggest that Maresin 2 could have clinical applications as a therapy for patients with obesity, metabolic disease, or other diseases linked to chronic inflammation; however, the molecule itself breaks down quickly in the body. Tseng and colleagues seek a more stable chemical analog for clinical use.

The team notes a shortcut to improved metabolic health may already exist. Multiple human studies conducted at Joslin and elsewhere show that exposure to mildly cold temperatures (50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit) has been shown to be sufficient to activate brown adipose tissue and improve metabolism, though the mechanisms are not well understood.

Reference: “Brown adipose tissue-derived MaR2 contributes to cold-induced resolution of inflammation” by Satoru Sugimoto, Hebe Agustina Mena, Brian E. Sansbury, Shio Kobayashi, Tadataka Tsuji, Chih-Hao Wang, Xuanzhi Yin, Tian Lian Huang, Joji Kusuyama, Sean D. Kodani, Justin Darcy, Gerson Profeta, Nayara Pereira, Rudolph E. Tanzi, Can Zhang, Thomas Serwold, Efi Kokkotou, Laurie J. Goodyear, Aaron M. Cypess, Luiz Osório Leiria, Matthew Spite, and Yu-Hua Tseng, 27 June 2022, Nature Metabolism.
DOI: 10.1038/s42255-022-00590-0

This work was supported in part by US National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants (R01DK122808, R01DK077097, R01DK102898, R01HL106173, R01DK099511, R01DK112283, P30DK0368360) and by US Army Medical Research grant W81XWH-17-1-0428; the Manpei Suzuki Diabetes Foundation in Japan; grant 2019/20554-7 from The São Paulo Research Foundation, FAPESP; an American Diabetes Association post-doctoral fellowship (1-16-PDF-063); the Sao Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP) grants 2017/02684 and 2019/26008-4.

Spite and Tseng are inventors of a pending provisional patent application related to Maresin 2 and metabolic therapeutics.

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