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~ Charles Darwin (it's evolutionary baybeee!)

Friday, January 13, 2012

Irisin ~ Just the Pill for Low Carbers

There was an article in the NYT that was passed along to me the other day:

Exercise Hormone May Fight Obesity and Diabetes
A newly discovered hormone produced in response to exercise may be turning people’s white fat brown, a groundbreaking new study suggests, and in the process lessening their susceptibility to obesity, diabetes and other health problems.
... in the new study, scientists closely examined the operations of a substance called PGC1-alpha, which is produced in abundance in muscles during and after exercise.
... Mice bred to produce preternaturally large amounts of PGC1a in their muscles are typically resistant to age-related obesity and diabetes, much as people who regularly exercise are.
... increases in PCG1a in muscles caused a subsequent bump in the expression of a protein known as Fndc5.

The Harvard researchers realized that one thing the protein did was break apart into different pieces, one of which was a hormone that had never before been identified. With uncharacteristic whimsy, the scientists dubbed it “irisin,” after Iris, the messenger goddess of Greek mythology.

Unlike most substances birthed in the muscles, irisin does not completely remain there, the scientists noted. It apparently enters the bloodstream and surfs to fat cells, where, by providing various biochemical signals or messages, it begins turning regular fat — especially deep, visceral fat clustered around organs — into brown fat.
... Brown fat, as many of us have heard, is physiologically desirable. While white fat cells are essentially inert storehouses for fat, brown fat cells are metabolically active. They use oxygen and require energy. They burn calories.
... And it may be that irisin, and exercise, partially determine how much brown fat each of us contains, the new study suggests. In perhaps the most compelling of the many separate experiments detailed in the Nature paper, the scientists injected irisin into white fat cells removed from mice. Afterward, genetic changes in the cells signified that they were browning. The fat cells also increased their respiratory rate, an indication that they were burning more energy.
The brown fat is also the stuff that does that thermogenic uncoupling we hear so much about.  I wonder, in those for whom exercise does preserve metabolic rate if irisin isn't behind that by altering fat metabolism more than increasing lean mass in any appreciable fashion? 
... In essence, irisin appears to be one of the more important missing links in our understanding of how exercise improves health.
But while irisin appears to have a critical impact on metabolism, it does not appear to play any discernible role in the effects that exercise has on the heart or the brain. And various issues remain unresolved. Why, for instance, if exercise increases levels of irisin and irisin increases the body’s stores of energy-burning brown fat, does exercise so rarely produce significant weight loss? The mice injected with irisin lost little weight.
If you do a Google search on irisin, the headlines you'll find are like this:
Those first two sound familiar, and the prospects of that magical "exercise pill" are mentioned in the NYT piece as well.  Ahhhh .... but it won't make you thinner probably.  See?  Exercise is useless for weight loss.  But if we learned anything from Tara Parker-Pope, it's that obesity is hard to reverse ... so best to prevent it to begin with.  And ...
On the other hand, Dr. Spiegelman notes, they resisted weight gain, even on a high-fat diet, and their blood sugar levels remained stable. So it would seem that exercise, through the actions of irisin, can render you healthy, if not svelte.
I don't suppose irisin might also help one resist REgain?   The article goes on to caution that a pill would be years in the making.   Wonder if Fred Hahn will be telling his audience in May the *whole truth* (so help me Fred ... gag, barf) about exercise.  Because this seems pretty groundbreaking here!  Maybe all those MD's who tell their prediabetic patients to move their butts a little more aren't such bad eggs after all ... could that advice actually be right?  Yeah ... but that just makes you healthy it won't make you lean.  For that just eat gobs of fat and protein and do some slow burn for a few minutes every week.  And when that fails, there will likely be an exercise pill sometime on the horizon.  Or ...
...But already, he says, it’s safe to say that “physical activity increases irisin levels in healthy people,” altering the hue of their fat cells and the tenor of their health, a message worth remembering.
I'm going with the above.  That Eat Less Move More advice sounds more brilliant every day.

And isn't this irisin amazing?  Insulin only traps fat in fat cells ... it can't turn your white fat brown!  I'm being a little cheeky there, because since humans have far less brown fat than rodents (as a proportion) I tend to think that whatever the effects of irisin, they will be less in humans and/or it will have far more varying effects depending on how our fat developed to begin with.  But just to be a wise ass, if wheat = visceral fat, and exercise turns white visceral fat into brown fat, maybe a toasted wheat belly isn't so bad after all!  ;-)

18 comments:

LeonRover said...

So let us all sing together

"Won't it make my white fat brown"


to the tune of

"Don't it make my brown eyes blue"

while remembering the line before

"Say it isn't true"!!

Tonus said...

So if exercise can help us to burn additional fat but not lose weight, we become healthier even if we don't become lighter. I don't want to say we won't become skinnier, since that would be one result of fat loss, even if weight remains stable. And based on this observation by Evelyn:

"humans have far less brown fat than rodents (as a proportion)"

Isn't it likely that what we are seeing (losing fat but maintaining weight) is a result of a slight increase in muscle mass offsetting the slight loss in fat? So we're just learning one of the mechanisms by which a person becomes stronger and more fit through exercise. And of course, the first inclination is to turn it into a pill. *groan*

Evelyn aka CarbSane said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Galina L. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Galina L. said...

Still everybody is interested in a magic bullet, good luck. I am one of people who found out that exercise is not the magic bullet for a weight loss or a weight maintenance, only for feeling good and the slowing-down of aging. The problem with magic bullets is that it is an attempt to find some remedy that will unable people to eat more. How to gorge safely? You could pig-out on a food with a lot of fiber because fiber doesn't count as a nutrient; you can eat as much LC deserts as you want because fat doesn't rise an insulin and you can't get fat; if you exercise more you can eat more because it is all about calories and also because “physical activity increases irisin levels in healthy people” .
I really want to separate the ELEM abbreviation. Number one - practice whatever works for you in order to eat less without superhuman effort. Number two - exercise is wonderful for your body and mind, do it more without over-training and injuries, but always remember - it is never an excuse to eat more. Forget about Tour de France and a Big Looser, because people who participate there perform as much exercise, as you will never be able to fin into your life long-term, short-term interventions are often cause more problems than benefits, especially if you are getting older.

Thank you for bringing up the research, it will motivate me to continue my exercise routine .

Tonus said...

(Testing the reply function)

I don't see exercise as a magic bullet in the sense that it requires some time, effort and scheduling. To me, a magic bullet is something that requires very little change in our habits, or none, but provides a tangible benefit. Such as those "fat burning" pills or that powder that you sprinkle on food that is supposed to make you eat less.

Galina L. said...

I refer to some links in post about "exercise pill", I also don't agree with the thinking that exercise is an insurance against a weight loss. Unfortunately, humans have an unlimited ability to do the right thing in a wrong way. I am referring to my personal experience.

Sanjeev said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sanjeev said...

brown fat is significant (not to be confused with huge or even big) in some humans ... those who do hard, long labour in cold environments (Lyle McDonald pointed this out to me when I was skeptical that brown fat was significant in humans)

Lumberjacks in Finland are the classic example click here

or copy and paste to be sure you're work safe:
https://www.google.com/search?client=ubuntu&channel=fs&q=%22brown+fat%22+lumberjack+finland+&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8

Sanjeev said...

Finland's a long way from British Columbia, so don't even think about breaking into impromptu song ...

Bill said...

Sanjeev, I much prefer the SECOND result of the google search to which you linked:

Long-term alcohol consumption and brown adipose tissue in man.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2167842
(jk)

Evelyn aka CarbSane said...

Sanjeev, you are brilliant!! You've just come up with the next great reason why eating high fat low carb is THE way to go! I'm willing to bet that the Inuit have a lot of brown fat too, and we all know they eat VLCHF. Therefore to get more brown fat we can either exercise like "fools", or we can just sit on our asses and eat like the Inuit. Yes ... brilliant!!

@Bill ... what's your poison? Leptinade or a Cherry-Pickin Martini? I think we need to have a new drink here at the Asylum Bar & Grill ... there are Harvey Wallbangers, Tom Collins', etc. Gotta work on an Ignatius Reilly :D

Sanjeev said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sanjeev said...

When I went to Finland I noted they seemed to eat a bit more meat than North Americans, but boy do they love their bread and potatoes. I would seriously doubt that those lumberjacks are low carb.

The current low carb marketers could try it BUT considering the sales pitch to date has included

good food (being satisfied on tasty food is the exact opposite of discomfort)
and zero work (no exercise, again the exact opposite of discomfort)

... they'll have get REALLY creative to take that brown fat research and ditch the salient parts

"cold as hell" (excessive discomfort)
and
"long hours of hard labour" (for most people this is one definition of <oh noes> DISCOMFORT </oh noes>, and <gasp> EXERCISE </gasp>

Sarah Barracuda said...

Whenever people bring up BAT and cold environments, I always wonder whether the compensatory eating from feeling cold negates any beneficial metabolic effects. Granted we're not hibernating animals who start gorging at first frost, but still.... I imagine that if one is used to eating purely ad lib, the increase in intake from being cold would create a less favorable ratio of white/regular fat to BAT, if anything.

Sanjeev said...

I saw nothing alcohol related either when I first researched Lyle's answer or just now (followed and skimmed each hit) ... Google's giving us different hits apparently.

Debra Gray said...

There are so many things I could say. I've been a personal trainer for many years and seen more diets and the latest in the exercise trends than I care to admit. It still comes back around to exercise more and eat less. At least do some kind of exercise, not only for the body but for the mind. Stop looking for a magic pill or promises that a certain machine will be the answer to all your problems. Even if you lost all the weight that you wanted to would you be happy? Start by changing yourself, little by little. People spend thousands of dollars per year for a quick fix that usually turns out to be a disappointment. It's very sad. I suggest to try and find 30 minutes a day to break out of that mentality and treat your body well. By the way, as far as brown fat in an adult body--who knows how much brown fat is actually in an individual adult?

Debra Gray said...

Thank you for your comments. I totally agree.

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