Last updated on February 11th, 2019
When the our bodies get more calories than we need, the excess calories are converted to fat and we gain weight.
That’s just the normal way of things. It’s how our bodies are programmed to work.
However, researchers from the University of Copenhagen have conducted a study that suggests it may be possible to reprogram the body in a way that makes weight gain impossible, no matter how many calories are consumed each day. Unfortunately, so far, the system is only viable for mice.
The mice used in the study became invulnerable to obesity after the researchers genetically removed an enzyme located in the adipose tissue.
Despite eating a diet that was as calorie-rich as that of a human eating only pizzas and burgers, the mice failed to gain any weight at all.
Although a similar treatment is unlikely to be available for humans any time soon, any research that provides a better insight into the reasons the body gains weight can only be seen as a good thing because obesity levels continue to increase, on a worldwide scale.
Why Our Basic Genetic Programming Has Become a Problem
In the distant past, things were different for the human race. Our early ancestors often had to contend with times when food was scarce or unavailable.
Back then, the body’s ability to store excess calories during times of plenty and then put them to use at a later date was a life-saver and is probably a big part of the reason why our species survived.
Today, things are very different. Most of us are unlikely to have to contend with such shortages.
Easy-access to foods that are high in fat and sugar has changed the nature of the game and it’s become all to easy to allow unhealthy eating habits to set the body’s fat storing capabilities into overdrive.
How the Researchers Reset the Rodent’s Fat Storing Mechanism
The researchers at Copenhagen managed to successfully inhibit the fat storing capabilities of the mice by genetically removing an enzyme called NAMPT. The process made the mice completely resistant to weight gain, regardless of how often they ate or how many calories they consumed.
Making a comparison to humans existing on junk food, Karen Nørgaard Nielsen, first author on the publication, said:
“We fed the mice a diet that more or less corresponds to continuously eating burgers and pizza. Still, it was impossible for them to expand their fat tissue.”
The researchers’ ultimate goal was to to gain a better understanding of the fundamental underpinnings of why people become obese. They hope this knowledge may assist the development of new treatment methods for metabolic disease.
A Closer Look at What Happened When NAMPT Was Removed
As with most studies of this nature, the way the Fat-specific NAMPT knockout (FANKO) mice responded to high and low calorie intakes was compared to normal mice being fed the exact same food.
When both groups were fed a healthy, low fat diet for 12 weeks, there was no discernible difference between the weight of the FANKO mice and the normal mice.
However, when fed a high fat diet for 12 weeks, the two groups responded very differently.
The normal mice became obese, while the weight of the FANKO mice remained the same. The FANKO mice also exhibited better blood glucose control, despite the fact that such high-calorie living should have caused their blood glucose levels to fluctuate wildly.
Why the Study is Important
NAMPT is found in many human tissues, not just in the fat.
The body uses it in a number of different ways, so removing it from humans could result in any number of unpredictable negative reactions.
However, the researchers believe their findings may pave the way for future investigations into the ways NAMPT governs the way the body stores excess calories.
If a better understanding can be reached, it may make it possible to directly target the underlying mechanisms that cause weight gain in humans and find a viable treatment for obesity and metabolic disease.
The entire study is available to read online.