Scientists say that following a diet high in a particular type of fat may increase metabolism and help people to lose weight. This is according to a study published in The Journal of Lipid Research.
Researchers from Texas Tech University say their findings could lead to the development of supplements and a diet regime that could speed up metabolism while reducing muscle fatigue.
The researchers say that the skeletal muscles of those who suffer from obesity contain a particular enzyme, called SCD1, that is able to break down saturated fats.
SCD1 works by converting saturated fat into monounsaturated fat, which is easier to metabolize.
Usually, the liver produces this enzyme dependent on the fat content of the food consumed, the researchers say, and fatty adipose tissue produces the enzyme constantly as a way of regulating itself.
Researchers discovered that an enzyme found in the skeletal muscles of obese individuals, SCD1, increased metabolism and energy in a mouse study and could lead to human diet supplements.
However, the researchers say the enzyme is also produced in muscle that is heavily exercised, or the skeletal muscle of obese individuals.
To determine the exact mechanisms of SCD1, they decided to genetically modify mice so that their muscles would continuously produce the enzyme.
SCD1 increased metabolism and energy
The researchers then compared the skeletal muscle of the genetically modified mice with that of wild mice.
The genetically modified mice demonstrated high levels of polyunsaturated fats, compared with the wild mice, particularly linoleic acid that can only get into the body through diet. This meant that the modified mice were consuming more food.
However, the study showed that the modified mice weighed less and had increased exercise ability, compared with the wild mice.
Ched Paton, assistant professor of nutritional biochemistry in the Department of Nutrition, Hospitality and Retailing at Texas Tech University, explains:
"We found in the genetically modified animals that they had a hypermetabolic rate. They were increasing their energy consumption, and they experienced greatly increased exercise capacity."
"For example, on the exercise wheels, normal mice fatigue after 7 to 10 minutes. These genetically modified animals wouldn't fatigue for about 70 minutes. So they were running a lot longer."
Enzyme causes 'uncoupling' in muscle DNA
From this, the researchers wanted to look deeper into what was happening in the skeletal muscle.
They found that increased SCD1 alongside increased food consumption produced more linoleic acid in muscle tissues.
The acid then triggered part of the muscle cell's DNA, which in turn encouraged cells to create more mitochondria, as well as "switch on" a protein that prompts the cell to burn up excess energy from the extra food as heat. The researchers call this "uncoupling."
Potential for new diet supplements
Prof. Paton notes that their findings could lead to supplementation within a human diet in order to achieve the same outcome:
"You can't change the human genome, but that gives us insight if you could activate the same part of the DNA in human in skeletal muscles that burn off excess energy as heat instead of storing it."He adds:
"Perhaps it's a supplement people could take that will turn on the cells' metabolic machinery, burn off energy and increase mitochondria."
Medical News Today recently reported on a study suggesting that a healthy diet discourages gut microbes that can trigger obesity.