Researchers at the University of Montreal have linked retinoic acid with the production of brown fat cells, a.k.a. good fat cells. Retinoic acid, the vitamin A derivative, could stimulate the body to produce brown fat cells instead of white fat cells. Brown fat cells are better than white fat cells because they create heat, kicking your metabolism into high gear. This process, called thermogenesis, occurs when the mitochondria of brown fat cells quickly oxidizes fatty acids to create body heat.
You don’t have to exercise to experience the fat burn. In fact, brown fat cells are found most often in hibernating animals. This type of fat cell speeds up the resting metabolism, or basal energy metabolism, of hibernating animals, helping them make it through their hibernation. University of Montreal researchers point out that hibernating animals have high amounts of vitamin A, the source of retinoic acid, in their livers.
Researchers studied the effect of retinoic acid on both hibernating and non-hibernating animals. Hibernating animals are associated with the ability to resist the development of type-2 diabetes. Researchers wanted to determine if there is a link between retinoic acid and the successful treatment of type-2 diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease. The results of this study were presented at the Annual Conference of the Canadian Nutrition Society.
University of Montreal researchers studied two groups of non-hibernating obese and insulin resistant mice. One group was treated with retinoic acid while the other was not. They observed that treatment with retinoic acid lowered the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and stopped collagen from collecting within the heart.
Daniel-Constatin Monolescu, first author of the study, points out, “Blood glucose, insulin resistance, body weight, and adipocyte size were significantly decreased in treated animals, including abdominal fat, while dietary intake and physical activity were similar for treated or non-treated animals. This suggests an increase in basal energy expenditure.” High blood glucose levels, insulin resistance, and large amounts of abdominal fat are all contributors to type-2 diabetes.
Even though both groups of obese mice ate the same food and had the same amount of exercise, the mice given retinoic acid treatments had a higher resting metabolism. Researchers speculate that the mice treated with retinoic acid were able to convert fat cells to brown fat. Untreated mice continued to create white fat, which can lead to obesity and the development of type-2 diabetes.
Dr. Jean-Louis Chiasson speculates that the results of this study could help researchers develop new medications to treat obesity and diabetes. “Our studies on animals show that retinoic acid induces normalization of blood glucose and reduction of obesity. It is an important contribution to understanding RA (retinoic acid) action on the liver, fat, muscles, and the heart, and on retinoid metabolism, energy metabolism, fatty acid oxidation, and insulin resistance. Our research identifies new metabolic effects of retinoids and may lead to anti-obesity and anti-diabetic medicines.”
While further testing needs to be done to establish the effectiveness of vitamin A for treating type-2 diabetes, obesity, and heart disease in humans, researchers point out that this study is ground-breaking and original. The use of retinoids to treat these dangerous health issues has garnered international attention. Treating type-2 diabetes, obesity, and heart disease with retinoic acid from vitamin A, a naturally occurring nutrient, is a much more attractive therapy for many who are seeking drug-free solutions for their health problems.