The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Montreal, found that the vitamin A derivative can stimulate the activity of genes that protect heart from diseases. The study was based on obese and insulin-resistant mice.
"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," said Daniel-Constantin Manolescu, first author of the study, in a news release.
Researchers have found a possible mechanism that explains why retinoic acid helps treat obesity and diabetes type-2. They say that the secret is in brown fat - a type of fat that is involved in heat regulation and is mostly found in babies.
Vitamin A derivatives stimulate a mitochondrial uncoupling protein (UCP1), which changes the way energy is utilized in the body.
According to researchers, the effect of retinoic acid on metabolism can be seen in hibernating animals, which gain weight during spring months without developing diabetes. These animals don't move much in winter and still lose a lot of weight. Studies have shown that these animals store large amounts of Vitamin A in their liver.
Retinoic acid is also known for its role in cell differentiation and maturation and may play an important role in nudging pre-adipocytes to become brown instead of white fat cells. Other scientists are looking for ways to increase brown fat in the body. Research has shown that brown fat helps people lose weight.
Researchers in the present study describe brown fat as "boilers" that "melt" reserves of white fat before it accumulates and causes problems.
"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 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," said Dr. Jean-Louis Chiasson, one of the study authors.
The study findings were presented at the Annual Conference of the Canadian Nutrition Society in Saint John's, Newfoundland.
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