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Scientists identify brain switch that could control weight gain

The idea of “yo-yo dieting” refers to weight fluctuations that typically follow a period of dieting. A person may successfully lose weight on a diet but then gain, or yo-yo, back to their pre-diet weight.

The reason for this gain is simple, when we diet our bodies burn more fat in order to provide enough energy. During this period, the brain is in famine mode trying to conserve energy. When the diet is over, the body goes back to storing fat as normal and tries to make up for the lost calories.

Besides seeming like a waste of time and energy, yo-yo dieting can also be harmful to your health. One study found in that patients diagnosed with coronary artery disease, weight fluctuations doubled their risk of mortality.

But now, researchers from the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute have discovered a molecular switch in the brain that regulates fat burning. Their findings could help control post-diet weight gain and provide treatments for metabolic disorders and obesity.

The study, published in the journal Cell Reports, identified a protein called carnitine acetyltransferase (Crat) in mice that regulates the body’s fat storage after a famine or diet.

The researchers then modified a group of mice to have this fat storage protein genetically switched off, and after a diet, they continued to burn fat. Post-diet, the mice with the protein switched off burned through fat reserves at a greater than average rate.

The results show that it may be possible to regulate fat storage after a diet in humans by “tricking” the brain to stay out of famine mode.

“Manipulating this protein offers the opportunity to trick the brain and not replace the lost weight through increased appetite and storage of fat,” said Zane Andrews, an Associate Professor and member of the research team. “By regulating this protein, we can ensure that diet-induced weight loss stays off rather than sneaking back on.

By Kay Vandette, Staff Writer

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