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Chinese Herb Turns 'Bad' Fat Into Good

Nov 26, 2014 03:11 PM EST

Not too long ago, the world was introduced to "brown fat," an arguably good type of fat that helps healthy people covert unused calories into body heat - a boon for the winter months, especially when watching one's waistline. Now, a new study has shown that a traditional Chinese medicinal herb can help convert normal fat into this beneficial type.

The study, recently published in the journal Nature Communications, details how the plant extract berberine, common in many Chinese herbal medicines, can aid weight control in mice by activating brown fat cells and converting white adipose into brown.

Interestingly, while past studies have linked berberine to a lowered insulin resistance in animals, this is the first time that the extract has been so directly linked to weight control.

According to the study, researchers discovered this connection after giving mice populations berberine every three days for a month. The mice that were given the extract boasted far more active brown fat cells in their bodies, burning more calories than control groups. Some of the mice even began to shown signs that some of their white adipose was functioning like brown fat - the start of a conversion.

Whether the plant product will have such a similarly notable effect on human fat remains to be seen.

"Adult humans, even lean ones, have much lower brown adipose capacity and 'browning' capacity than rodents," Dominique Langin at the Institute of Metabolic and Cardiovascular Diseases, who's own work was referenced in this latest study, told New Scientist.

That essentially means that the weight control benefits of the extract will be limited simply by how much brown fat a human can have. However, the researchers of this latest study suggest that their results still warrant further investigation, especially if it could lead to a new and natural way to prevent obesity.

Still, not everyone is on board. A recent study has also found evidence that berberine may be toxic to mice, interfering with their nervous systems. This could mean the extract poses a threat to humans as well, and many are now arguing that it should be investigated for safety concerns long before it is considered for dietary supplementation.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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