Longevity Briefs: Could We Reverse Obesity By Turning ‘Bad’ Fat Into ‘Good’ Fat?

Posted on 16 May 2022

Longevity briefs provides a short summary of novel research in biology, medicine, or biotechnology that caught the attention of our researchers in Oxford, due to its potential to improve our health, wellbeing, and longevity.

Why is this research important: Adipocytes, aka fat cells, come in different varieties. Most adipocytes in the human body are white adipocytes, and their main role is to store excess nutrients as a molecule called triacylglycerol. Adults also have a small number of brown adipocytes, which consume nutrients in order to generate heat and maintain body temperature. Beige adipocytes are more common than brown, and share characteristics of both white and brown adipocytes.

Having too much white adipose tissue is a risk factor for many diseases including type II diabetes, heart disease and cancer, but having more brown and beige adipocytes seems to protect against obesity and associated diseases. Because of this, scientists are interested in compounds that could encourage the production of beige and brown adipocytes. One such compound is Cy3G. Cy3G is a type of anthocyanin – a group of compounds typically found in colourful fruits and vegetables such as blueberries, and which appear to have many health benefits including protection against obesity.

What did the researchers do: In this study, researchers cultured mouse pre-adipocytes, which are cells within fat tissue that are capable of becoming any of the three types of adipocyte mentioned above. Some preadipocytes were left untreated as a control, while others were treated with varying concentrations of Cy3G for 7 days. Over the course of 3 days, the cells were grown with a cocktail of hormones including the blood sugar control hormone insulin. This encourages the cells to fully develop into adipocytes.

Key takeaway(s) from this research: The cells treated with Cy3G developed into adipocytes that more closely resembled beige adipocytes under the microscope. Treated cells contained more mitochondria (the ‘cellular organs’ responsible for converting nutrients into energy and heat) and tended to contain many small fat droplets rather than a single large one. Both of these are characteristics of beige and brown adipocytes.

Microscope images showing fully developed adipocytes. In the treated cells (right), lipid droplets (red) are smaller and more numerous than in the untreated cells (left). This is a key characteristic of beige/brown adipocytes.
Increasing cAMP levels of preadipocytes by cyanidin-3-glucoside treatment induces the formation of beige phenotypes in 3T3-L1 adipocytes

When the researchers studied the activity of genes within treated and untreated cells, they found that Cy3G increased the activity of genes associated with the production of new mitochondria, which is a feature of beige and brown adipocytes. They also found an increase in the activity of a molecule called AMPK, which is considered to be a pro-longevity, anti-ageing molecule, and of proteins related to heat production by mitochondria.

This study suggests that Cy3G might encourage the development of beige adipocytes, but we should remember that what works for mouse cells in the lab might not work in living humans. With that being said, anthocyanins are well absorbed from our food into the blood. If their effects on human cells are similar to those shown here, the only question remaining will be what dose is required to achieve a meaningful benefit.


Increasing cAMP levels of preadipocytes by cyanidin-3-glucoside treatment induces the formation of beige phenotypes in 3T3-L1 adipocytes: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jnutbio.2016.09.018

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