Metabolism research of the last 20 years
The latest results of metabolic and brain research draw an increasingly clear picture of the influences on which one's own body weight is controlled. Far more factors seem to play a role here than the number of calories consumed. A largely unknown weight influencer is the brain itself, as a reputed metabolic researcher discovered in 20 years of research.
Professor Jens Brüning is Director at the Max Planck Institute for Metabolism Research and at the same time one of the world's most renowned experts in the research of energy metabolism in the brain. In his research, he has shown that the brain, in conjunction with the hormone insulin, plays a central role in the control of body weight.
Overweight has complex causes
In his studies, Brüning reports that our brain has a finely-tuned system of hormones, their control signals and certain brain cells, which play a significant role in the energy metabolism and thus have a direct influence on body weight. In view of the ever-increasing number of overweight people, his findings play an important role in developing effective countermeasures. Lack of willpower as the main cause of obesity is therefore considered obsolete.
Insulin and diabetes
Over the past 20 years, the metabolism expert has been involved in numerous much-noticed studies. So he worked on the recognition that diabetes develops when body cells no longer respond to the hormone insulin or when the body does not produce enough insulin. Insulin plays a special role among hormones because, according to Brüning, it is the only hormone that can lower the level of glucose in the body.
Glucose in the blood
In healthy persons, the blood sugar level moves within set limits. After eating it rises sharply – with physical effort it falls off quickly. Much of the glucose is consumed by the muscles. Excess sugar gets into the liver, where it is converted to fat as long-term storage.
The brain participates in the energy metabolism
Further research has enabled Brüning and his team to selectively deactivate receptors for insulin in certain tissues such as muscles, liver or brain. So more could be learned about the hormone. For the first time in this way the involvement of the brain in the energy metabolism could be detected.
Brain cells control responses to insulin
The findings led to the discovery of a small group of cells: the so-called AgRP cells in the hypothalamus. This brain region is involved in most hormonal processes. With the aid of state-of-the-art technology, Brüning's team was able to show that the AgRP cells not only control their appetite, but also determine how much glucose the liver releases from our fat reserves. In addition, brain cells also control how sensitive the body is to insulin.
What happens in the body in case of heavy obesity?
Brüning also discovered that the AgRP cells of obese individuals no longer respond to insulin. It comes to an insulin resistance, whereby the cells can no longer properly perceive their task. This discovery forms the basis for the development of anti-obesity drugs.
Brüning's pioneering research was recently awarded the Heinrich Wieland Prize, which is endowed with € 100,000. "Over the past 20 years, Jens Brüning has pioneered groundbreaking research to identify the brain's key function in regulating metabolism and uncovering its control of blood sugar, appetite, and body weight," says Professor F.-Ulrich Hart of the award. Panel together. (Vb)
Graduate editor (FH) Volker Blasek
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