It’s January, and many of you are likely scrambling to pick a diet in an attempt to lose some of the post-Christmas weight gain. Your body's conversion of all the excess sugar consumed into fat certainly didn't help, but a team of researchers from the University of Montreal may have found a way to regulate this. As reported in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a new enzyme has been discovered that can directly control how your body converts sugar and fats.
Mammalian cells use both sugar (glucose) and fatty acids as their main sources of energy. Much of this glucose is stored in the liver as glycogen, a dense compound that can be mobilized whenever the body requires it for energy production. Those in developed countries tend to have diets that are too sugar-rich, giving themselves far more glucose than their body needs at the time. An excess of carbohydrates will also produce too much sugar for the body to be able to immediately use. Any large glucose excess is converted and stored as fat, and a major build up can lead to obesity.
Insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreatic beta cells, causes the liver to convert glucose into glycogen. Those with type 2 diabetes do not produce enough insulin when required, or they produce ineffective insulin that isn’t able to interact with the glucose in the blood, meaning glucose remains in the bloodstream.
Excess glucose in the blood also leads to the over-generation of a glycerol 3-phosphate (Gro3P) within cells. Normally, Gro3P participates in many cellular processes, including the formation of fats (lipids) and the conversion of glucose into other useful compounds (glycolysis).
However, too much Gro3P is toxic to cells; tissues can be damaged, and the metabolic, glucose, and fat conversion processes are unable to operate properly. The derangement of these can lead to type 2 diabetes and even cardiovascular (heart) disease. Thus, excess glucose in the body is essentially toxic for a variety of reasons.
Cupcakes, of course, will input a fairly high amount of sugar into your bloodstream. Ruth Black/Shutterstock
As this new study details, an enzyme called Gro3P phosphatase, or “G3PP,” has been discovered, hiding within all types of body tissue. This enzyme appears to be able to regulate both the conversion of glucose and fats into other compounds, and the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the cell's "energy currency." This means that G3PP has direct influence over how glucose and fats are used within the body.
Using laboratory rats, the researchers showed that increasing the activity of G3PP within their livers ultimately lowers their weight gain and ability to produce glucose from the liver. Murthy Madiraju, a researcher at the University of Montreal Hospital Research Centre (CRCHUM), noted in a statement that “G3PP prevents excessive formation and storage of fat and it also lowers excessive production of glucose in liver, a major problem in diabetes.”
This offers a stepping stone for researchers hoping to manipulate this enzyme within humans. By using G3PP to alter how glucose and fats are absorbed and produced, those unable to control this themselves – such as those suffering from type 2 diabetes – could potentially be treated.