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Research Sheds Light on 'Starvation Hormone'

THURSDAY, Dec. 30 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers report that they've gained insight into the workings of the "starvation hormone," which appears to play a role in how the body stores fat to protect against future hunger.

The hormone, known as adiponectin, seems to be linked to both insulin sensitivity and the survival of cells. "Until now, there wasn't really an obvious connection between all these different phenomena," Dr. Philipp Scherer, a professor of internal medicine and cell biology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, said in a university news release.

Scherer discovered the hormone more than 16 years ago. In the new study, which was released online Dec. 26 in advance of publication in an upcoming print issue of Nature Medicine, Scherer and colleagues examined how the hormone influences different processes in the body.

"This paper shows that the common theme among all these different activities relies on adiponectin's interaction with a specific subset of lipids known as ceramides," Scherer said. These lipids contribute to cell suicide, and high levels of them appear to boost the risk of diabetes. But when adiponectin is introduced into them, the ceramides become good guys that help cells live.

"Adiponectin essentially provides a makeover of this ugly cousin," Scherer said, adding that the findings "endorse the idea that adiponectin is very important and is probably a key manipulator of lipid levels."

Research has suggested that high adiponectin levels coax the body into storing fat in fat cells. But when there's a lot of fat already in storage, the levels of the hormone drop and the body puts fat in places like the heart, liver and muscle tissues, where it can contribute to disease.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases has details on weight loss and nutrition myths.

-- Randy Dotinga

SOURCE: University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dec. 26, 2010

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