Target Health Blog

Some Gut Cells Slow Down Metabolism, Accelerate Cardiovascular Disease

February 4, 2019


According to a study published in Nature (30 January 2019), it has been discovered how specific cells in the guts of mice slow down metabolism and eventually contribute to metabolic-related diseases. According to the authors, the findings could have important implications for the prevention and treatment of these kinds of metabolic diseases in humans. The cells are called intraepithelial T lymphocytes (or natural IELs), and when they are not present, the metabolism of mice goes into overdrive. According to the authors, the mice become metabolically hyperactive and, even when consuming a diet very high in fat and sugar, are able to resist metabolic diseases such as obesity, hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, diabetes, and atherosclerosis. When natural IELs are present, however, it was found that they limit the availability of a type of hormones, incretin GLP-1, that help speed up metabolism. By limiting GLP-1, the natural IELs, in effect, slow down the body's metabolism and conserve the energy it gets from food.

Over millions of years of evolution, this efficient use of energy provided an essential advantage: when food was scarce, organisms stored rather than burn some of the ingested energy, and they survived longer. Now, according to the authors, with food so abundant, this energy-saving mechanism can backfire and lead to unhealthy outcomes. The current research could eventually shed light on how to prevent and treat cardiovascular disease and other related ailments in humans. The first step is to determine the number and variations of natural IELs in people, then answer key questions. Do individuals with low numbers of IELs get protected against cardiovascular disease? Could blocking IELs reduce their risks? Looking forward, there is a need to better understand IELs function in metabolism, and to know whether therapeutic targeting of IELs in humans can be a treatment for obesity, hypercholesterolemia, diabetes, and hypertension.

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