Your belly fat may hold the key to a sprightly old age

09 July 2020 | Muriel Cozier

Researchers from the University of Bern and the University Hospital Bern have used animal models to demonstrate the possibility of halting, and even partially reversing age-related impairments using a novel cell-based therapeutic approach.

Although life expectancy has risen; it is often linked to age-related health issues. Elderly people are more prone to infectious disease as the function of their immune system continuously declines with age.

Looking to identify new approaches to improve the health of the fast growing ageing population, researchers have demonstrated that visceral adipose tissue, commonly known as belly fat, is a contributing factor in the development of chronic low- grade inflammation.

Researchers from the Department for Biomedical Research and the Institute of Pathology at the University of Bern as well as the University Hospital Bern have reported that certain immune cells in belly fat play an essential role in regulating chronic low-grade inflammation and downstream ageing processes. As a result, it may be possible to use these cells and reverse some of the processes. The research findings have been reported in journal Nature Metabolism.

The research team led by Dr Mario Noti, formerly at the Institute of Pathology of the University of Bern and Dr Alexander Eggel from the Department for BioMedical Research at the University of Bern demonstrated that certain types of immune cells, known as eosinophils, which are predominantly found in the blood stream, are also present in the belly fat of humans and mice where they are responsible for maintaining local immune homeostasis.  With age the frequency of eosinophils in belly fat declines, while the number of pro-inflammatory macrophages increases. Owing to this imbalance, belly fat becomes a factor in ageing.

Investigating the possibility of reversing the process the researchers said ‘In different experimental approaches, we were able to show that transfers of eosinophils from young mice into aged recipients resolved not only local but also systemic low-grade inflammation. In these experiments, we observed that transferred eosinophils were selectively homing into adipose tissue.’ It was noted that this approach had a rejuvenating effect on the aged organism and as a result the animal showed significant improvements in physical fitness as assessed by endurance and grip strength tests. Moreover, the therapy had a rejuvenating effect on the immune system manifesting in improved vaccination responses of aged mice.

The observed aged related changes in adipose immune cell distribution in mice were also confirmed in humans. Dr Eggel commented ‘A future direction of our research will be to now leverage the gained knowledge for the establishment of targeted therapeutic approaches to promote and sustain healthy ageing in humans.’

DOI: 10.1038/s42255-020-0228-3

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