Disturbing and troubling data came to surface last year. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the prevalence of obesity is 39.8% and affects about 93.3 million adults in the United States. Adult obesity rates exceed 35% in states like West Virginia, Mississippi, Iowa, Oklahoma and Alabama.

Even more disturbing are the statistics in children and adolescents. About 18% of people aged between 2 and 19 are obese. To go even deeper, 14.5% of babies between two and four years old suffer from obesity. As you can see, this is a nationwide problem.

What worries the medical community is that obesity is one of the principal risk factors for diabetes and other serious conditions. The National Diabetes Statistics Report stated that on 2017, more than 23 million people in the United States suffer from diabetes. The report doesn’t discriminate between type 1 or type 2 diabetes. However, it clarifies that “type 2 diabetes accounts for 90% to 95% of all diabetes cases”. And type 2 diabetes can be easily avoided. How? Reducing body weight is a perfect starting point.

Even though body fat is associated with excess weight and obesity, that is not entirely accurate. Research over the past years suggests that brown fat in our bodies could actually help us lose weight. And scientist’s curiosity has gone even further, so studies are now linking CBD to brown fat, which means that CBD can actually be involved in preventing obesity, and as a direct consequence, diabetes.

Endocannabinoid system, CBD and metabolism

All vertebrate animals have an endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS plays a key role in homeostasis, which helps the body keep everything in balance. When cannabinoids interact with the ECS, it can regulate appetite, pain, inflammation, thermoregulation, muscle control, energy balance and stress, among others.

The ECS also plays an important role in metabolism. It helps regulate calories before turning them into energy, as well as fat metabolism. This link between metabolism, fat burning and cannabinoids caused scientists to start thinking: Is there any correlation between the endocannabinoid system, CBD and weight loss? Brown fat was the missing piece of the puzzle.

Understanding body fats

Although body fat has a negative connotation, not all fats are bad. The mayor role of fats is to store and use energy for our body. Without fat, the body won’t be able to store and use energy when it’s needed. But, too much fat is not good for your body, mainly because it can lead to obesity and related conditions. It is important to differentiate two types of fats: white fat and brown fat, in order to understand how CBD can prevent obesity.

White Fat

White fat, also known as white adipose tissue (WAT), is our body’s main type of fat. It is found under the skin and also around internal organs. This last type of fat is known as visceral fat. White fat is our main source of energy. It stores energy and accumulates it in our bodies. When this type of fat accumulates, it produces energy and keeps the body warm. White fat also works as a sensor for hormones such as insulin and other hormones that are related to sex and stress.

But too much white fat can be harmful. If you consume more calories than you can burn, this will produce accumulation of white fat. If accumulated in excess, white fat can lead to obesity and create a higher risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.

White fat is not the only fat that interacts with our bodies. There is another type of fat that can help get rid of that accumulated white fat.

Brown Fat

Brown fat, or brown adipose tissue (BAT) also stores energy, but in a much smaller space than white fat does. It is called brown fat because of its color. It contains iron rich mitochondria, and because of this it gets its brownish color. And the main purpose of this fat is to burn.

Brown fat uses the energy from calories to burn and then create heat. This process is called thermogenesis. When brown fat starts burning, it also burns calories. So, in the process of keeping us warm, brown fat can also help us lose and/or maintain a healthy weight. Brown fat is found mainly in animals. Before hibernation, animals increase their body fat by eating more than usual in the months prior to winter. When they enter hibernation, brown fat starts doing all the burning, keeping them cozy and warm. Babies also accumulate large amounts of brown fat to keep their bodies warm. Adults have brown fat too, but in a much smaller scale. It is mostly reserved in the neck and shoulders.

How to increase brown fat levels

There are several ways to increase brown fat. Exercising on a regular basis and sleeping in cooler temperatures makes the body produce more brown fat to keep warm. Also, eating food high on melatonin, such as ginger and cherries, can increase brown fat.

But white fat is very easy to adquiere and accumulate, unlike brown fat. If there is a way to transform white fat into brown fat, this could be a breakthrough in the fight against obesity. Well, a recent study suggests that CBD has the ability to do just that.

CBD can transform white fat into brown fat, study suggests

On April 2016, Korean scientists published a research paper which is the first step towards understanding how CBD is able to play a major role in preventing obesity. Hilal Ahmad Parray and Jong Won Yun set to study the effects of CBD and its potential as a treatment and prevention of obesity. The paper was published in the scientific journal Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry. Their findings were remarkable.

They found that CBD can stimulate genes and proteins that will eventually improve the processes of breaking down and oxidizing fat. It will also increase the body’s ability to burn calories by expanding the activity of mitochondria. Remember that mitochondria are what makes brown fat look that way.

Hilal Ahmad Parray and Jong Won Yun also discovered that CBD can “decrease the expression of proteins involved in fat cell generation.

When they analysed all of this results together, they realized CBD has the ability to induce a process they call “fat browning”. This means that CBD can transform white fat in our bodies into brown fat. And we already explained how brown fat, by burning calories, can help us lose weight. This is what the Korean researchers concluded:

“These data suggest possible roles for CBD in browning of white adipocytes, augmentation of lipolysis, thermogenesis, and reduction of lipogenesis. In conclusion, the current data suggest that CBD plays dual modulatory roles in the form of inducing the brown-like phenotype as well as promoting lipid metabolism. Thus, CBD may be explored as a potentially promising therapeutic agent for the prevention of obesity”.

CBD and prevention of diabetes

CBD has potential benefits for people who suffer from diabetes. When these cannabinoids interacts with the endocannabinoid system, they have the ability to stabilize blood sugars. Also, it can reduce neuropathic pain by working as an anti inflammatory agent of nerves. This anti inflammatory property also helps in arterial inflammation, which is very common in diabetes. Cannabidiol also serves as antispasmodic agent that will relieve cramps and gastrointestinal disorders. However, there is no clinical evidence.

But, even if there is a lack of clinical studies (in humans) to support this hypothesis, preclinical studies conducted on mice are the ground point for further research to prove how CBD can prevent type 2 diabetes in humans.

In 2006, Israeli researchers from the Hadassah University Hospital in Jerusalem published a study to investigate how CBD can lower incidence of diabetes in mice. They reported that mice significantly reduced the incidence of diabetes: from an  incidence of 86% in non-treated control mice to an incidence of 30% in CBD-treated mice. After closely examining pancreatic islets, they also concluded that CBD-treated mice revealed significantly reduced insulitis.

What is more promising is the fact that a clinical trial is about to come to surface. Also in Israel, researchers from Ananda Scientific Mission Statement are in the process of arrangements for Phase 2 trials on CBD and diabetes.

Chief Executive Officer Mark J. Rosenfeld stated the potential benefits of CBD in treating diabetes: “Unlike insulin and other existing medications for diabetes, CBD may actually suppress, reverse and perhaps cure the disease. So, the therapeutic alternatives offered by cannabis chemistry could go far in helping resolve conditions responsible for a huge public health crisis in China and elsewhere.”

Evidence shows promise, but clinical trials are needed

As obesity tendency in the United States grows every year, it has become a public health matter. Even more when obesity increases the the risk of type 2 diabetes. It is believed in the medical community that brown fat can induce weight loss by burning calories in the process of thermogenesis. Research has gone further and set a correlation between CBD and how this cannabinoid has a “browning fat effect”, which can transform white fat into brown fat. Other studies on mice suggests that CBD can also prevent diabetes.

CBD shows promise on preventing type 2 diabetes and obesity. However, studies suggest that further research is needed to understand and analyze how CBD can prevent these two conditions in humans.