Harvard scientists recently discovered a new hormone called fabkin that enhances metabolic health. This hormone may contribute to both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, according to research led by the Sabri Ülker Center for Metabolic Research at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The study found that mice and human patients with either type 1 or 2 diabetes had abnormally high blood levels of fabkin. Researchers discovered that inhibiting fabkin activity stopped the development of both types of diabetes in the mice. The team found that fabkin behaves similarly in humans and believes that the hormone could lead to new medical treatments.

“For many decades, we have been searching for the signal that communicates the status of energy reserves in adipocytes to generate appropriate endocrine responses, such as the insulin production from pancreatic beta cells,” said senior author Gökhan S. Hotamisligil, director of the Sabri Ülker Center. “We now have identified fabkin as a novel hormone that controls this critical function through a very unusual molecular mechanism.”

The findings first appeared in the journal Nature on December 8, 2021.

Several hormones play a role in regulating metabolic health, such as insulin and leptin. However, fabkin behaves differently from these hormones because it’s not a single molecule with a defined receptor. Fabkin consists of a functional protein complex with multiple proteins:

  • fatty acid-binding protein 4 (FABP4);
  • adenosine kinase (ADK) and;
  • nucleoside diphosphate kinase (NDPK).

How Fabkin Impacts Metabolic Health

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Researchers performed several experiments and found that fabkin regulates energy signals outside of cells. These signals then move through several receptors and control target cell function. For instance, with diabetes, fabkin governs the operation of beta cells that contain insulin production in the pancreas.

Over ten years ago, Hotamisligil and colleagues found that fat cells secrete the protein FABP4 during lipolysis. This process occurs when lipids stored within fat cells break down, usually due to starvation.

Since then, multiple studies have found a link between FABP4 and metabolic conditions such as obesity, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. However, scientists couldn’t identify the mechanism driving this reaction in those studies.

In this study, researchers found that when fat cells secrete FABP4, it binds with the enzymes ADK and NDPK in the bloodstream. It then transforms into the protein complex they’ve now identified as fabkin.

Newly Discovered Hormone Helps Regulate Metabolism

In this protein complex, FABP4 changes the behavior of NDPK and ADK to regulate levels of ATP and ADP. These molecules play a critical role in metabolic health and functioning. They’re found in all living things and provide cells with short-term energy.

Researchers found that surface receptors on nearby cells pick up on changing levels of ATP and ADP. After sensing the molecular shift, the cells respond to the changing energy status. Thus, fabkin helps regulate the function of these target cells and plays a vital role in metabolic health.

The authors revealed that fabkin targets beta cells in the pancreas, which produce insulin. This hormone contributes significantly to the development of diabetes in humans. However, when the research team used an antibody in mice subjects to neutralize fabkin, they didn’t develop diabetes. Also, when the team gave the antibody to obese mice with diabetes, their health returned.

“The discovery of fabkin required us to take a step back and reconsider our fundamental understanding of how hormones work.” said lead author Kacey Prentice, research associate in the Sabri Ülker Center and Department of Molecular Metabolism. “I am extremely excited to find a new hormone, but even more so about seeing the long-term implications of this discovery.”

Four Ways to Boost Metabolic Health Naturally

Until scientists can formulate a treatment using fabkin, it’s helpful to know natural ways to enhance your metabolism. Thankfully, you can ramp up your metabolism with some simple lifestyle changes.

  1. Get moving. Aerobic activity, in particular, helps boost metabolic health because it triggers the release of signaling molecules. When these molecules get released into the bloodstream, it gives the muscles more energy. This increases your metabolism over time as your fitness levels improve. Start with 30-minute workouts at least three times per week.
  2. Prioritize sleep. Sleep deprivation can seriously affect your hormones, making you feel hungrier and more impulsive. In one study by Stanford University and the University of Wisconsin, adults who slept five hours or less per night had higher ghrelin levels. This hormone stimulates your appetite, and sleep deprivation only increases this feeling. Participants in the study also had lower levels of the hormone leptin, which suppresses appetite.
  3. Eat more fiber. Many Americans severely lack fiber in their diets, but it can help boost metabolic health. Fiber-rich foods take more energy for your body to digest, speeding up your metabolism in the process. Opt for foods like beans, whole grains, dark, leafy greens, berries, and apples to get more fiber in your diet.
  4. Also, eat plenty of protein. You know from the previous point that eating increases your metabolic rate, also known as the thermic effect of food (TEF). It’s the extra energy required to digest and absorb nutrients from your food. One study found that protein causes TEF to rise more than carbs or fat. Protein increased metabolism by 15-30%, compared with 5-10% for carbs and up to 3% for fats.

metabolic health

Final Thoughts on Discovery of Hormone that Regulates Metabolic Health

Harvard researchers recently discovered a new hormone called fabkin that helps boost metabolic health. The study found that the hormone may play a role in developing type 1 and type 2 diabetes. It also revealed that blocking the hormone in mice prevented both types of diabetes from developing.

This study shows promising results for those with diabetes, as scientists hope to develop treatments with fabkin in the future. For now, they will continue to perform more research to solidify findings.

Metabolic health is crucial for many functions throughout the body. If you want to boost your metabolism, make sure to follow the fundamental pillars of health – diet, exercise, proper sleep, and a positive mindset.