Low-carbohydrate, high-fat (LC-HF) diets are popular for inducing weight loss in overweighed adults. Adaptive thermogenesis increased by specific effects of macronutrients on energy expenditure has been postulated to induce this weight loss. We studied brown adipose tissue (BAT) morphology and function following exposure to different LC-HF diets.
Methods: Male Wistar rats were fed a standard control diet ad libitum or pair-fed isoenergetic amounts of three experimental diets for 4 weeks. The diets had the following macronutrient composition (% metabolizable energy: carbohydrates, fat, protein): control (64.3/16.7/19), LC-HF-low protein (LC-HF-LP, 1.7/92.8/5.5), LC-HF-normal-protein (LC-HF-NP, 2.2/78.7/19.1), and a high fat diet with carbohydrates ("high fat", 19.4/61.9/18.7).
Results: Body weight gain was reduced in all pair-fed experimental groups as compared to rats fed the control diet, with more pronounced effect in rats on LC-HF diets than on the high fat diet with carbohydrates. High fat diets increased expression of PGC1α and ADRB3 in BAT indicating higher SNS outflow. However, UCP1 mRNA expression and expression of UCP1 assessed by immunohistochemistry was not different between diet groups. In accordance, analysis of mitochondrial function in-vitro by extracellular flux analyser (Seahorse Bioscience) and measurement of inducible thermogenesis in vivo (primary endpoint), explored by indirect calorimetry following norepinephrine injection, did not show significant differences between groups. Histology of BAT revealed increased lipid droplet size in rats fed the high-fat diet and both LC-HF diets.
Conclusion: All experimental diets upregulated expression of genes which are indicative for increased BAT activity. However, the functional measurements in vivo revealed no increase of inducible BAT thermogenesis. This indicates that lower body weight gain with LC-HF diets and a high fat diet in a pair-feeding setting is not caused by increased adaptive thermogenesis in BAT.