World's most obese man
Representational image Reuters

Don't starve yourself to death to lose weight. In fact, a new study says that you can actually prevent gaining weight by having a high-fat diet.

According to researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, they have found out a way to prevent the fat cells from growing larger that leads to obesity and weight gain.

They activated a pathway in fat cells in mice and found that they could feed the study animals a high-fat diet without making them fat or obese.

Senior investigator Fanxin Long believes that this could help them to get a new therapeutic target which could be used to treat obesity.

Fanxin Long said: "What's particularly important is that the animals in our study ate a high-fat diet but didn't gain weight, and in people, too much fat in the diet is a common cause of obesity."

He explained that a person gains weight because there's an increase in the fat cell size, and they grow bigger to hold 'larger fat droplets'.

The research was focused on the 'so-called Hedgehog protein pathway'. The team engineered some mice with genes that activated the pathway in fat cells when they ate a high-fat diet.

The results showed that after eating the high-fat diet for eight weeks animals whose Hedgehog pathways had not been activated became obese, but the ones engineered with genes didn't gain any more weight.

"More importantly, when we did metabolic studies, we found that the animals with the active Hedgehog pathway not only were leaner, they also had lower blood-glucose levels and were more sensitive to insulin," Long said.

"But because the pathway is believed to work in similar ways in humans and mice, it might be possible to target the pathway to the fat tissue as a treatment for obesity," Long added.

However, he believes that translating these findings to humans could be 'tricky'. Before using any drugs to activate the Hedgehog pathway, it had to be seen that they don't pose any side effects. In fact, certain cancers have been linked to too much Hedgehog activity, so people need to be careful, he added.

"If we can come up with strategies to carefully target fat cells, then I think activating this pathway could be effective in the fight against obesity," he said.

The study is published online in the journal eLife.