Activating brown fat with exercise, caffeine intake, and exposure to cold temperatures has emerged in recent years as a potential key to melting calories and shedding pounds faster. According to a new study, it might also help with avoiding chronic diseases like diabetes, high cholesterol, and hypertension.
Let’s back up a second: If you didn’t already know, there are two different types of fat in our bodies. The regular kind, known as white fat (or white adipose tissue if you’re a fancy scientist), is the one that stores excess calories and packs on frustrating inches.
Brown fat (or brown adipose tissue), on the other hand, seems to only show up in smaller pockets around our necks and shoulders. Although there may be less of it, this type of fat appears to burn calories at a much quicker rate. It does this by consuming glucose, which means it can be especially helpful for balancing blood sugar.
As a press release from the Rockefeller University Hospital points out, research surrounding brown fat in humans has been limited and only started slowly picking up in the last 10 years. However, a team of their doctors released a promising new discovery earlier this month.
After analyzing PET scans from 52,000 patients (making it the largest study of this fat in humans to date), the researchers found that those who had the most observable amounts brown fat also had significantly less amounts of chronic illnesses like type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension, and other heart disease — even if the individuals were overweight.
Paul Cohen, a physician at the hospital and one of the authors of the study, said it seems like the brown fat in those patients protected them from the harmful effects of white fat. He added, “These findings make us more confident about the potential of targeting brown fat for therapeutic benefit.”
This is especially exciting considering obesity is generally believed to make people more vulnerable to metabolic diseases like diabetes and high cholesterol. The ability to activate this fat might be the answer to helping people avoid those conditions, whether they also lose weight or not. Plus, the researchers note that issues like hypertension are more connected to our hormonal system and this is the first time brown fat has shown any influence in that area.
More research is needed to determine just how beneficial brown fat is — and how to activate it. This study notes that getting in regular exercise is one of the best options they know so far. Others have shown that braving a cold shower for a couple minutes can help because brown fat plays a role in our body temperature regulation. Or you can try sipping a tasty cup of coffee, which also seems to flip the brown fat switch.
Some people seem to have higher levels of brown fat than others, which may be due to genetics, but researchers are still looking into this as well.
We’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for even more new discoveries about this impressive type of fat and how it can help us all live healthier!