What is Brown Fat and Why do I Want It?

Ask anyone if they want more fat on their bodies and most likely the response will be a resounding “no way!” But before you shun the notion of added body fat, you may want to ask for clarification as to which color fat we are talking about here.

Yes, there is a difference between a fat’s color and its effect on your body. One color is responsible for the dreaded love handles, beer-bellies and thunder-thighs, while the other may just change the way you look at fat from now on.

The “bad” fat we most often think of is white or yellow fat. There’s no secret as to how we accumulate more of it or how to get rid of it. When we consume more than we burn, the excess calories are stored in our butts, thighs and bellies. However, researchers are learning more and more about the other type of fat present in our bodies: brown fat.

Brown fat is most often found in animals that lack the ability to shiver. Human babies are born with a layer of brown fat as well, but much of this is lost as they grow and develop shivering capabilities.

This heat-providing fat consumes calories at a rapid rate to keep the body from going into hypothermia. It is brown in color thanks to increased cell mitochondria, which are often described as mini cellular energy factories.

The concept of brown fat and its ability to burn calories in an effort to keep the body warm is nothing new, as scientists have been well-aware of this mechanism in rodents for quite some time.

However, new research has found the presence of brown fat in adults, via the use of PET and CT scans particularly in the upper back, collarbone and shoulder area, along the spine and up the side of the neck. To see if the adult human brown fat worked along the same lines as rodent brown fat, researchers placed study participants in a chilled room to determine if the brown fat did indeed burn extra calories.

Participants with more brown fat began shivering at lower temperatures than those with less brown fat deposits, and while the brown fat was active, participants burned an extra 250 calories as compared to those with little to no brown fat.

But before you crank up the AC in an effort to drop a few pounds, you’ll want to first hit the gym. Researchers also found that brown fat is more abundant in normal to underweight individuals, and more prevalent in women than men. However, this finding doesn’t sway researchers from investigating ways to increase brown fat content in all humans.

A newly discovered hormone in lab rats, irisin, has been found to convert the dreaded white fat into calorie-burning brown fat. In one study, areas of white fat in lab mice were converted to brown fat when irisin production was stimulated.

brown fatThe key finding, however, was that irisin production and the mechanism by which the fat conversion takes place is stimulated by exercise. So while researchers and pharmaceutical companies are currently investigating ways to harness irisin’s power via synthetic drugs, you can create your own calorie-burning brown fat by simply hitting the gym.

-The Alternative Daily


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