The winter months can be brutal. Freezing temperatures, snow, sleet and ice are enough to put a damper on most people’s day. But did you know that those freezing temperatures may be contributing to weight loss? The body shivers because it is trying to generate heat when it feels the body’s core temperature is dropping. But it also does something else, it activates brown fat that, unlike “white” fat, burns calories.
What Is Brown Fat?
We don’t hear a lot about brown fat because it’s primarily found in human babies. In 2009 research revealed that this brown fat may also be found in adults but in much smaller amounts. Imaging, such as CT and PET scans, has improved over the years and scientists are starting to see this tissue in adults even though it’s in small amounts. “White” fat is the subcutaneous fat that stores toxins and calories while brown fat is designed to burn calories. It does this by creating heat. It’s called brown fat because mitochondria (the power house of the cell) gives it a reddish-brown color. The mitochondria converts calories into heat. It’s not clear why as we grow into adulthood we lose brown fat. It can be found sprinkled about the neck, shoulders and upper chest unlike “white” fat that’s all clumped together.
Can Brown Fat Be Increased?
Research has shown that by exposing ourselves to cooler temperatures either indoors or outdoors brown fat growth can be triggered. At UT Southwestern they are studying if cool temperatures convert white fat into brown fat or if the body can produce more brown fat cells. Much research is needed on this topic such as how long does one need to be exposed to the cold and how often? How cold should it be? If this is the case why aren’t people who live in colder climates, the Midwest for example, not thinner?
What Are The Benefits Of Brown Fat?
Scientists theorize that in addition to burning calories that it may also protect against insulin resistance that leads to type II diabetes. If white fat can be converted into brown fat that will be a game changer in the fight against obesity. In 2012 a group of researchers placed six men in cold suits that circulated water at 64.4 degrees Fahrenheit over their skin. The temperature assured they would be cold but limited shivering (because shivering generates heat and burns calories). The men remained inactive for three hours. The participants burned an additional 250 calories than they would have at normal room temperature. Over a week that could result in a pound of fat lost.
Okay, so what should you do? While no one is at the point of suggesting you drop your thermostat down to 64 degrees or open all of the windows in the winter, there is anecdotal evidence to suggest that scientists are on to something. Let’s just hope they find a way to encourage white fat to become brown fat. The implications of this research is astounding. Imagine being able to not only reverse obesity but stave off type II diabetes. Until then we will need to continue to use exercise as our main tool to burn up calories but it won’t hurt to head outside in cooler weather to do it. We do sleep better at ~67 degrees, maybe there’s a connection between our body core temperature in preparation for sleep and brown fat. What do you think? Comment below and share within your communications.
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