How does Brown Fat Fight Obesity and Diabetes?
Researcher Dr. Paul Lee Explains how to “Fight Fat with Fat”
If you have been hearing about brown fat (brown adipose tissue) and find the science hard to understand, Dr. Paul Lee of the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, has provided this excellent video presentation covering the basics.
Dr. Lee recently presented the ground breaking ICEMAN study on how keeping cool can stimulate brown fat. In his research, subjects were subjected to variations in room temperature in carefully controlled conditions over a period of months. The amount and activity of their brown fat was shown to directly influence the growth or loss of brown fat. In a cool environment, the brown adipose tissue increased and in a warm environment people lost brown adipose tissue. In fact, just one month of sleeping in mild cold temperatures increase brown fat by 30-40%. The plasticity of brown fat with variations in ambient temperature provided more evidence that human health problems of diabetes and obesity may have increased as modern humans have lived in controlled indoor environments.
“The improvement in insulin sensitivity accompanying brown fat gain may open new avenues in the treatment of impaired glucose metabolism in the future. On the other hand, the reduction in mild cold exposure from widespread central heating in contemporary society may impair brown fat function and may be a hidden contributor to obesity and metabolic disorders,” Lee said.
“Studies have been performed in the UK and US measuring bedroom, dining room and lounge room temperatures in people’s homes over the last few decades, and the temperature has climbed from about 19 to 22, a range sufficient to quieten down brown fat.”
“So in addition to unhealthy diet and physical inactivity, it is tempting to speculate that the subtle shift in temperature exposure could be a contributing factor to the rise in obesity.”
The challenge that Dr. Lee sees is that turning down thermostats may not be practical or comfortable. Additional studies will search for the mechanism that triggers brown fat and a drug that can be used to stimulate it.
View the video for his excellent overview of brown fat and why it is important in the battle on obesity and diabetes.
Lose fat with fat
Brown Fat Cooling
How mild cold exposure stimulates brown adipose tissue
How does brown fat cooling create a leaner body? Science has discovered that brown adipose tissue (brown fat or good fat) is present in adult humans, and that exposure to mild cold is a natural way to trigger brown fat activity. By “mild cold” they mean a temperature that is not so cold that it triggers the shivering response. Mild cold is “non-shivering” temperatures of around 60 degrees, and the brown adipose tissue (BAT) responds to mild cold by generating heat from glucose in order to maintain internal body temperatures. This process is known as “non-shivering thermogenesis.” While the basics are will known from research on lab rats, new studies are focusing in on BAT in humans and whether we have uncovered an overlooked organ of the body that plays a role in metabolism. A role that may include weight loss, treatment of obesity and related metabolic disease such as diabetes.
In this video the researchers explain, in simple terms, how brown fat stimulation with cold increased metabolism and reduced body fat.
The other potential method they showed, taking capsinoids, was only about 30% as effective as cold activation. So a practical method of cold activation has the highest potential for using brown fat activation to lose weight, fight obesity and diabetes.
Popular media and quick fix weight loss products and promises are already positioning to cash in on the idea of cold weight loss. A cooling vest for weight loss is on the market and author Tim Ferris has appeared on the Dr. OZ show promoting ice cold showers and ice packs on the neck to activate brown fat. What cannot be overlooked is the fact that brown fat is only stimulated by mild cold. Promises of weight loss with an ice cold cooling vest, ice baths, ice cold showers and ice packs on the neck are not only extremely uncomfortable, but research is showing them to be ineffective. Turning your thermostat down for weight loss to a comfortable cold temperature or a cooling vest that stays at a comfortable mild cold are much more practical solutions.
Is this cold shower necessary?
Killing your Brown Fat
New Brown Fat Research links Obesity Diet to Brown Adipose Tissue Damage
Diets High in Fat and Sugar Destroy Brown Fat
Brown fat and its related beneficial beige fat have only recently been shown to be important to adult humans. Now researchers have found that feeding an obesity diet chow to mice that is high in sugar and fat damages brown fat. Killing your brown fat with that doughnut is not a good idea. Your brown fat is jam-packed with vascular tissue, blood vessels, and mitochondria, the body’s energy burning factory. Known vascular health risks like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and lack of exercise are damaging to brown fat and the critical role it has in metabolism and health.
Studies have analyzed the “browning” of WAT as a strategy for combating obesity (54–56). However, it has been argued that these actions are quantitatively incapable of significantly affecting systemic metabolism due to the low thermogenic capacity of WAT browning relative to that exhibited by classical BAT depots (57). Comparatively little attention has been given to the mechanisms that contribute to BAT dysfunction and how they affect overall metabolic health. As shown here, the status of the vasculature in BAT is critical for its function both in terms of thermogenesis and systemic metabolic homeostasis. Thus, risk factors that are associated with diminished vascular health, such as hypertension, hyper-cholesterolemia, and physical inactivity, could contribute to the development of obesity through the degradation of BAT function. Shimizu, J Clin Invest. 2014; 124(5):2099–2112 doi:10.1172/JCI71643
The positive benefits of brown fat burning off excess sugar to produce body heat is reversed. Your brown and beige fat becomes white fat and insulin levels are increased. This part of the growing evidence about the importance of brown fat to your health. Brown fat is not just burning off excess calories in the process of non-shivering thermogenesis (maintaining you internal body temperature in mild cold conditions – not cold enough to trigger the shiver response). Brown fat also plays a fundamental role in whole body metabolism. We know that we lose brown fat as we age and as we become overweight and obese. We are just starting to find out how it functions so that we can stimulate brown adipose tissue activity for weight loss and prevention or treatment of metabolic diseases like diabetes.