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.
Lack of Sleep and Weight Gain
Brown Fat Activity, Sleep Disorders and Weight Gain
Brown adipose tissue at the intersection of sleep and temperature regulation
Lack of sleep is “a public health epidemic” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States. Sleep disorders and weight gain go hand-in-hand and play a role in our obesity epidemic too. CDC data shows that 28% of U.S. adults are sleeping less than six hours a night and that is well below the recommended seven to nine hours.
The foundation of health and wellness is based on three factors of good nutrition, exercise and normal sleep. All three health factors are related: if you are tired it is hard to exercise, eat healthy and lose weight. But getting enough sleep is very difficult. Around 70 million people in the U.S. suffer from one of over 70 sleep disorders. Sleep is a critical part of human biology and metabolism.
With the recent discovery of the importance of brown fat (brown adipose tissue) in humans and the role it plays in our metabolism, it is not surprising that researchers are now looking at how increasing brown fat and beige fat activity could help with sleep disorders and weight gain. Researchers at Washington State University, Levente Kapas and Eva Szentirmai, recently published a paper titled: “Brown adipose tissue at the intersection of sleep and temperature regulation.” In their article they propose that impaired function of brown fat could be basic cause of poor sleep as well as metabolic disorders. Many years of study have shown the relationship between sleep, metabolism and thermoregulation (maintenance of body temperature). Their evidence shows that activated brown fat triggers sleep-promoting signals required for healthy sleep after periods of being awake. Sleep deprivation is commonly tied to obesity in people. Since the researchers found that brown fat activation leads to good sleep, and it is now known that brown fat plays a role in burning calories, they believe a lack of brown fat is a common thread linking obesity and poor sleep in humans.
The importance of brown adipose tissue continues to be uncovered and its importance to sleep disorders and weight gain and obesity is another exciting area to follow. Activation of brown fat in a safe and effective way will lead to improvements in health.
Obesity Risk Increases with Less Sleep
Research shows Beige Fat works like Brown Fat
Mild cold and exercise stimulate creation of “beige fat” in white adipose tissue
Mild cold exposure forms beige fat and brown fat
Our whole focus on fat, weight loss and obesity has been rooted in looking at white fat which is the “bad fat” that we find so hard to eliminate. White fat or white adipose tissue is really only one type of adipose tissue. Recent research has focused on brown adipose tissue (“brown fat”) which turns energy into heat in a process known as “thermogenesis” to maintain the body’s warmth in response to mild cold exposure. Exercise has also been linked to the presence and activation of brown fat, and it is thought to have an important role in weight loss and suppressing metabolic disease. Now researchers have also been working on learning more about a third adipose tissue they call beige fat because beige fat cells can be generated and mixed with white fat cells and are not separate tissue deposits like brown fat.
Beige fat and brown fat cells have now been linked to reductions in body mass, obesity, and metabolic disease in studies on mice. These studies have major positive implications for areas of study to fight obesity and treat metabolic diseases such as diabetes in humans. Beige fat and brown fat generation and activation are both triggered by exercise and cold exposure. Breakthroughs in weight loss and health may be achieved by simple natural mechanisms following protocols of exercise and use of simple natural tools such as a cooling vest for brown fat activation.
How important is this area of research? In a scientific review of the field, scientists concluded:
There is persuasive evidence from animal models that enhancement of the function of brown adipocytes, beige adipocytes or both in humans could be very effective for treating type 2 diabetes and obesity. Harms, M., Seale, P., Brown and Beige Fat: development, function and therapeutic potential. Nat. Med. 19 (2013).
Another key link between brown fat and beige fat is found in the way that brown fat works to generate heat from energy (instead of storing energy – the role of white fat). Brown adipose tissue (BAT) are jam-packed with mitochondria, the cell’s energy factory, that contain a protein known as “UCP1”. The UCP1 protein is key to generation of heat by burning glucose. That heat is then distributed throughout the body by the circulatory system.
Beige fat is essentially mixed in with white fat cells, but beige fat cells have a critical similarity to brown fat cells. The beige fat cells are also packed with mitochondria containing UCP1, and the creation of beige fat cells and their activation is triggered by cold exposure.
Understanding that the body has three types of adipose tissues, and their role, are important to following the exciting new areas of scientific exploration of the role these cells play in human health.