Fat gets a bad rap. It’s not only essential to life and human function, but can actually burn calories and trim up the waistline. Brown adipose tissue (AKA brown fat) is a type of fat found in the bodies of mammals that acts as a furnace for the body.
Once thought to only be present in newborns and hibernating mammals, research has shown we all have it, more or less. Not only does brown fat work like a furnace to produce heat when the body gets cold, but its fuel source is that of white fat, the kind we hate and want less of.
White vs. brown
There are two types of fat, white and brown. White fat is the stuff we all want to get rid of, although it serves as a means of energy storage throughout the body. Before food became plentiful and over-eaten, white fat had a major role in survival as energy backup when there was a shortage of food and potentially days between meals. Since we started gorging ourselves with toxic, artificial, and empty calories, white fat accumulation has reached beyond a necessity and has become a burden. Brown fat on the other hand, is plentiful when we are babies and decreases as we age. As adults, there are only a few areas on the upper back and neck that contain stores of brown fat in most people. When introduced to cold temperatures, brown fat burns white fat for heat until we reach the point of shivering, which takes over to produce more heat. Babies don’t shiver because the high amount of brown fat replaces the need to shiver. Its brown color can be contributed to the high number of iron-containing mitochondria within the cells that churn out incredible amounts of heat from gobbling fatty acids.
How much of your fat is brown fat?
Contrary to what you might think, thinner people have more brown fat than fatter people, and brown fat stores increase with exercise and extended cold exposure. In fact, brown fat is a very effective calorie burner. One study exposed healthy males to cold temperatures at their threshold of shivering. Over a three-hour period, the participants burned an extra 250 calories when the brown fat was activated via cold temperatures. People with more brown fat take longer to start shivering when temperatures get cold because of the effectiveness of brown fat to turn white fat into heat. Unfortunately, pharmaceutical companies are hot on the trail of unlocking the secrets of activating brown fat and turning it into a billion dollar drug to combat obesity.
Turn on your own furnace by turning off another
If you are looking to ramp up your brown fat metabolism to burn some extra calories, start by turning down the other furnace. Research shows that brown fat is activated by cold temperatures. By turning down the furnace in your house, you’re encouraging your body to enter thermogenesis, the generation of heat. If you find yourself shivering, it may be too cold. Although shivering itself burns calories, it is easy to slip into a state of hypothermia if you are not careful. Brown fat works best at the threshold of shivering, and longer exposure will lead to the conversion of white fat into brown fat which in turn, leads to more calories burned. Another method to encourage brown fat metabolism is to take cold showers, albeit hard to do, it’ll jump start your metabolism and encourage the breakdown of white fat. Lastly, and probably the most effective method to burn extra calories is by exercising in the cold. The cold temperature combined with exercise will activate both brown fat and metabolic white fat breakdown. It’s time you start embracing the cold weather to trim up for beach season, even if it’s months away.