The Benefits of Brown Fat for Weight Management

Posted on March 5th, 2012 by author  |  2 Comments »

brown fat helps with weight managementDid you know that there is a type of fat that helps you burn energy and lose weight? It’s called brown fat, a heat-generating fat that burns energy instead of storing it. According to recent research, brown fat may have an important role in proper weight management.

Based on animal studies, researchers concluded that 50 grams of brown fat can burn about 20 percent or more of your daily caloric intake. A previous article on WebMD reports:

“Kirsi A. Virtanen, MD, PhD, of the University of Turku, Finland, and colleagues analyzed brown fat in five young men. One of the men had about 2.2 ounces of brown fat. If the brown [fat] in this example were fully activated, it would burn an amount of energy equivalent to approximately 4.1 kilograms [9 pounds] of fat over the course of a year, the researchers calculate. And that’s a low estimate, as this assumes only 50 percent activation of the brown fat.” (link)

“No wonder people are anxious to tap into the fat-burning capabilities of brown fat!” exclaims Dr. Joseph Mercola.

What Is Brown Fat?

Brown fat is located in the neck area, around blood vessels (to help keep your blood warm), and marbled in with white fat in visceral fat tissue.

“Human newborns have a supply of brown fat to keep warm, but by adulthood they lose most of their stores of it,” explains Dr. Mercola.

However, a new study revealed that the brown fat still present in adults can be activated when exposed to cold temperatures. The men who participated in the study burned more calories when cooled. They also lost white fat, which causes obesity. According to the authors:

“This boosts the possibility that calorie combustion in brown fat may be of significance for our metabolism and, correspondingly, that the absence of brown fat may increase our proneness to obesity – provided that brown fat becomes activated not only by cold but also through food-related stimuli.” (link)

The study also states that there are certain groups of people that tend to have more brown fat than others:

  • Young people have more brown fat than elderly people
  • Slender people have more brown fat than obese people
  • People with normal blood sugar levels have more brown fat than people with high blood sugar

Can Cold Temperature Help Activate Your Brown Fat?

Many studies have claimed that cold temperature can increase brown fat activity in people. For example, a Swedish research published in 2009 revealed that cold-induced glucose uptake was increased by a factor of 15 percent. To get the results, the researchers dipped the subject’s foot in an ice bath while using positron-emission tomography (PET) to measure the findings.

A similar study by researchers in the Netherlands confined their subjects in a 16 degrees Celsius (or 61 degrees Fahrenheit) room for two hours, and also found an increase in brown fat activity.

Dr. Mercola says: “Needless to say, researchers are excited about the potential for a medical intervention that can help people develop more brown fat. But I would be cautious of any solution in a pill form. Instead, I’d suggest trying out some of the non-invasive methods that have been found to promote brown fat production and its activation.”

One possible option is exercise, which was found to help convert white fat into brown fat in animal studies. Time magazine reports:

“During exercise, the animals’ muscles released a newly discovered enzyme called irisin, which triggered the conversion. It’s not clear whether the same phenomenon is true in people, though humans do have the same protein. However, the brown fat that is easily observed in humans tends not to be the kind that is derived from white fat.” (link)

Can Ice Therapy Also Work?

Tim Ferriss, author of The Four-Hour Work Week, says that brown fat can also be activated when you are exposed to frigid temperatures. In his book The Four-Hour Body, Ferriss says that your fat burning can potentially increase by as much as 300 percent if you add ice therapy to your dieting strategy.

Ferriss’ Ice Therapy uses ice to cool down your body, activate the brown fat, and help you burn more calories. He recommends the following techniques (from easy to “hardcore”):

  • Put an ice pack on your upper back and upper chest for 30 minutes daily
  • Drink about 500 milliliters of ice water every morning
  • Take cold showers
  • Immersing yourself in ice water (bathwater and ice cubes) up to your waist for 10 minutes, three times a week.

Dr. Mercola advises: “Do advance slowly! It may be inadvisable to go straight to the ice bath if you’re not used to it!”

Other Ways to Improve Your Metabolism

Dr. Mercola also recommends strategies other than ice therapy to improve your metabolism for better weight management:

  • Avoid sugar (particularly fructose) and grains because they cause insulin and leptin resistance. These directly affect your hunger levels, your fat-burning potential, and your weight.
  • Eat healthy meals and snacks to satiate your hunger.
  • Implement a well-rounded exercise program that includes strength-training and high-intensity interval training.
  • Banish stress and negative emotions using tools like mediation, prayer, and the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT).

“The goal is to establish a healthy relationship with food, one that will keep you satisfied, nourished, and slim, all at the same time,” reminds Dr. Mercola.

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