What is brown fat and how is it different from other body fat?

What is brown fat and how is it different from other body fat?

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Brown fat is a special type of body fat that is activated when you feel cold.

Almost all mammals, including humans, have it but in different amounts.

When activated, this type of fat – also called brown adipose tissue – generates heat to help maintain body temperature.

And to produce that heat the brown fat uses as ” fuel ” the normal or white body fat, which is the most common, which forms our “love handles”.

Therefore, in recent years has aroused the interest of researchers seeking to know if it could help in weight loss in the face of future treatments for obesity.

50 grams of white fat store approximately more than 300 kilocalories of energy. The same amount of brown fat can burn 300 kilocalories a day , according to information published by the Garvan Institute for Medical Research in Sydney, Australia.

Some experts believe that brown fat could be “activated” to accelerate the burning of white fat, and others, that white fat could be “converted” into brown fat through stimuli such as cold or exercise.

But these studies are still incipient and for now there is no conclusive scientific evidence done with humans.

Where is it, how much do we have and why is it brown?

The newborns are humans who have more brown fat. We are all born with reserves around the neck and torso because that is the way nature helps us stay warm in our first months of life, when we are most vulnerable.

Baby of a few weeks
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Image caption Newborns are the humans with the most brown fat.

Until a few years ago it was believed that fat disappeared with childhood. Now we know that although its presence decreases with age, brown or brown fat is present in most adults and that it is metabolically active .

However, it is not a fat that causes us fat, as its presence is very small compared to white fat.

Brown fat contains many more mitochondria than white fat, and that’s what gives it its distinctive brown color. These mitochondria are the “engines” with which they burn calories to produce heat.

Some researchers have concluded that people who have higher amounts of brown fat tend to be thinner .

They believe that the presence of this “good fat” increases the basal metabolic expenditure of a person, that is, the basic consumption of calories that a person needs to live.

And that is why there is now so much speculation about the potential uses of this darker adipose tissue.

“Its natural ability to burn energy makes it a potential therapeutic target against obesity and diabetes,” said Dr. Paul Lee of the Garvan Institute of Medical Research , which has led research on the subject.

Can it be activated?

Man showering
Copyright of the GETTY IMAGES image
Image caption There is a popular belief that cold water showers can help turn “white” fat into active, metabolically healthy “brown” fat, but there is very little evidence that it is.

That’s what the researchers are trying to find out.

Some believe that the activity of brown fat in adults can be stimulated by regular exposure to low temperatures.

Others, like Dr. Paul Lee, a specialist in endocrinology, have explored the possibility of converting the “white fat” in “brown fat” by using two hormones, irisin and FGF21 , which is normally released during exercise and With the cold.

According to a study by Lee published in 2014 in the journal Cell Metabolism , in the laboratory a treatment with these two hormones managed to convert human cells from white fat to brown fat over a period of six days. In the end the treated cells began to generate heat, a characteristic of the darker fat.

But still more scientific research is needed with humans to understand well the role and relevance of brown fat for our health.

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