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Brown fat cells create heat and burn calories

Brown fat cells create heat and burn calories. Recent scientific studies on how brown fat cells work in our bodies have uncovered interesting and inspiring information on weight control.

The 'Health Profile of England' report, compiled from government data, said some 24 percent of people in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are obese.
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Mark McGowan sits in a bath full of baked beans with two chips stuck up his nose and sausages strapped to his head to support the traditional fried breakfast as an important part of UK culture, which he believes is too often rejected as unhealthy.
Photo by Graeme Robertson/Getty Images

How brown fat cells work

The human body has at least two types of fat. White fat cells store energy in our bodies; they're more abundant in the human body.

Our bodies turn excess calories into white fat. In order to lose weight, we have to use more energy than we consume. Energy is burned by breaking down white fat cells.

On the other hand, brown fat cells create heat and burn calories; they burn up our chemical energy to create heat. Brown fat cells are found in mammals, like rodents. They are also found in human infants.

Researcher originally thought that we lose brown fat cells as we age and eventually they become nonexistent in adult humans. However, new research findings suggest the contrary.

Measuring brown fat

Measuring brown fat has been difficult for scientists and researchers. Nevertheless, a team of researchers and scientist led by Dr. C. Ronald Kahn at the Joslin Diabetes Center found ways to measure brown fat.

They tested 2,000 patients to determine the presence of regions of brown fat at least 4 mm in diameter. Their findings were as follows:

  • Women had more brown fat than men did.
  • Women had higher levels of sugar intake.
  • The most common area of brown fat was located in the patient’s neck.
  • Less brown fat resulted in higher a body fat index (BMI), especially in the elderly.

New brown fat study findings

Researchers in the Netherlands performed research and found that of the 24 men exposed to cold temperatures, 23 men had increased levels of brown fat tissue activity; however, tissue activity was limited when the men were tested while in room temperatures. Additionally, brown fat activity was limited in obese men when compared to leaner men.

In Sweden, researchers tested patients in cold temperatures and took tissue biopsies. They found the presence of brown fat tissues, as well.

According to National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases researcher Dr. Francesco S. Celi,

"Taken together, these studies show that a significant percentage of adults have active brown fat, and that it likely plays a role in regulating body temperature. Stimulating this tissue to burn more energy may be a promising novel strategy for treating or preventing obesity."

One final point to consider; exercise triggers muscles to secret a hormone called irisin. Irisin stimulates the use of energy in brown fat tissue. This new discovery will help scientists and researchers to find new ways to treat obesity. In the mean time, it looks as though exercise is an important prerequisite in any treatment of obesity.

Read more of George Zapo’s articles about public, global, and environmental health at his website: Healthy Habits.

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