Everyone has some brown fat. Unlike regular white fat, which stores calories, mitochondria-packed brown fat cells burn energy and produce heat.
5 Fascinating Facts about Brown Fat
1. Brown Fat is Activated by the Cold
According to a 2014 study conducted by National Institutes of Health Researchers, spending time in the cold makes your brown fat more active, and could even cause you to grow new brown-fat cells.
Brown fat “helps us to defend our body temperature in a comfortable manner," said Barbara Cannon, a professor of physiology at the Wenner-Grenn Institute in Stockholm and president of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.
2. It’s Found in Weird Spots
Brown fat is found in unpredictable locations in the human body. Scientists know where brown fat can be found, but it’s not always there in every single person. For example, it’s typically found in the neck and shoulders.
In a recent study, brown fat was also found in the chests and down the spines of a group of healthy young men.
3. You Have at Least Some Brown Fat
Everyone has some brown fat, even if it cannot be seen with a PET/CT scan. Aaron Cypess, head of the Diabetes, Endocrinology and Obesity Branch at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases in Maryland, believes that it’s possible to grow brown fat cells in anybody.
Brown fat can be hard to find and to study. This is because brown and white fat cells are often mixed in together in fat tissue. Therefore, finding the brown fat cells requires performing CT scans to show where the fat is, combined with PET scans to identify the most metabolically active cells.
5. Someday, You Might Be Able to Take a Pill to Activate Your Brown Fat
A drug that treats people with overactive bladders can boost brown fat activity, according to findings that Cypess and his colleagues reported in January 2015. The medication, called mirabegron, stimulates receptors called beta 3 receptors, which cause smooth muscle to relax. These receptors are also found on both brown and white fat cells.
5 ways to Increase Brown Fat to Help Burn More Calories
1. Don’t Starve or Stuff Yourself
We all rely on hunger-regulating neurons in the brain to notify us when we have had enough to eat. But it turns out that these neurons have another job to do: Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine found that in mice, these neurons can actually encourage fat to turn brown.
The study, which was published in the journal Cell, found that eating too few calories prevented white fat from turning brown, while eating just enough to satisfy hunger turned white fat to brown. Other research has shown that eating too much can do harm as well: Not only does overconsumption increase white fat, but it also interferes with brown fat’s ability to burn calories.
2. Eat an Apple
An apple a day might just keep the doctor and the fat away. Researchers from the University of Iowa found that ursolic acid, found in apple peels, boosted brown fat in mice – even when they were fed a high-fat diet.
A study on animals published in the journal Disease Models and Mechanisms found that working out triggers the release of an enzyme called irisin that prompts white fat cells to convert to brown. Newer research that was presented at the 2013 annual meeting of the American Diabetes Association found that exercise can prompt the browning of fat in men, with the benefits still increasing after 3 months of training on an exercise bike.
4. Turn Down the Thermostat
One study, published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, looked at twelve young men with lower-than-average amounts of active brown fat who were asked to sit in a 63-degree Fahrenheit room for two hours a day over a six week period. They burned an extra 108 calories in the cold compared with normal indoor temperatures.
Even better, after six weeks their bodies were burning an extra 289 calories in the cold, prompting researchers to hypothesize that the exposure to lower temperatures increased the activity of a gene that converts white fat to brown.
5. Stimulate Your Body’s Melatonin Production
Not only does melatonin help regulate our sleep-wake cycle, but research found that in rats, it increases the presence of beige fat, which is similar to brown fat in its calorie-burning capabilities.
However, while you might be tempted to take a supplement, experts say that it’s better to stimulate your body’s own natural production by avoiding nighttime exposure to light from TVs, computers and other screens, getting exposure to sunlight throughout the day, and loading up on melatonin-rich foods such as tomatoes, almonds, cardamom, and coriander.