Study: Subtle Temperature Changes on “Healthy” Brown Fat Storage and Associated Health Risks it Involves
If you are under the assumption that all fat in your body is created equally and is in turn equally bad for you, then you will be surprised to learn that there are actually two different types of fat. White fat is used to store energy and produce hormones that are then secreted into the bloodstream. This is typically the kind of fat that you think of when someone says, “You look fat.” Brown fat on the other hand has been shown in recent studies to function much like muscle does in the sense that it actually BURNS CALORIES when stimulated! It has even been shown to burn your white fat supplies when activated. WebMD contains good information illustrating the difference between different kinds of body fat but in this particular post we will discuss how to stimulate your brown fat to receive its benefits.
Brown fat, also known as brown adipose tissue (BAT), works by burning energy and glucose to make heat. It has even been found to protect against diseases, such as diabetes and obesity, in recent studies on animals. There has been even more recent research conducted that proposes that extended exposure to low temperature can actually alter human fat and metabolism and encourage growth of this healthy fat. Brown fat growth can theoretically lead to enhanced glucose and energy metabolism and increased overall health.
Prior research had already been done establishing that those with higher levels of brown fat storage are likely to be lean and have lower blood sugar levels than those with minuscule amounts of brown fat. This research also led the grounds for belief that white fat cells can be altered to become brown fat cells themselves, steering researchers to try and discover what causes these transformations to take place. Until this ground breaking research, human regulation of brown fat cells and the connection it has with metabolism has been uncertain.
The scholars took it one more step and examined the effect that temperature could have on brown fat storage, energy balance and glucose metabolism. Their research, called the Impact of Chronic Cold Exposure in Humans (ICEMAN), monitored five men with ages ranging from nineteen to twenty-three for 120 days. Below is an annotation of their findings.
Lower Temperatures Increased Brown Fat, While Warmer Environments Inhibited It
Be sure to note that the subjects in the study did not vary from their normal activities or schedules and merely slept in a room of varying temperatures.
The rooms were set to 75º F for the first quarter of the study. 75º F was chosen because, as the researchers describe in their study, this is a “thermo-neutral” temperature where the body does not need to exert much energy to either retain or release heat. The temperature was then reduced to 66º F for the second quarter of the research before being raised to 75º F again for the third quarter. The last month, the temperature was raised even further to almost 81º F.
Cold-stimulated PET scans and CT scans were used during the course of the study to obtain the quantity of brown fat in each participant. A PET scan measures important body functions, such as blood flow, oxygen use, and sugar (glucose) metabolism, to help doctors evaluate how well organs and tissues are functioning. CT imaging uses special x-ray equipment to produce multiple images or pictures of the inside of the body. These images can then be interpreted by a radiologist on a computer monitor. CT imaging provides excellent anatomic information. The scholars also measured the metabolic changes in the tissue using muscle and fat biopsies to get a comprehensive reading of all metabolic functions related to brown tissue.
The study concluded the cooler temperature of 66º F increased the amount of brown fat in the men and raised its activity by about 30 to 40 percent, while the warmer environment of 81º F lowered the quantity of brown fat to below the amount established at the baseline 75º F.
The scientist who headed the study also added that the increases in brown fat were “accompanied by improvement in insulin sensitivity and energy burning rate after food.” And that, “The improvement in insulin sensitivity accompanying brown fat gain may open new avenues in the treatment of impaired glucose metabolism in the future. On the other hand, the reduction in mild cold exposure from widespread central heating in contemporary society may impair brown fat function and may be a hidden contributor to obesity and metabolic disorders.”
Could Your Thermostat be Contributing to Obesity?
The researchers concluded that their data leads them to believe that controlling the temperature of your environment can help to develop larger deposits of brown fat and may be a likely line of attack for treating obesity and diabetes. Interestingly enough, studies conducted in United States have shown that the temperature of the average household in the last 30 years have risen from about 66º F to about 72º F. This change is enough to affect the amount of brown fat in your body, making you more acceptable to weight gain and other health issues. This led the researchers to conclude that minute changes in temperatures over time can be one of the contributing factors to the rise in obesity in this nation and others, as well as poor diet and reduced physical activity. So if you are looking for healthy weight loss and to save money, it could be as simple as turning down the thermostat a few degrees!