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WTH is “brown fat” and why should I care about it?

Brown fat helps with fat loss!

Really interesting article just surfaced this week showing that humans have much more “brown fat” than originally understood.  So why is this important?  Humans have brown fat, beige fat, and white fat.  Bottom line: brown fat is packed with mitochondria, and increasing and activation of brown stores causes your metabolic rate to rise, weight loss, and all sorts of other amazing health benefits.  Here are some excerpts from the article:

“The researcher suggested that this may point to a possible explanation for the phenomenon that some persons seem to gain weight after only one extra piece of cake, while others can gorge on sweets without gaining at all — different body weights despite having the same diet.

“Ultimately, with medication that activates brown adipose tissue, we must anticipate that some groups of people are likely to benefit from an additional activation of brown fat more than others,” the author of the study explained. “So far, we don’t know the causes for a particular individual to have especially active brown fat.””

I find it interesting that the study authors go straight to pharmaceutical drugs as the solution to activate brown fat.

You don’t need medication to activate Brown Adipose Tissue (BAT)!

This can be achieved by cold therapy (CT) “Cold acclimation recruits human brown fat and increases nonshivering thermogenesis”:

“Here, we show that a 10-day cold acclimation protocol in humans increases BAT activity in parallel with an increase in nonshivering thermogenesis (NST).”

“The combined results suggest that a variable indoor environment with frequent cold exposures might be an acceptable and economic manner to increase energy expenditure and may contribute to counteracting the current obesity epidemic.”

Takeaway – cold showers, ice water face dunks, ice vests, keeping the temperature low at home, cold water dips, all can help to activate BAT. I finish off every shower with about 1-2 minutes of cold water.

Mild acute stress can activate BAT (think exercise) – “Stress could help activate brown fat”:

“Mild stress stimulates the activity and heat production by brown fat associated with raised cortisol, according to a study. Brown adipose tissue (BAT), also known as brown fat, is one of two types of fat found in humans and other mammals. Initially only attributed to babies and hibernating mammals, it was discovered in recent years that adults can have brown fat too. Its main function is to generate body heat by burning calories (opposed to white fat, which is a result of storing excess calories. People with a lower body mass index (BMI) therefore have a higher amount of brown fat.”

Also read about how exercise (a form of stress) increases BAT by increasing production of irisin, a hormone that increases BAT, and activates BAT by activating PGC-1 Alpha – “Supercharging Brown Fat to Battle Obesity – Why turning down the thermostat could help win the battle of the bulge”:

“In a 2012 study, six men remained inactive for three hours while wearing a cold suit that circulated water with a temperature of 64.4 degrees Fahrenheit over their skin—cold enough to lower their body temperature without causing too much shivering. That way the researchers could be sure that most of the extra calories burned during those three hours were expended by brown fat cells rather than quivering muscles.”

“Recent experiments have also revealed that brown fat’s benefits go far beyond burning calories. A 2011 study using mice found that brown fat can fuel itself with triglycerides taken from the bloodstream—exactly the kind of fatty molecules known to increase the chances of developing metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions that raises the risk for heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Brown fat cells also draw sugar molecules from the blood, which could help lower the risk for type 2 diabetes; chronically high levels of blood glucose wreak havoc on the body’s ability to manage those levels in the first place, which in turn sets the stage for diabetes.”

“Don’t fancy low temperatures? Investigators have identified several molecules that may be able to stimulate such “browning” of white fat without the need for cold. Two 2012 studies showed that a hormone called irisin, which is released from muscle cells after exercise, coaxes white fat to behave like brown fat. In one of these studies, researchers injected mice with a gene that tripled the levels of the hormone in the blood of mice that were obese and had dangerously high amounts of sugar in their bloodstream. The mice lost weight and regained control of their glucose levels in just 10 days.

Exercise has also been shown to increase UCP1 activity in brown fat, making it more active.”

Takeaway: Regular exercise, specifically HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) and resistance training, are the best ways to increase BAT production and BAT activation, and for weight loss & better blood sugar/insulin regulation.

BAT can also be activated by eating hot peppers or taking a capsinoid supplement – “Nonpungent capsaicin analogs (capsinoids) increase energy expenditure through the activation of brown adipose tissue in humans”:

“Capsinoid ingestion increases EE (energy expenditure) through the activation of BAT in humans.”

Takeaway – eating spicy foods or taking a capsaicin supplement (the active ingredient in hot peppers) can help you build and activate BAT stores and help you lose weight.  CAUTION: NOT RECOMMENDED FOR INDIVIDUALS WITH PEPTIC ULCERS, GASTRITIS, INFLAMMATORY BOWEL CONDITIONS OR HIATAL HERNIAS.

And of course, ketogenic diets and exogenous ketone supplements have shown to activate brown fat stores:

“Here we discuss the unexpected observation that feeding an ester of ketone bodies to the mouse, which increases blood ketone body concentrations, results in an activation of brown fat. The mechanism of this activation of brown fat is similar to that occurring from cold exposure in that cyclic adenosine monophosphate (AMP) levels are increased as are levels of the transcription factor cyclic AMP-responsive element-binding protein, which is also increased by ketone ester feeding. Other effects of feeding ketone esters, in addition to their ability to induce brown fat, are discussed such as their ability to overcome certain aspects of insulin resistance and to ameliorate the accumulation of amyloid and phosphorylated tau protein in brain, and improve cognitive function, in a triple transgenic mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease.”

This study showed the same thing with a ketogenic diet:

“These results demonstrate that a KD can also increase BAT mitochondrial size and protein levels.”

Takeaway – a low carb ketogenic diet and/or exogenous ketone supplementation can activate brown fat.  Click here to purchase the ketone supplements I use and recommend.

Leave a comment below if you’ve had any experience with these strategies for BAT production and activation!

In health,

Rick Gold