Believe it or not, fat comes in multiple colors. We have yellow, also known as white fat, and we have brown fat. Brown fat is found in high levels in newborns and hibernating mammals. Brown fat cells contain high levels of iron-containing mitochondria, the turbocharged power-packets of cells. That is how brown fat it gets its color. It also contains lots of capillaries, which increase its utilization of oxygen. White fat is found around the waist and thighs, while brown fat is in the front and back of the neck. Brown fat burns calories to generate heat and white fat stores calories. The big question, is there a way to increase our brown fat and increase our metabolism as a result? Perhaps.
A very small research study of six normal to overweight men had them wear cooling suits. Their skin temperature was lowered by 3.8 degrees Celsius over a three-hour period. The men exercised when they felt cold and started to shiver, which researchers discovered activated their brown fat cells. They burned 250 extra calories when these brown fat cells were active. They increased calories burned by 1.8 times compared to the men with normal temperatures who went walking. (1)
Another way to increase brown fat? We know it sounds strange, but a little stress will do it. A study of mild psychological stress was done in five healthy, lean women who were given a short math test. It was followed by a relaxation video. The researchers measured stress responses by testing cortisol levels. They used infrared thermography to follow the brown fat activity. The anticipation of the test is what triggered stress, not the test itself. The higher cortisol levels measured were linked to brown fat activity and increased heat production, all of which increased calories burned. (2)
Researchers in Denmark have found a way to program white fat cells to become more like brown fat cells. In other words, the reprogrammed white fat cells burned calories as heat instead of storing calories. These converted cells are known as “brite” cells. By finding the right areas on the gene program of the “brite” cells, they can be turned into energy burners, which (in the future) could help you to…brite-n- up! (3)
Do it the Easy Way: Exercise
A study of mice and men! Researchers found that mice training on wheels for 11 days and men training on exercise bikes for 12 weeks developed new brown fat that was more metabolically active. The animal researchers took it further and transplanted the brown fat of the mice on wheels into sedentary fat mice. The fat mice then had improved glucose tolerance and improved insulin sensitivity. They became more fit. Human fat transplants are not imminent, but they could be utilized in the future. In the meantime, exercise will help build more brown fat. (4)
Watch the Medicines You Take
A study in the journal Science showed in genetically-engineered mice, a specific enzyme, known as cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2), has an important role in making more brown fat cells in the body. (5) The mice were bred especially have more of COX-2 in their bodies, and thus more brown fat cells. They were 20% lighter in body weight than ordinary mice. Since the bone and muscle mass of each group of mice were the same, this difference in body weight was completely accounted for by the fact that the mice with more brown fat had less overall body fat. And since both groups of mice had the exact same amount of food intake, the lesser amount of body fat was due to the fact that the mice with more brown fat were burning more calories than the others.
Even more interesting is the fact that the mice with more brown fat seemed to be protected against gaining weight. When these same mice were fed a diet with a substance that inhibits the COX-2 enzyme, and thus caused them to have less brown fat, they gained weight. If you’re wondering where you’ve heard of a substance that inhibits COX- 2, remember that many of the anti-inflammatory drugs known as NSAIDS that are used for joint and muscle pain are COX-2 inhibitors, such as Celebrex. (5)
So, what does that mean for us humans? The new knowledge that the enzyme COX-2 can stimulate the formation of more brown fat will hopefully lead to new medications that will do the same thing, and thus help us to control weight gain. And what about the thought that those anti-inflammatory drugs may be causing us to make less brown fat, and thus gain weight? That needs to be studied in humans, especially the doses that may do this. So don’t stop your NSAID pain reliever if it is helping you, but stay tuned for more information in the future.
So YES, your Technicolor fat, especially the brown, can help!
In our search to come up with an answer on how to stop the obesity epidemic, making more brown fat may be a possible solution. Exercise, staying cool with a little bit of stress in your life, and avoiding anti-inflammatory medications when possible may be a good start by helping to increase your fat—that’s your healthy brown fat, of course—the natural way.
1. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/supercharging-brown- fat-to- battle-obesity/
2. Lindsay J Robinson, James M Law, Michael E Symonds, Helen Budge. Brown adipose tissue activation as measured by infrared thermography by mild anticipatory psychological stress in lean healthy females. Experimental Physiology, 2016; DOI: 10.1113/EP085642
3. A. Loft, I. Forss, M. S. Siersbaek, S. F. Schmidt, A.-S. B. Larsen, J. G. S. Madsen, D. F. Pisani, R. Nielsen, M. M. Aagaard, A. Mathison, M. J. Neville, R. Urrutia, F. Karpe, E.-Z. Amri, S. Mandrup. Browning of human adipocytes requires KLF11 and reprogramming of PPAR superenhancers. Genes & Development, 2014; DOI: 10.1101/gad.250829.114
4. Yuan Zhang, Chao Xie, Hai Wang, Robin M. Foss, Morgan Clare, Eva Vertes George, Shiwu Li, Adam Katz, Henrique Cheng, Yousong Ding, Dongqi Tang, Westley H. Reeves, Li-Jun Yang. Irisin exerts dual effects on browning and adipogenesis of human white adipocytes. American Journal of Physiology – Endocrinology And Metabolism, 2016; 311 (2): E530 DOI: 10.1152/ajpendo.00094.2016
5. Vegiopoulos A et al. Cyclooxygenase-2 controls energy homeostasis in mice by de novo recruitment of brown adipocytes. Science 2010 May 28; 328:1158.