Hot Pockets of Brown Fat Burn Up Calories

Brown fat is a busy little heat-producing fat that actually burns calories.

| Apr 24, 2009

Three studies just published in the New England Journal of Medicine have discovered that most adults have several grams of brown fat sequestered in little pockets on their necks and backs. It's a tiny amount, but it's big news because brown fat is not your everyday fat, the unwelcome white variety that stores calories and makes us hate mirrors. Brown fat is a busy little heat-producing fat that actually burns calories.  It's brown because it contains special mitochondria, tiny factories within the fat cells that produce heat, lots of it, when activated by cold. 

Brown fat makes up about five percent of the body mass of babies, who are especially vulnerable to cold because they can't shiver effectively, put on a sweater, or turn up the heat. Mice also have a lot of brown fat for the same reasons: large surface area and an inability to shiver or assemble a winter wardrobe. But until now, scientists hadn't been able to detect brown fat in adult humans and therefore believed that adults lost all their brown fat as they matured.

PET scans, however, have changed that opinion. One of the studies just published, which examined 1,972 people, revealed brown fat in 7.5 percent of the women and 3 percent of the men. Dr. C. Ronald Kahn of the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston, who led the study, believes that more brown fat would have shown up if the subjects had been chilled to activate their little heat factories. The fat was found by PET scans because brown fat burns glucose to produce its heat, and PET scans light up areas that are burning lots of glucose. 

The second study examined 24 healthy young men, first at a comfortable temperature and then after being chilled for two hours. They showed no brown fat while warm, but all except one man, who was obese, showed brown fat when cold.  The third study looked at five healthy adults, again while warm and while cold, and once more the brown fat was seen on PET scans when the subjects were chilly.  

If people had 50 grams of brown fat and activated it to the max by moving into an igloo, they could burn 400 or 500 calories a day.  That's actually less brown fat than what the researchers found in some of their subjects, so speculation abounds about using brown fat to burn calories by just putting your feet in an ice bucket. But there are plenty of caveats: people who are already thin have more brown fat than those who are overweight, and it may well be that activating brown fat could just make you want to eat more.  Still, it's nice to know that we might have a little hot pocket of friendly fat sitting somewhere on the back of our necks, ready to burn calories and warm us up to boot. 

Sources: The New York Times

Reuters Health

Click Here To View Or Post Comments

Categories: Diabetes, Diabetes, Lipid Problems, Nutrition Research, Weight Loss

Take the Diabetes Health Pump Survey
See What's Inside
Read this FREE issue now
For healthcare professionals only
  • 12th Annual Product Reference Guide
  • Insulin Syringe Chart
  • Insulin Pen Needles Chart
  • Fast-Acting Glucose
  • Sharps Disposal
  • Blood Glucose Meters Chart
  • Insulin Pumps Chart
See the entire table of contents here!

You can view the current or previous issues of Diabetes Health online, in their entirety, anytime you want.
Click Here To View

See if you qualify for our free healthcare professional magazines. Click here to start your application for Pre-Diabetes Health, Diabetes Health Pharmacist and Diabetes Health Professional.

Learn More About the Professional Subscription

Free Diabetes Health e-Newsletter

Top Rated
Print | Email | Share | Comments (2)

You May Also Be Interested In...


Posted by Anonymous on 30 April 2009

I don't get it. I always get high BG'S when I'm cold. . . how can cold be good for you?

Posted by Anonymous on 2 May 2009

high blood sugar in the cold for someone with diabetes who uses insulin may be because blodd flow to the skin drops with cold exposure and insulin absorption also drops.

Add your comments about this article below. You can add comments as a registered user or anonymously. If you choose to post anonymously your comments will be sent to our moderator for approval before they appear on this page. If you choose to post as a registered user your comments will appear instantly.

When voicing your views via the comment feature, please respect the Diabetes Health community by refraining from comments that could be considered offensive to other people. Diabetes Health reserves the right to remove comments when necessary to maintain the cordial voice of the diabetes community.

For your privacy and protection, we ask that you do not include personal details such as address or telephone number in any comments posted.

Don't have your Diabetes Health Username? Register now and add your comments to all our content.

Have Your Say...

Username: Password:
©1991-2015 Diabetes Health | Home | Privacy | Press | Advertising | Help | Contact Us | Donate | Sitemap

Diabetes Health Medical Disclaimer

The information on this site is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. All content, including text, graphics, images, and information, contained on or available through this website is for general information purposes only. Opinions expressed here are the opinions of writers, contributors, and commentators, and are not necessarily those of Diabetes Health. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking medical treatment because of something you have read on or accessed through this website.