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Brown Fat: What is it & why do I care?

November 19, 2013

There are 2 types of fat in your body: brown fat and white fat.

One of the superficial differences between these types of fat is the color. The types of fat get their adjectival descriptor from their appearance; specifically, brown fat is darker in color than white fat. The reason for this difference? Brown fat contains mitochondria that are not present in white fat. In addition, brown fat is actually more related to skeletal muscle than to white fat.

It is only recently that it was realized adult humans possess brown fat; previously, most scientists thought it was only present in rodents and human infants. Brown fat is present in greater quantities in these latter two types because rodents and babies do not shiver; thus, the brown fat helps them generate heat.

Brown fat generates heat in babies & rodents.

Brown fat generates heat in babies & rodents.

Thus, brown fat is activated by cold. The exciting thing about this activation is that when brown fat cells are stimulated, they burn calories, and sometimes, also white fat.

Ready for even more impressive news? It seems likely that humans can turn white fat into brown fat (yes, please!). How, you ask? By exercise!

So taking a walk outside after your large Thanksgiving dinner is a really good idea.

So taking a walk outside after your large Thanksgiving dinner is a really good idea.

It is also possible that technology, specifically the use of central heating, has resulted in less brown fat in adults, making it more difficult for adults to utilize the activation of brown fat in cold weather to stay at a healthy weight. Yet scientists might also soon be attempting to activate brown fat without making humans cold. The possibilities for healthy weight loss are exciting!

Do you have any additional information regarding brown fat? What do you think of the possibilities of this line of scientific research?

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