Exposure to cold is the very well-known and well-studied mechanism for switching on energy-burning brown fat, which seems to protect mice from developing obesity. It remains to be seen whether the same|the process can help people|people can be helped by the exact same|the process.
Humans have three types of fat. White adipose tissue, or fat|Fat that is white, or White adipose tissue|White adipose tissue, or fat that is white|Fat, or White adipose tissue, contains the majority of fat in our bodies; its purpose is to store energy. Brown fat is different: Its function is to generate heat to maintain body fever. Until recently, it was thought that adults did not have brown fat, that it only existed in babies to help them stay warm before they could move around and then essentially vanished. But beginning in 2009, studies have discovered that many adults have brown fat and that people with more of it tend to be leaner and have lower blood sugar levels.
The third type of fat, beige fat, appears to convert from white to brown when stressed by exposure to cold, and then back to white. This process is encouraging for scientists trying to determine how to increase brown fat to improve healthy operation of the body.
“A balanced diet and routine exercise are the cornerstones of healthy metabolism, but sustaining either is difficult for many people. Recognizing how brown fat could benefit our health opens up a new leadership in obesity research,” says Paul Lee, an endocrinologist at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney, where he leads the Brown Fat Physiology Group. “It is not a solution to obesity, but it’s a chance to explore an alternative strategy for curbing the obesity epidemic.”
When the body feels cold, Lee says, the brain releases norepinephrine, a chemical that essentially arouses the fat-burning process within brown fat. When there is not enough brown fat, the body must turn to less-efficient heat-generating versions, like shivering.
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