Body Blog: What is Brown Fat?


Brown fat – everybody’s talking about it. You’ve probably seen it floating around in the headlines, because it’s been a major part of a lot of the latest health research. But what exactly is it?

Simply put, brown fat is fat that is, well, brown. And it does things that sound almost too good to be true – it actually burns calories. And a new study shows that exercise can convert regular white fat into calorie-burning brown fat. Which means that the more you exercise, the more calories your body will be able to burn at all times. Brown fat is also triggered by cold temperatures. When your body is cold, brown fat starts burning calories to warm you up. And it actually uses white fat from other parts of the body to fuel itself.

At first, scientists thought it was only found in rodents. Rodents can’t shiver to keep warm like other mammals do, so it was thought that brown fat made up for that. But about three years ago, researchers discovered that humans have brown fat, too. And now that we know about it, lots of people are starting to wonder if brown fat could be the key to weight loss, especially for people who are really struggling to lose weight. If someone could develop a drug to “turn on” that brown fat, it would be a major breakthrough. Not to mention a cash cow.

But wait a second. Don’t go running outside without your jacket on just yet. These are short-term results, and researchers say they don’t know much about how brown fat behaves over long periods of time. So no weight loss ice baths! For now, just enjoy the knowledge that your brown fat is being activated every time you exercise.

Dancer, choreographer, personal trainer, and freelance writer based in New York City. More here.
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