Seems all fat is not created equal. Scientists are zeroing in on so-called “brown” fat, a type of heat-generating fat that burns energy rather than storing it.
Brown fat is abundant in rodents, which can’t shiver to warm up, and human newborns also have it to keep warm. Researchers initially thought adults didn’t have any brown fat at all — but recent studies have found that we do retain small pockets of it in certain places, such as the upper back and side of the neck.
So then scientists started to wonder if brown fat can actually burn calories and aid in weight loss. And as it turns out, it can.
Andre Carpentier at the University Hospital of Sherbrooke in Canada and other researchers found that they were able to activate brown fat in adult men by exposing them to cold. They also learned brown fat consumes white fat, which is the kind that makes us flabby. In addition, their research showed the men in the studies burned about 250 calories in three hours, well above normal resting rates.
Since chilling the body triggers the mobilization of brown fat, the researchers suggest in the Journal of Clinical Investigation that this could lead to an entirely new strategy for weight loss focused on treatments that activate brown fat — without the uncomfortable temperature drop.