Brown fat, the good type of fat

September 16, 2009 by  
Filed under OBESITY

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laboratory2There is fat and there is fat. Don’t think all fat is bad. White fat is something that we don’t want to have. It stores energy, gives us those extra pounds, and makes us ill. But there is also brown fat – supposedly a good type of fat. Brown fat or brown adipose tissue is the kind that heats up and burns (and not store like white fat does) calories. That’s the good news. The bad news is that although brown fat seems to be abundant in babies, there seems to be not much of it in the adult human body, which is actually dominated by white fat. Or so we thought.

With better technology, researchers now report that we actually have more of the good brown fat than previously thought. The method that combines positron emission tomography and computed tomography (PET/CT) to detect the presence of brown fat in different parts of the body. What they found are:

  • Most of the brown fat, if present, are located in the upper torso which extends from the front of the neck to the chest.
  • Brown fat is easily detected in a cold environment, thus more brown fat activity is detected in summertime than in wintertime.
  • Brown fat is most abundant in young women and least abundant in elderly overweight men.
  • Women were more than twice as likely as men to have substantial amounts of brown fat.

According to researcher Dr. Aaron Cypess of the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston:

“We now know that [brown fat] is present and functional in adults. Three ounces of brown fat can burn several hundred calories a day. [However] We may have to turn it on and make sure it burns calories in a regulated, safe manner.”

Another study by researchers at the Dana Farber Institute indicates that it may actually be possible to create brown fat from other body cells, such as skin cells. They were able to demonstrate this in lab. Using mouse skin cells and myoblasts (muscle precursor cells), they were able to create brown fat tissue. And even though they were lab-made, the brown fat cells looked like and acted like brown adipose tissue.

Although still in its infancy, this research on brown fat has a great potential for the treatment of obesity and diabetes.

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