Sunday, 5 February 2017

Post 44: What is Brown Fat?


Hi guys,

I’m away this weekend in the land of dragons; no, not Clapham High Street on a Friday night, but Cardiff, Wales (although the calibre of clientele can be questioned here on occasion too - C). This week’s post is going to be a quick one, due to my temporary absence from Cowlean HQ, but I was determined to whip something out.




Today we’re going to take a look at something called “brown fat”, or brown adipose tissue (BAT) for the super nerds out there who are like me, and how you can take advantage of it’s fat burning abilities.

But please don’t misconstrue this little post as a panacea, it’s just another little tool to slip into your ever-expanding toolbelt (although let’s hope that’s a knowledge based expansion, rather than belly based - C).



So what is brown fat anyway?

We have two types of fat on our bodies: brown fat (which technically comes in two varieties: brown and beige, depending on where it stems from), and white fat i.e. brown adipose tissue (BAT) and white adipose tissue (WAT).

White fat is the stuff we want to get rid of; it’s the stuff that’s hanging off of your body as an emergency fuel source. Most of us have too much of it.

Brown fat is special because it contains more mitochondria (little energy factories) and more capillaries (to supply oxygen and distribute heat). But what makes brown fat more interesting is something called thermogenin. So rather than the mitochondria using fuel to create energy as our muscles do, the presence of thermogenin allows brown fat to turn fuel into heat, which is then distributed around the body.

Brown fat store picture shamelessly lifted from wikipedia...



So what difference does that make?

The difference is that brown fat is metabolically active, i.e. it burns calories, and because of the low demands of the activity itself, most of it is fueled by fat. Your fat is literally eating your other fat! This all sounds great, but there is one condition: first you have to just chill out…

Brown fat is activated when you’re cold, but not too cold. So wearing just a t-shirt out on a spring morning will do, but getting to the point of shivering is too far. At that point your muscles take over and you start to shiver to generate heat (for those super nerds again: brown fat generates heat via non-shivering thermogenesis - C).




Taking advantage of brown fat

As I said at the beginning of this post, this isn’t a cure-all, and you’re not going to drop lots of weight by just being cold. It’s just a little added extra.

Newborn infants have the most brown fat, because they don’t have muscles yet to shiver with. As we grow older, the amount of brown fat we have diminishes, but we still have a little, commonly in our upper chest and neck. On average women have more than men.


You can stimulate brown fat creation and activation by continued cold exposure (but not too cold! - C) over time. A simple way, therefore, would be to exercise outside without that extra layer, or walk to and from the gym if it’s possible. Basically, just get to grips with the cold every now and then!



Takeaways

Just as I promised in the beginning, this was a quick one, but I enjoy putting together these little posts because I’m learning too! Here’s this week’s takeaways:

  1. Brown fat is different to white fat, in that it cans generate and distribute heat
  2. By chilling out but not to the point of shivering, you can activate brown fat, and burn white fat
  3. Face the cold every now and then to activate brown fat

Until next week,

Cowlean

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