Did you know that there are different types of fat stored in your body? And interestingly, the types of fat tissue are different colors. Their color is indicative of the number of mitochondria in their cells. These mitochondria and their effects on the cell functions, are the key to how you can slim down with brown fat.
Here is the information you need to know about brown fat, and 3 ways you can increase your brown fat stores.
There are 2 types of fat in your body. There is white adipose tissue (WAT, white fat), and brown adipose tissue (BAT, brown fat). While they are both adipose tissue, they serve different purposes.
White fat is likely the fat you think about most on your body. It’s the fat most people are trying to lose. It stores energy that has accumulated in fat droplet cells. It works to keep you warm and provides insulation for your organs. Unfortunately, excess white fat is also associated with chronic disease and obesity, especially when it has accumulated around the midsection of the body.
Brown fat, on the other hand, actually burns calories. While it does store smaller amounts of energy, it’s packed with mitochondria. Mitochondria are the components in cells that produce energy. It’s this high density of mitochondria that gives these cells their brown color. When brown fat “burns,” it creates heat in the body, using a process called thermogenesis. Thermogenesis is a calorie output.
What’s more, brown fat stimulates metabolic benefits in the body beyond thermogenesis. It is now thought that brown fat secretes factors that influence the body’s fuel usage and energy metabolism (1).
There’s more good news.
Technically, there is a third type of fat. This type is somewhere in the middle of the spectrum between white and brown fat, and it can be converted to brown fat with lifestyle changes. It’s this type of fat that has the potential to improve your metabolism and health. This fat is often referred to as beige fat.
Although most babies seem like they are made mostly of chubby, cute “baby fat,” they actually have the highest percentage of brown fat. In fact, a baby’s body mass is made of approximately 5% brow fat (2).
Since increased brown fat is associated with increased calorie burn and reduced obesity, it’s certainly worthwhile to find ways to increase your own brown fat if possible.
Exercise provides many benefits to the body. Some of its benefits include the potential to increase brown fat activity and activation and increase thermogenesis.
Humans and animals have the potential to produce a hormone called irisin. This hormone is being studied for it’s potential in converting beige fat to brown fat (3). Irisin is found in higher amounts in more active humans than those who are sedentary. Irisin is best produced with high-intensity interval training is used for exercise. High-intensity interval training can be utilized with gym classes, online classes, or by simply doing aerobic exercise like swimming, jump-roping, or jogging at a comfortable speed, then more intense speed, and repeating.
What’s more, when you exercise and build muscle, your body continues to burn extra calories after you’re done, for up to 24 hours!
The first way to slim down with brown fat is to utilize high-intensity interval training and exercise regularly.
It’s well accepted that exposing your body to cold temperatures can increase the conversion of beige to brown fat, and increase the activity of brown fat. However, the amount of cold-exposure time needed, and how long the effects last, is still not conclusive.
There is research to support both ice-cold showers and drinking ice water as mechanisms to recruit beige fat and increase calorie burn.
First, a 2003 study with 7 men and 7 women showed that drinking 500 mL (approximately 16 ounces) of ice water per day increased calorie output by ~100 calories per day. This increase was measured by indirect calorimetry (4).
Next, a blast of ice-cold water in the shower or an entire cold shower may increase beige fat conversion and thermogenesis. Your body will work, and burn calories, to keep you warm. What’s more, icy showers have been associated with healthy skin, immune system support, and better energy.
There are also many potential nutrients and foods that may activate brown and beige fat. However, confirmed study results are lacking. Most studies show that very high amounts of a specific nutrient can increase brown fat activity, enzymes that convert beige fat, and/or body thermogenesis. These studies are mostly lab and animal studies, and can only be applied to human health hypothetically.
So, there are limitations.
On the other hand, the nutrients being studied are typically associated with lower body fat and weight in other ways. What’s more, they promote overall health, reduced inflammation, and reduced oxidative stress in the body. So whether or not they pan out as brown-fat stimulators, they are great for your body. Some nutrients being studied for increased brown fat include:
While there is potential to increase brown fat in the adult human body, these lifestyle changes take time and effort. Luckily, they are all habits that also improve overall health and wellbeing. An exercise routine that includes interval training, ice-cold showers and drinks, and a healthy diet with specific foods like fish, green tea, turmeric, and others can help. Keep building your daily healthy habits, and use these strategies to slim down with brown fat.