Brown fat

Researchers have made a ground-breaking discovery that one day may help people lose weight.

Thin adults have more brown or “good” fat to help regulate body temperature compared with heftier folks. Scientists knew that mammals had brown fat and that babies used it to stay warm, but it was thought to disappear with age.

Three studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine show some adults do have brown fat, and it appears to play a role in burning off excess calories.

Excess calories are stored in regular or white fat that concentrates around the waistline.

In contrast, brown fat burns calories, generating heat for the body. It’s found around internal organs and between the shoulder blades.

Researchers found:

* Lean people had far more brown fat activity than overweight and obese people, especially among people over age 64.
* Brown fat burns more calories and generates more body heat in cooler climes.
* Women were more likely to have deposits of brown fat than men, and the deposits were larger and more active in women.

Theoretically, the findings could be applied as a weight loss strategy.

The next step will be to test if scientists can intervene in the development of fat cells, directing them to become brown fat cells, as has been done in mice. Even if successful, a treatment is five to 10 years away.

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