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Brown Fat May Cut Odds for Obesity, Diabetes

In a study, patients with differing levels of brown fat cells were exposed to mild cold to stimulate the cells’ activity….

In conducting the new study, the researchers compared the resting energy expenditure, blood sugar usage and insulin sensitivity of a group of similar, healthy men with either high or low levels of brown fat.

The men were exposed to either normal or slightly cold temperatures for five to eight hours. During this time, the researchers analyzed samples of their blood and breath to monitor changes in their hormone, blood sugar and insulin levels. The investigators also tracked their whole body oxygen consumption and carbon dioxide production rates.

Brown and white fat tissue samples were also taken. The researchers examined these samples for any differences in cellular energy production and gene expression.

When exposed to slightly cold temperatures, brown fat can boost energy expenditure and burn calories, the study revealed.

"We showed that exposure to mild cold raised whole body energy expenditure, increased glucose [blood sugar] removal from the circulation and improved insulin sensitivity in men who have significant amounts of brown [fat]," explained Sidossis. "These results support the notion that brown [fat] may function as an anti-obesity and anti-diabetic tissue in humans."

While the study showed an association between levels of brown fat and a reduced risk for obesity and diabetes, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

Practice Pearls:

  • Brown fat actually improves insulin sensitivity, blood sugar control and fat-burning metabolism
  • Brown fat plays a role in regulating body temperature
  • Exposure to mild cold raised whole body energy expenditure, increased glucose removal from the circulation and improved insulin sensitivity

Diabetes, July 2014 University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, news release, July 23, 2014