Little is known about brown fat except that it is mostly found in newborns and, well, rodents. Until recently, scientists didn’t even think that adults had any at all. Thanks to an accidental discovery by scientists who were looking at tumor sites on cancer patients, however, we now know that traces of brown fat still linger around in areas such as our upper backs and the sides of our necks.
While it has been characterized as a tissue that helps ward off the cold and supposedly serves as a backup energy generator, what researchers wanted to find out is whether brown fat could actually be used to burn calories or not and how they could be activated in the first place.
In a study led by Andre Carpentier at the University Hospital of Sherbrooke in Canada and published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, researchers found out that, by exposing volunteers to the cold, they were able to activate the brown fat in their bodies. What they found could revolutionize the way we approach weight loss. Apparently, brown fat eats up white fat, and when at rest in the cold, people lose more calories—approximately 250 calories in three hours.
With this new discovery, scientists can now focus on activating brown fat more easily. And while experts have not yet reached the point when they can say that turning the air conditioning up to full blast will actually do us good, there is at least a promising lead.
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(Photo by Elephant wearing striped pants via Flickr Creative Commons)