Your body fat is made up of two types of cells that categorize the tissue by color: brown fat and white fat. White fat stores energy but brown fat actually burns energy to generate heat. It used to be believed that we were born with brown fat to help keep us warm as infants. As we mature into adults, our brown fat was thought to melt away.
Recently, however, it’s been discovered that our brown fat doesn’t recede completely. This discovery has led to numerous studies with the goal of learning how to activate the thermogenic properties of brown fat to burn more calories and melt away pounds. New research suggests that could be as simple as turning the thermostat down in the bedroom.
White fat vs. brown fat
White fat is made from cells with the sole purpose to store excess calories to be available as an energy source when necessary. White fat cells have very few mitochondria, tiny energy producing subunits known as organelles that are present in all the cells in your body. Brown fat is brown because its cells are packed with a lot of mitochondria.
When exposed to cold temperatures or certain hormones such as epinephrine, brown fat cells turn on a gene that “uncouples” its mitochondria from the energy production process so the organelles actually start burning fat and glucose, which dissipates as heat.
Burning fat and calories?
Because the mitochondria use glucose as a fuel to generate heat, brown fat can do a lot more than just keep us warm. When brown fat cells are stimulated by cold or hormones, it draws a significant amount of glucose from the blood to help regulate blood sugar levels. By diverting glucose, brown fat can also divert extra calories from fat storage when you eat too much.
Your brown fat is sparsely distributed in the back of your neck, above your collarbones, between your shoulder blades and around your heart and kidneys. When your body accumulates white fat, your brown fat deposits shrink and slow their fat-burning activity. A lot of scientists are searching for ways to hyperstimulate brown fat and help brown fat cells proliferate.
For a recent study published in the journal Diabetes, researchers affiliated with the National Institutes of Health recruited five volunteers to sleep in climate-controlled bedrooms for four months. All their meals were provided to ensure a constant, uniform calorie intake.
For the first month, the bedrooms were set at 75 degrees, considered a neutral temperature that would not cause changes in the mitochondria. The second month the bedrooms were cooled to 66 degrees, a temperature thought to stimulate brown-fat activity. The third month, the bedrooms were reset to 75 degrees to reset the mitochondria after the previous month. The final month was set at 81 degrees.
Stimulate your brown fat
Throughout the study, the volunteers’ blood sugar, insulin levels and daily energy expenditures were monitored. Brown fat was measured each month. Four weeks of sleeping at 66 degrees nearly doubled their volumes of brown fat. They also burned a few more calories throughout the day. After four weeks sleeping at 81 degrees, they had less brown fat than was measured when the study began.
According to the researchers, simply sleeping in a cooler room could give you metabolic advantages that help you maintain a healthy weight, as well as reduce your risk for diabetes and other chronic illnesses related to overweight and obesity.
Medical News Today