Do YOU Have A Necklace of Sizzling Brown Fat?

Whoa! Weird and wonderful medical news this week! The New England Journal of Medicine published three

Glass necklace
Image by gwen via Flickr

simultaneous reports proving the existence of a veritable Loch Ness monster of physiology – the identification, at long last, of “brown fat” in adults. Say what? See, the conventional wisdom for many many years has been that brown fat exists only in babies, and rapidly diminishes as we age. What is brown fat? It’s, frankly, not really known – but brown fat (yes, based on the color seen during surgery) is theorized to be a very metabolically active kind of fat – key to growth and the high metabolism of the very young. Regular fat is, conversely, white (actually yellow as, well, chicken fat, but whitish too) and essentially inert (please, no comments about my thighs, people). Researchers start panting over the idea of brown fat because of its theoretical potential as a kind of weight/metabolism regulator. If it existed in adults, that is. Besides the big shocker that three different groups found actual spots of brown fat in adults, these researchers also uncovered some tantalizing bits of info about what exactly your brown fat might be doing! 1) Brown fat was found by PET-CT scans (basically, CAT scans that also measure cell activity) by all three independent groups of researchers working in different countries (translation from medical-speak: no one’s faking these results). Brown fat was not found in everyone, and was not equally active in every person.  The studies had different groups of people to study (young healthy guys, men and women of all sizes) but they all found evidence of brown fat in the same area – in dots around the cervical and supraclavicular areas of the body. Basically, above your collarbones and up the front of your neck – or the area a necklace might occupy. 2) Brown fat is more active when you’re cold, or even cool. Brown fat is also more active the leaner you are – it gets less active the higher your BMI (Body Mass Index). 3) Women have about a 2:1 ratio of brown fat presence to men. 4) Really active brown fat is actually LIQUID – now that’s sizzling brown fat! So what does all this mean, besides the fact that your body is full of weird and wonderful things that are still being newly discovered? As an outside researcher, with no reported conflicts of interest, said: “Taken together, these studies point to a potential ‘natural’ intervention to stimulate energy expenditure: turn down the heat and burn calories.” Noting that this strategy is obviously an oversimplification, Dr. Celi concludes, “Nonetheless, these studies…are a powerful proof of concept that this tissue might be used as a target for interventions, pharmacologic and environmental, aimed at modulating energy expenditure.”

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