A leaf in different colors of brown

What is Brown Fat?


Last week, I discussed the benefits of stress. In it, I mentioned that cold therapy activates brown fat. I briefly thought that probably not a lot of people know what this could mean. What is brown fat and how can it be beneficial to and in our bodies.

A liquidized background in different shades of brown
Pawel Czerwinski auf Unsplash

What is Brown Fat?

Let us start with the definition of what brown fat is. Brown fat is a type of fat within our bodies, which regulates our body temperature in cold conditions. It activates in cold conditions and basically kicks into gear shortly before you start to shiver.

What does Brown Fat Do?

This type of fat stores and burns energy. In comparison to white fat, humans only have a small percentage of brown fat as part of their bodies.

What are Different Types of Fat in Our Bodies?

So, if we talk about brown fat, we should also mention the other types of fat that are existing within our bodies. Fat in human bodies is distinguished by its actual color, and the type of role it plays in the body:

  • White Fat; this type of fat stores energy in and around your body. It insulates your organs, but too much of it can can lead to obesity
  • Brown Fat; as said above, this type of fat regulates your body temperature and creates heat around your body. Brown fat also helps to regulate sugar and fat metabolism
  • Beige Fat; is a combination of brown and white fat. It burns energy, and also converts white fat cells into brown fat cells
A beach with sand dunes and grass growing on them
Irina Shishkina auf Unsplash

The Anatomy of Brown Fat

Brown fat cells tend to be tiny molecules, usually made up of fatty acids and glycerol. They tend to resemble muscle more than actual fat. This is the case, because the cells that store this type of fat in tissue are a lot smaller. Fat cells tend to lump together in the body. Brown fat cells look like a small, lumpy, mass. Why is brown fat brown in color? Brown fat cells are full of mitochondria, which tend to carry a lot of iron. This is what provides them with this distinct color.

Where Can You Find Brown Fat?

This tends to differ between adults and when you are newly born. In newborn babies, brown fat is largely located in the neck, back, and shoulders. In adults, it is located around the neck, chest, kidneys, adrenal glands, and our heart.

Feather like flowers in different shades of brown
Liana Mikah auf Unsplash

How Much Brown Fat Do We Carry?

This is truly a very small amount. In newborns the percentage is between 2 – 5%. This decreases when you become an adult. So the overall amount is small. People who are lean and very athletic tend to have a bit more brown fat than other adults.

How Does Brown Fat Help My Body?

Brown fat can help your body in numerous ways:

  • Maintains body temperature;
  • Produces and stores energy;
  • Burns calories;
  • Supports the control of blood sugar and insulin levels.
Clouds appearing in a brown tone lightened by the sky.
Imleedh Ali auf Unsplash

Brown Fat In Scientific Research

I spefically wanted to talk to you about brown fat in relation to some interesting and fascinating research that is currently emerging. As with all things scientific, we have to take these things with a pinch of salt, see what further research will bring and understand certain limitations of studies. However, these ones truly do look promising!

There appears to be an association between the levels of brown fat in peoples’ risk of cardiometabolic conditions. There was a lower risk of type 2 diabetes associated with the detection of brown fat. But there was also a noticeable difference in coronary artery disease, hypertension, and congestive heart failure. The effects appeared to be most pronounced in people with obesity, reducing these key metrics down to levels typical for people without obesity. This means that there is a very valid potential for brown fat to play a protective role against certain cardiometabolic conditions. It will remain to be seen, how this knowledge can be utilized in the future, but as said above, the results in this field is promising.

I hope you have learned something new and exciting today about brown fat. Let me know what you found most fascinating about this in the comments below! Beautiful cover photo by Isaac Quesada on Unsplash.

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