You may have heard that eating more (of the right kind of) fat helps you burn fat, but did you know that gaining fat can help you burn fat? Brown fat is a specific thermogenic fat that helps you burn the white body fat typically associated with weight gain. Today we explore all things fat and how increasing your brown body fat can help you get lean.
Body Fat 101
Not all fat is created equal. Understanding the different places fat can be stored, and the different kinds of fat in the body can help you make better choices when it comes to losing body fat healthily.
Visceral Fat vs. Subcutaneous Fat
Subcutaneous fat is the kind we see visibly on the body that lives below the skin. Visceral fat is hidden inside our body and lives around our organs. Many people are trying to burn visible subcutaneous body fat due to appearance, but this fat is less dangerous than visceral fat.
Although subcutaneous fat has its own health concerns when we accumulate it in high amounts, even tiny amounts of visceral fat can have big consequences for your health.1 Visceral fat is associated with increased health risks such as diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.2
Brown Fat vs. White Fat vs. Beige Fat
When it comes to health and body composition, the kind of fat you have makes all the difference. There are two main kinds of fat, called white and brown fat. Although they are both technically fat, they are made up of different things, play a drastic role, and have a different impacts on the body. The third kind of fat, beige fat, has features midway between white and brown fat.
The typical body fat most people try to avoid is called white fat. White fat cells store energy in a single large, oily droplet. White fat can help you regulate your temperature by insulating organs, but unlike brown fat, it doesn’t burn many calories.3
Brown fat, on the other hand, is made up of lots of mitochondria found in oily drops that are much smaller than white fat’s large, single drops. So while white fat insulates from the cold, brown fat burns more energy (calories) than white fat to help generate body heat and help regulate the body’s internal temperature response to the temperature outside (it’s responsible for your shivering in the cold)!4
Brown Fat is Healthy!
Brown fat is associated with other health benefits, like helping to stabilize blood sugar levels by encouraging glucose uptake from your blood into your muscles.5 It is also heart-healthy since brown fat can fuel itself with circulating triglycerides taken up from the bloodstream, reducing your risk of developing heart disease or a stroke.6-7
White fat can be seen as more of a reserve storage of fat, whereas brown fat seems to act more like muscle tissue in many ways, including its capacity to use white fat for fuel. Studies show that it can burn up to five times the calories of white fat, which helps melt away the white fat! 8
Babies and children have much more brown fat than adults, and although it reduces with age, there are many ways to encourage brown fat (to help us burn white fat)! This is especially true of beige fat, which lives between the spectrum of white and brown. Our habits can help turn beige fat into brown fat, increasing our stores and ability to burn more white fat.9
How to Get More Brown Fat
Most of the brown fat in adults is stored around the collarbone area, the neck, the shoulders, and occasionally on the chest and down the spine. These are the leaner areas of your body, and putting on this fat will not make you noticeably gain weight. However, putting on brown fat will help you burn the white body fat typically associated with weight gain. So how do you put on brown fat? Let’s find out.
1. Get Chilly
One of the most effective ways to produce more brown fat is to increase your exposure to cold temperatures. The cold activates the fat cells, which leads to white fat burning. Studies suggest that the body’s capacity to burn calories increases in time with more exposure to cold, as beige fat turns into brown fat.10
There are many ways to increase your exposure to cold, including turning down the thermostat in your house or going for a walk on a brisk day. Ideally, you want to increase your exposure to the point of sitting in discomfort for a while. This may look like a cold shower and, for others, an ice plunge. As the popularity of cold exposure increases, many recovery and fitness centers are set up for ice plunges, cryo therapy, and other cold-thermogenesis-inducing activities!
2. Quality Sleep
One of the many health benefits of a good night’s sleep is its impact on producing brown fat. Studies highlight that higher melatonin (the sleep hormone) levels also meant higher fat levels and fat-burning capabilities in mice.11 Melatonin helped rats burn more body fat even without changing their diet, pointing to the thermogenic properties as the cause of the reduction in overall body fat.
Increase the quality of your sleep by switching off the blue lights near bedtime since the artificial blue light will suppress your body’s natural release of melatonin.12 A high-quality magnesium supplement before bed, like True Cellular Formulation’s Mag10, can also help your body relax and experience higher-quality rest to help you burn body fat in your sleep.13
Although exercise itself won’t make more brown fat, studies suggest that it may help white fat mimic the behaviors of brown fat.14 This is due to exercise’s ability to alter the hormone irisin, which causes white fat to behave like brown fat in certain ways, including its ability to help us stabilize blood sugar.
When it comes to losing body fat, increasing your brown body fat may be the key! With thermogenic properties, brown body fat helps burn more calories, which helps us burn the white body fat typically associated with weight gain. Increasing your brown fat can be done in several ways, including cold exposure and quality sleep. ExIn addition, exercisean help white fat mimic the behavior of brown fat, also leading to a reduction in overall body fat.
- “Health Effects of Overweight and Obesity.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 24 Sept. 2022, www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/effects/index.html.
- “Visceral Fat: What It Is & How to Get Rid of It.” Cleveland Clinic, my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/24147-visceral-fat.
- John Hopkin’s Medicine. White Fat, Brown Fat, Bad Fat, Good Fat, 16 May 2016, www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/articles/white-fat-brown-fat-bad-fat-good-fat.
- Moyer, Melinda Wenner. “Supercharging Brown Fat to Battle Obesity.” Scientific American, Scientific American, 15 July 2014, www.scientificamerican.com/article/supercharging-brown-fat-to-battle-obesity/.
- Eriksson, Elin. “New Discovery Concerning Glucose Uptake in Brown Fat Could Treat Type 2 Diabetes.” Department of Molecular Biosciences, The Wenner-Gren Institute, www.su.se/mbw/new-discovery-concerning-glucose-uptake-in-brown-fat-could-treat-type-2-diabetes-1.209968.
- Khedoe, P Padmini S J et al. “Brown adipose tissue takes up plasma triglycerides mostly after lipolysis.” Journal of lipid research vol. 56,1 (2015): 51-9. doi:10.1194/jlr.M052746
- “Can Triglycerides Affect My Heart Health?” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 3 Sept. 2022, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-cholesterol/in-depth/triglycerides/art-20048186.
- Shamsi, F., Piper, M., Ho, LL. et al. Vascular smooth muscle-derived Trpv1+ progenitors are a source of cold-induced thermogenic adipocytes. Nat Metab 3, 485–495 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s42255-021-00373-z
- Institute, Dana-Farber Cancer. “‘Beige Fat’ Cells Could Help Fight Obesity.” ‘Beige Fat’ Cells Could Help Fight Obesity | Harvard Medical School, 12 July 2012, hms.harvard.edu/news/beige-fat-cells-could-help-fight-obesity.
- Yoneshiro, Takeshi, et al. “Recruited Brown Adipose Tissue as an Antiobesity Agent in Humans.” Journal of Clinical Investigation, vol. 123, no. 8, 2013, pp. 3404–3408., doi:10.1172/jci67803.
- Jiménez-Aranda, Aroa et al. “Melatonin induces browning of inguinal white adipose tissue in Zucker diabetic fatty rats.” Journal of pineal research vol. 55,4 (2013): 416-23. doi:10.1111/jpi.12089
- Lockley, Steven W et al. “High sensitivity of the human circadian melatonin rhythm to resetting by short wavelength light.” The Journal of clinical endocrinology and metabolism vol. 88,9 (2003): 4502-5. doi:10.1210/jc.2003-030570
- Abbasi, Behnood et al. “The effect of magnesium supplementation on primary insomnia in elderly: A double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial.” Journal of research in medical sciences : the official journal of Isfahan University of Medical Sciencesvol. 17,12 (2012): 1161-9.
- Blizzard LeBlanc, Devin R et al. “Exercise-induced irisin release as a determinant of the metabolic response to exercise training in obese youth: the EXIT trial.” Physiological reports vol. 5,23 (2017): e13539. doi:10.14814/phy2.13539