Ever wish you really could freeze you butt off? According to new research, maybe you can.
A special kind of fat called brown fat is the secret. Brown fat got its name from its color, a reddish brown, which is due to iron in the cells. These fat cells play the role of a personal heater, helping us keep warm. As adults, we shiver in the cold, but babies don't have that capability. Enter brown fat. It burns calories, generates heat and can potentially help people shed pounds.
Brown fat differs from the bad fat we're so familiar with called white fat. White fat is found around the waistline, where it stores excess energy and releases chemicals that control metabolism and the use of insulin.
According to a recent report in The New England Journal of Medicine, we do not lose their brown fat as we age as was previously thought. Rather, some of this good fat remains in our upper backs, necks, collarbones and along our spines.
Dr. Francesco Celi, an endocrinology and metabolism researcher at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, said the studies show this fat burns large amounts of energy and "could be used as a target" for a pill that would somehow rev up the fat.
Dr. Louis Aronne, former president of the Obesity Society and a weight control expert at Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York, said the findings are the most conclusive evidence so far of the role of such fat in regulating body temperature and weight.
"I don't want to use the word 'exercise-in-a-pill,' but it's doing something (that's) getting rid of calories," he said, adding that any obesity treatment developed around the fat could be a potential treatment for diabetes as well.
Three research groups documented the presence and activity of the brown fat by examining tissue samples from some patients and using high-tech imaging that indicated how much sugar, and therefore calories, the fat burned.
Here's what they learned about brown fat:
- Lean people had far more than overweight and obese people, especially among older folks.
- It burns far more calories and generates more body heat when people are in a cooler environment.
- Women were more likely to have it than men, and their deposits were larger and more active.
Finding a successful treatment for obesity would be a Holy Grail for scientists. Most obese and overweight people are unable to shed pounds and keep them off with dieting and exercise.
And despite plenty of effort, pharmaceutical companies have been unable to develop a medicine that helps people safely lose and keep off a significant amount of weight. Any drug that could do that would be a guaranteed blockbuster.
For now, you can wait for a magic pill, or you might want to try turning down the thermostat.