The Ultimate Guide to Brown Fat: What It Is, Why It Matters, and Whether You Can Use It to Hack Your Metabolism

Humans tend to have the most brown fat at a young age, and we lose a lot of it as we get older. But if brown fat has health benefits, is there a way to increase the amount?

“It’s generally understood that an adult cannot actively increase the amount of brown fat that they inherently possess,” Maeng explains. But while brown fat cannot be created, there is evidence that the brown fat we have can be activated and white fat can potentially be oxidized. Again, the research is still in its early stages, but it appears that certain conditions can activate brown fat by signaling its mitochondria to burn calories and produce heat. Here is what is currently known about how the following factors contribute to brown fat activation:


A review of studies published in Frontiers in Physiology in 2019 looked at the effects of certain foods on thermogenesis, the heating process that activates brown fat. The review largely included studies done on rats, but found that turmeric and curcumin spices, resveratrol-containing foods (such as wine), green tea, and spicy foods containing capsaicin may activate thermogenesis and/or trigger fat oxidation, which is the browning of white. big. Further research is warranted to verify the effectiveness of these ingredients on BAT in humans, particularly because the doses required for some (i.e. resveratrol) to see results may be unrealistic.

In addition, a review published in Frontiers in Neuroscience in 2021 found that caffeine evokes BAT thermogenesis in rodents, but its effect on human BAT thermogenesis remains unclear. As a registered dietitian, Smith doesn’t feel comfortable recommending dietary changes as a surefire way to activate brown fat. “It would be phenomenal if we could,” she says. “But more research is needed before any advice can be offered.”


Various previous research done on rodents has found particular herbal supplements including kudzu flower oil, ginseng, quercetin (a plant flavonoid found in many fruits and vegetables), propolis, and oleuropein (a compound found in green olives) to activate thermogenesis or oxidize white fat in rodents. However, the results do not directly translate to humans and more research is needed. Additionally, supplements containing these herbs are not regulated by the United States Food and Drug Administration. So if you are interested in trying one, consult your doctor first.


Increasing your workouts won’t create more brown fat out of the blue, but it could oxidize existing white fat into what researchers call beige fat. “There is a correlation between the level of physical activity you do and better overall body fat distribution, including the amount of brown fat,” Maeng explains. “Managing your overall body fat by working towards healthy weight goals will improve your overall fat distribution. There have been recent studies that demonstrate how exercise shifts the body from storing white fat to beige fat, although it is unclear whether beige fat is directly beneficial metabolically or is it’s an adaptive response,” she says.


Taking a polar dip in an ice bath or cryotherapy chamber can activate your brown fat by triggering thermogenesis, according to a study published in the Obesity Diary in 2018. But Maeng says taking a brisk winter walk can work just as well. “Adjusting your body to cold temperatures by taking a walk outside or taking the occasional cold shower might help,” she adds.


In a small study published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation In 2020, a drug called mirabegron, usually prescribed for bladder control, was given to 14 healthy women to see if it would activate brown fat. The researchers thought this was a possibility because the drug binds to a cell surface protein that would also stimulate BAT. After four weeks of treatment, the women’s metabolism at rest was almost 6% higher, although their weight or overall body composition – the fat to muscle ratio – had not changed. Brown fat activity, measured by PET scan, also increased during the study. The greatest changes were seen in women who had less brown fat activity at baseline. Given the extremely small size of the study, these results are inconclusive at all, and another study found the same drug to be ineffective.

In addition, the study published in Autophagy in 2019 found that the synthetic thyroid hormones thyroxine and triiodothyronine activated brown fat and thermogenesis in mice. Again, human trials are needed to determine any benefit.

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