Do you realize that we have different types of fat in our bodies and they each have different properties? White fat, which is what tends to stretch your pants to their limits and spill over your waistband, stores energy. No surprise there. You also have some brown fat, which gets its color from its iron content. Brown fat also contains more mitochondria, which are known as “the powerhouse of the cell.” You can think of them as the “engines” in brown fat that burn calories and generate heat.
So while the white fat becomes insulation of sorts, the brown fat is active. Babies have a lot of brown fat. Most adults have varying amounts but not that much. Leaner people tend to have a greater amount of it than heavier people but whether that is genetic or not isn’t known.
According to one study, 15 minutes in the cold just could be the metabolic equivalent of an hour of exercise. Researchers, in this study, observed healthy men and women as they exercised in a 65°F lab. Later those same study participants lay on a bed as the temperature fell to 53°F. In both of those tests these people’s muscles contracted (they were shivering!), released the hormone irisin, which is produced in skeletal muscle. This hormone raises body heat and creates brown fat cells from existing white fat cells.
This finding puzzled the researchers. They speculated that since the ancient biological survival mechanism of shivering, which is prompted by cold, helps us maintain our core temperature, preventing hypothermia, perhaps it would stimulate irisin release. They designed tests to find out if shivering rather than exercise was the primary driver of irisin secretion. Turns out irisin is produced by muscle contractions. So whether by exercise or shivering, doesn’t really matter. Once it’s produced, it circulates through the blood changing white fat cells into brown ones.
What is encouraging about this information is that researchers found that the response to cold exposure can be activated even by very minimal changes in temperature. In this study they demonstrated that just by lowering the thermostat from 74°F to 68°F was sufficient to generate a measurable increase in energy expenditure. Thirty seconds of cold water on your upper back and neck after a hot shower, if you have no heart issues, is also a simple way to accomplish this.
Or perhaps just continue staying active and exercising, lower your thermostat just a little bit and get out in the brisk winter weather a little each day for a walk (properly dressed of course) to get the benefit of some colder air and hopefully some sunshine as well.
Another study found that curcumin, the active compound in turmeric, is capable of inducing browning of white fat cells. Besides its anti-inflammatory properties, this research indicates that curcumin seems to be an anti-obesity agent due to its ability to support brown fat as well as by reducing inflammation, which is implicated in obesity as well as diabetes and heart disease. This is a huge finding.
There are numerous ways you can add turmeric to your meals as well as taking it in supplement form or even drinking it as a tea, thereby taking advantage of its many benefits, including stimulating brown fat.
These are some simple ways to stimulate and support activation of your fat burning brown fat. Choose the method that is appropriate for you and in the process reap these health benefits.