Scientists have long-known that newborns have brown fat to maintain their core body temperature and that its gone by adulthood - until now. It’s recently been discovered that most adults have brown fat (brown antipode tissue or BAT) and it is a good type of fat to have.
White fat, the type we are all too familiar with, stores itself (and calories) and gathers stubbornly around the waist. BAT, on the other hand, burns calories with an enzyme that releases energy from food. In simple terms, white fat equals bad and brown fat equals good. Ironically, researchers are discovering that brown fat could be the key to curing obesity.
Three independent studies, reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, have confirmed that BAT is common in adults and is imperative to good metabolism.
Dr. Aaron Cypess, a research associate at the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston, discovered that some adults have BAT around their neck areas; that women have twice as much BAT as men; and that young, thin people have the most BAT.
Cypess also notes that temperature plays a significant role in brown fat activation and that the colder the temperature, the more brown fat was detected.
Scientists at Stockholm University found that the mice that were unable to make brown fat gained weight fifty times faster than those who could.
Patrick Seale, a post-doctoral fellow at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, and an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine discovered a protein (PRDM-16) that is present in every brown fat cell and absent in white fat cells. Seale is now trying to find a gene that would be able to turn on PRDM-16 on.
Rather than seeing fat as unsightly and something of a nuisance, scientists are discovering that fat is a complex organ and important to how we function efficiently. Researchers are still learning more about brown fat, its relationship to metabolism and how it interacts with the body in its entirety.
Most Americans have more white fat than they really need with 34 percent of the population over the age of 20 considered obese.