“What the f#ck is brown fat?”
That was my initial reaction when I someone told me about this supposed “brown fat”. It turns out
- Brown fat is real,
- It is helpful in our struggle to lose those beer guts or muffin tops.
The body has 2 different types of fat, brown and white.
The white we are familiar with. It’s what makes our thighs jiggle and our bellies shake. White fat is composed of a single fat droplet. Think of it as a drop of olive oil in a bowl of water. White fat acts as a reserve fuel storage if shit hits the fan and you are stuck with nothing to eat for an extended period of time.
Brown fat (BF) in a heat generator for the body. BF is several fat droplets in that same bowl with with a high concentration of iron containing mitochondria. The mitochondria are the furnace and the source of the brownish color in the fat.
The easiest way to think about it, white fat is your oil tank for your house. The more white fat you have; the bigger the tank. BF is one of the sources that draws on this oil tank.
BF has been known for a while- obviously I was not part of that conversation. Brown fat is found in babies, before they develop the ability to shiver, and hibernating animals in high concentrations. As we reach adulthood our BF concentrations get lower. The animals get to keep their high concentrations, lucky S.O.B.’s, I’d take a lean body over the ability to shiver any day.
BF takes in fuel (food or white fat) and converts it to heat. That’s why babies have high concentrations of it before they can shiver. BF usually collects around the front and back of the neck. As we age, the back of the neck, where your neck and shoulders meet, still has the highest concentration.
Everyone knows the more muscle you have the more calories you need to keep those gainz. One reason for that is the mitochondria. The mitochondria requires fuel to keep “the fire going”, so it draws on the food you eat and white fat stores. The more mitochondria you have, the more calories you need in the course of the day. So by adding BF mitochondria and more muscle mitochondria, you are requiring more calories per day. If you couple that with a calorie restricted diet… BOOM you have fat loss!
Great, BF will help me lose my gut, so now there are 2 important questions we need to answer…
- Can we increase BF, and
- How do we activate BF?
Don’t worry, I got your back Jack. Here is everything you need to know…
CAN WE INCREASE BROWN FAT?
STUFFING YOUR FACE OR STARVING YOURSELF
Did you ever noticed when the news or any morning talk show has a health expert on and they have their weight loss secrets, slowing down how fast you eat is almost always one of them? Well it actually holds some water. If you eat too fast you miss the “I’m full” signal from your brain. This causes you to overeat and eventual increase in white fat. Well it turns out the same signal that says “I’m full” also triggers your body to turn white fat into BF. Eating too much causes interference with the body changing white fat to brown fat and consuming too little doesn’t initiate that signal.
What you can do: Slow it down, enjoy the meal and stop when you are full regardless of how much is left on the plate.
AN APPLE A DAY
The hell with keeping the doctor away, we want abs! Do you like apples that shine? Of course you do, who likes brown, dull apples? Well that shine is caused by ursolic acid which has been shown to increase brown fat in research mice. Yes, you are not a mouse but what’s the worst that could happen eating an apple a day? Worst case scenario you keep the doctor away. Best case, it helps you lose fat. I find this to be a minimal risk experiment.
What you can do: Eat an apple, preferably before or after a workout to minimize the fructose effect in the apple.
Shock and awe, the gym rat suggested working out. One of the many benefits of exercise is the release of an enzyme called irisin and a gene called UCP-1. Irisin triggers white fat to act like BF. UCP-1 increases the activity in BF. Not only do you burn calories during the actual workout, calories while your body recovers and now we just learned that you can now burn extra calories by increasing the activity in white fat and BF?
Seems like more people should get on this exercise fad.
What you can do: Get your ass to the gym at least 2-3 times per week.
GET SOME SLEEP
When I was younger I lived by the phrase “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” Boy was I an out-of-shape idiot. Totally disregarding the other mental and physical benefits of sleep, high quality sleep can help increase BF. The melatonin released when you sleep pulls double duty and increases the amount of BF in the body.
What you can do: To optimize melatonin production, follow the suggestions I outline in How to Sleep Better.
HOW TO ACTIVATE BROWN FAT?
Unfortunately, the main purpose of BF is not to help you get abs but to keep the body warm. So in order to activate it, you must subject yourself to colder temperatures. Not freezing, because then shivering will take over but right before that point. A Japanese study had 12 young men with lower than average BF sit in a room for 2 hours with the temperature kept at 63 degree F for six weeks. They were compared to young men sitting in a normal temperature room. The participants in the colder room burned on average about 108 extra calories in the beginning but after 6 weeks they were able to burn an extra 290 calories. I agree that 290 calories is not much and won’t help you lose those jiggily thighs. However, repeatedly exposing yourself to colder temp adds up. 290 calories for 5 days is 1,450 calories burned up while doing nothing. Compounding that over time will really add up quickly.
What you can do: Alternatively, if you don’t want to be the one to suggest keeping the house at a steamy 63 degrees, an ice pack or frozen veggies on the back of the neck works too. Obviously, wrap the ice pack or veggies in a towel and place it on the back of your neck where your neck and shoulders meet. Keep it there for 20-30 minutes while watching TV. Honestly it doesn’t get any easier than that.
Garlic has been shown in studies to increase UCP-1 in lab rats. Again, like the apple, Best case, you lose body fat. Worst case, you smell like an Italian.
What you can do: Use fresh garlic with meals. Not too much where no one wants to be near you but enough to make the food taste better.
Curcumin is the active ingredient in turmeric. It potentially has anti-inflammatory and cancer prevention properties as well as activating the mitochondria in BF.
What you can do: Either use turmeric and black pepper on your food or supplement with curcumin. 200-500 mg will do the trick. The black pepper is important for absorption of the curcumin. Without it, it just passes right through your system.
More specifically epigallocatechin gallate, or for us without a PhD, EGCG. EGCG is the active ingredient in green tea that gives us the benefits of fat loss, reducing insulin triglycerides and cholesterol. EGCG increases the UCP-1 which like exercise, throws the BF into overdrive.
What you can do: Drink green tea throughout the day. The use of milk, cream and sugar will negate the fat burning effects of the EGCG. Take it natural or with artificial sweetener. Opt for the actual tea bag or leaf version of green tea. Premade drinks and powders are just bastardized versions of green tea.
Capsaicin is what gives hot peppers its hotness. Studies show in a 6-week study that capsaicin supplementation mimicked the effect of repeated cold exposure. So if you hate cold and can’t stomach the ice pack on the neck, this is your best bet.
What you can do: Add some flavor and spice in your life and use hot peppers with meals.
With these simple tricks you can help ease your fat loss without doing much on top of eating and exercise. If you aren’t calorie restricting all these tips will be a mute point and your white fat will increase.
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