Do you know that our bodies can store different types of fat? The fat that builds up in the abdomen is usually different from what accumulates in the thighs or arms. There are also white and brown kinds of fat.
In fact, today, you’ll come across a weight-loss program that converts white fat into brown! The non-invasive procedure, which takes only a short period each session, can help you lose about half a pound every visit.
You may ask, though: what kind of sorcery is this? To answer this is to understand more about brown fat.
What Does Brown Adipose Tissue (BAT) Do?
Put, BAT controls body temperature. In humans, this is done through non-shivering thermogenesis. Brown fat absorbs chemical energy from the bloodstream and converts it into heat by a process called uncoupling oxidative phosphorylation within mitochondria. This process is dependent on UCP1 and other mitochondrial proteins.
How do the white and brown types of fat differ? They vary in their genes, functions, and where they store energy (calories) from food.
- White fat cells mainly store energy as triglycerides to ensure survival during times we don’t eat for long periods.
- Brown fat cells mainly burn energy as heat to maintain body temperature in times of cold exposure, something infants have a lot of need for.
In other words, brown adipose tissue is an important human thermogenic organ that provides heat and burns calories through fatty acid oxidation when activated by cold exposure or norepinephrine stimulation. Brown fat can, therefore, prevent obesity and type II diabetes.
From the moment we are born, our brown fat gradually decreases until it scarcely exists in adults. This is why obese children often take longer to get warm than their peers. They do not possess sufficient amounts of brown fat, which protects them from cold temperatures.
White adipose tissue, the main function of energy storage via triglycerides, accounts for more than 80 percent of body fat. It’s found just under the skin (subcutaneous), around internal organs, and in between muscles.
While beige or brown fat cells have very few mitochondria, which are the cell’s energy powerhouses, white adipose tissue has many fat droplets. That means white adipose cells are basically just bags full of triglycerides waiting to be burned as fuel when there isn’t enough glucose available.
In addition, brown adipose tissue contains a special protein called uncoupling protein 1 (UCP1) within its mitochondria that allows it to burn fatty acids directly. This is how brown fat cells can generate heat—by burning body fat as fuel!
What Happens When You Burn Off White Fat?
When there’s an excess of energy in the body (i.e., too many calories from food), triglycerides are stored in white adipose tissue (WAT). Those triglycerides can be burned for energy, but they have to be broken down into their component fatty acids and glycerol by lipases before releasing them as free fatty acids.
The result? Heat is produced, water is lost, and waste products are produced as a by-product! An enzyme called hormone-sensitive lipase will break apart the triglyceride backbone to release two free fatty acids and a monoglyceride. This process requires water, so you’ll also produce sweat or urine that contains water and things like urea.
What About Brown Adipose Tissue?
When there’s an excess of calories in the body, it would be best to burn them off, right? That’s exactly what brown adipose tissue does. Because BAT is found deep under our skin within muscle tissues, it can easily warm up muscles and organs by absorbing chemical energy from your bloodstream.
This process produces heat as a waste product rather than water or sweat because BAT doesn’t have many nerves or capillaries to carry those products away! As a result, the heat produced will mostly stay near the site where the brown fat was activated, keeping you nice and cozy while helping you avoid chills.
Here’s another cool fact: Because brown adipose tissue doesn’t accumulate triglycerides, it’s often regarded as an efficient nutrient-partitioning tissue.
In other words, when we consume excess calories or carbs, they are more likely to be stored in the form of white fat. But if there is a little caloric intake, brown fat can absorb some of that energy from the bloodstream. This process is known as non-shivering thermogenesis, and it significantly contributes to overall daily energy expenditure!
For all these reasons, many scientists now think that brown fat could help fight against obesity and its related chronic conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disorders, and even some kinds of cancer.