“When you think of obesity or excess body weight or body fatness, that’s the additional storage of white fat,” said Dr. Daniel Smith, assistant professor in UAB’s department of nutrition sciences.
But brown fat is an entirely different animal.
“Instead of a storage capacity it has a capacity to burn lipid,” said Smith.
However, whether it’s enough to actually burn white fat and reduce your waist line is still up for debate.
“I think that’s the million dollar question people need to answer,” said Smith.
Smith believes part of the problem is that the people that need to burn the most calories are also typically the ones with the least amount of brown fat.
Thinner people typically have more of the tissue around their shoulders and neck. However in heavier set people, brown fat is not as prevalent.
“So trying to target a tissue that maybe doesn’t exist as much, is a little bit of a hard thing to do,” he said.
So how do you make more brown fat? It might be as simple as standing out in the cold.
Since the tissue helps to generate the body’s heat, a person can produce more of it by exposing themselves to colder temperatures for an extended period of time.
“Its kind of like if you have a house and it’s getting cold. Well you’re going to turn on the thermostat to keep things warm,” said Smith.
As for whether the activation of brown fat will lead to serious weight loss or simple weight control, Smith says that’s something scientists continue to look at it.
“Question is can you turn it back on in those people and actually get a metabolic benefit,” he said. “Twenty years from now will we actually have a package way to use brown adipose tissue to help control our body weight and our metabolism.”