Food for Thought
Researchers have known for years that infants possess a form of fat that helps protect them when they are cold. This so-called “brown” fat works at the cellular level, burning up calories to generate quick heat for tiny bodies, which cannot shiver to warm their muscles. It was thought that humans lost their stores of brown fat after infancy, once their shivering response developed.
Now a new report has determined that humans retain brown fat throughout adulthood, raising the possibility that this substance could somehow be used to reduce the incidence of obesity. Published in the April 9 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine, the report found that little blobs of brown fat can burn huge amounts of calories in human adults when activated by the cold. The researchers also said that thinner people tend to have more brown fat than heavier people, while younger people typically have more than older people.
While the researchers and other experts were quick to say that the practical applications of these findings are slim, the hope is that someday science may find a way to “turn on” brown fat cells to help overweight people burn more calories.