A Switch That Burns Fat Has Been Discovered.
But you don’t have to volunteer for a drug trial to get it working for you today.
The world is in the grip of an obesity epidemic. Since 2016, it’s accurate to state that most people are now overweight. Obesity, a chronic inflammatory state, is a major factor in the genesis of some of the most common and serious diseases that affect almost every household within developed countries; cardiovascular disease, diabetes type 2, dementia and some cancers. In 2017, 8% of all deaths globally were directly attributable to obesity.
However you look at it, the outlook is bleak. One school of thought says obesity and its related diseases will bankrupt our health services, but another says that because obese people die so much younger the cost balances out. The sad thing about this is that it’s preventable with diet and lifestyle changes, but many people cannot engage the alterations to turn their own health around and potentially save their lives and the quality of it.
For this reason, pharmaceutical companies are falling over themselves to develop new drugs that people can purchase regularly and take passively to reverse their metabolic dysfunction, the gateway to so many other diseases.
Scientists have discovered a promising new target for pharmaceutical research, one they’re calling a switch that burns both fat and sugar. The mechanism is actually a receptor called beta2-adrenergic (B2-AR) found on certain fat cells. Activation of this switch allows the release of fat molecules which can then be ‘burnt’ and your love handles shrink. However, before you rush out and volunteer for the human trials, you may be able to tinker with it yourself and not run the gauntlet of horrible side effects.
‘These nano-engines in brown fat are good at producing heat and use up lots of calories to do so, unlike white fat.’
White and Brown Adipose Tissue (Fat)
All mammals have two types of fat cells; white adipose tissue (WAT) and brown adipose tissue (BAT). WAT is the fat we see on our bellies and unsuccessfully hiding under our chins. It allows us to store incredible amounts of energy for leaner times or when exercising for very long periods before the existence of sports gels and other carriers of sugar. White fat is not an inert storage system just hanging around waiting to be used up, it releases hormones and other molecules into the blood which is what can make it so dangerous. Obese individuals have lots of WAT but scant amounts of BAT relative to lean people.
Brown fat is found amongst white fat but concentrated in areas that when warmed would benefit your entire body; like wearing a heat pack around your neck and shoulders (see image below). Babies are born with lots of BAT, perhaps as protection against fluctuating temperatures, increasing their chances of survival. Brown fat contains lots of mitochondria—the little engines we have in our cells that produce energy in the form of ATP. These nano-engines in brown fat are good at producing heat and use up lots of calories to do so, unlike white fat.
It was believed that humans lost all of their BAT as they matured into adults but this theory has been disproved by scanning people whilst cold and discovering tiny clusters of it. Today, many of us control our temperatures with clothes and thermostats and so it’s all but vanished due to lack of use.
However, there is a way you can start rebuilding your BAT and therefore burn through more calories, wear fewer clothes and save a few quid on your heating, but you might not like it.
You’ve already read that brown fat can regulate temperature by burning lots of calories, so you may have an inkling as to what you have to do to activate it. You have to lower your body temperature, something people are fearful of today, but remember, it’s stresses that strengthen us.
A study, published in the Diabetes Journal, showed that by turning the temperature down to 66°F (19°C) for two hours was enough to recruit more BAT cells. Also, a review paper from 2019 has examined the literature on cold thermogenesis. The authors cite five papers that showed the increase in uptake of both sugar and fat by BAT to generate heat. Both acute and chronic exposure to cold temperatures triggered this response. The paper tells us that this favourable condition caused the expression of genes responsible for glucose metabolism. And the differences are not to be sniffed at:
‘The cold-activated increase in BAT glucose uptake was greater than in all other tissues (brain, heart, liver, WAT, and skeletal muscle) combined.’
The authors concluded with:
‘BAT activation by cold exposure may have beneficial effects on obese and type 2 diabetic patients with altered lipid metabolism.’
Basically, BAT activity helps to mitigate metabolic dysfunction by burning through both fats and sugars at a high rate. Chronically high blood sugar and fat is a serious medical issue that must be addressed. Dietary interventions are powerful indeed, but why not add this lifestyle hack too?
Making yourself a little colder to activate BAT has the potential to reduce obesity, improve insulin resistance, a precursor condition to obesity, diabetes and associated diseases, all for the cost of being proactive.
I’ve written an article on how you can get into cold showers by developing the habit first and going from there, it’s really not that bad and some people end up loving them!
Maybe we shouldn’t make life too comfortable for ourselves all the time?