Brown Fat to Lose Weight
Finally a bit of lighter reading — literally. In recent years there has been much discussion about brown adipose tissue — brown fat. And what I will tell you here you will both like and dislike.
When I took my physiology classes, numerous years back, we learned about the existence of brown fat in babies. Brown fat is fat (adipose tissue) that can generate heat without shivering. That is to say, it does not have to shiver like muscles do in order to generate heat and yet unlike the “regular” adipose tissue it has the ability to burn calories for heat. It helps babies keep their body temperature stable, being that they do not have a lot of muscle mass to shiver them warm yet.
Then we were told that adults do not have brown adipose tissue, which I did not believe even back then. Because generally, the body only does away with structures that it does not need. And so my suspicion was that probably we did not have any or hardly any brown fat as adults because us civilized folks are just never cold.
This hunch of mine thanks to PET (positron emission tomography), which can detect brown adipose tissue activity, has proven to be correct. All adults have brown adipose tissue. That is the good news. PET has shown that brown adipose tissue gets activated when people are cold. Skinny people have more brown adipose tissue. This leads researchers to believe that brown adipose tissue helps maintain a healthy body weight.
In a small study where the actual calorie burn was measured, 6 men burnt an additional 250 calories each over the course of 3 hours when their brown adipose tissue was activated (http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/240759.php) — that is to say, when they were cold enough for the
brown fat to get active but not as cold as to shiver. 250 calories in 3 hours for doing nothing is very decent. It is like walking 2.5 miles.
That is the good news. If you are moderately cold, you will burn a lot more calories for doing absolutely nothing.
The bad news of course is that you have to be cold to achieve this. And who wants to be cold??
For myself I have adopted the habit of sleeping cold. Depending on room temperature, I just use the thinnest little cover. I sleep so that when I wake up at night and touch my skin, it is cold. This leads to a much higher calorie burn rate at night. But you will now ask: is it not uncomfortable to sleep in the cold? The answer is surprisingly no. It happened over a couple of years for me, I would just always be hot at night and started to use less and less covers. And now even though when I touch my skin it is cold, I feel perfectly warm. Of course there is a point when I get cold. If that is the case, I just throw a blanket on.
My personal reason to sleep cold is not weight loss. I am doing it because I think it is healthy for humans to not be pampered all the time. But that is just my personal conviction. Be that as it may, it is likely that if you start to sleep only a little colder — with thinner blankets or a lower room temperature — your calorie burn rate at night will go up, and since that happens for 8 hours straight, it can make quite a difference.
Written by David P. Amrein