Fat often gets a bad rap, but not all fat is created the same. In fact, fat can even be your friend if you know where to look. Let us introduce you to brown fat, also known as brown adipose tissue (BAT), a type of fat that offers numerous and surprising benefits to the body.
But to take full advantage of BAT, you should first understand how it functions in keeping you healthy, plus how your genetics can shape your relationship with fat overall.
So What is Brown Fat?
Brown fat is a specialized type of fat that is found in small amounts in adults, primarily located in the neck and upper back area. Unlike white fat, which stores energy, brown fat burns energy to produce heat in a process known as thermogenesis. This process helps to maintain the body's temperature, making it particularly important in infants and small mammals that are unable to regulate their own body temperature.
Brown fat is characterized by the presence of a large number of mitochondria, which are the powerhouses of cells responsible for energy production. These mitochondria contain a protein called uncoupling protein 1 (UCP1), which uncouples the process of electron transport from ATP synthesis, resulting in the release of energy as heat. This process is what gives brown fat its thermogenic properties.
How is Brown Fat Different from White Fat?
The primary function of white fat is to store energy in the form of triglycerides. When the body needs energy, white fat cells release these triglycerides into the bloodstream, where they can be used by other cells. However, when the body has an excess of energy, white fat cells continue to store it, leading to weight gain and obesity.
Brown fat, on the other hand, burns energy to produce heat, helping to maintain body temperature. Brown fat cells also have more blood vessels, allowing them to break down more glucose and fatty acids from the bloodstream. It’s quite ironic, but this means that BAT is fat that helps keep your cardiovascular health in shape.
Benefits of Brown Fat
We’ve established that brown fat is healthier than white fat, but how exactly? Brown fat has numerous benefits for your body, some of which might even sound surprising:
- Weight Loss: Brown fat burns calories to produce heat, making it a potential target for weight loss therapies. Studies have shown that individuals with higher levels of brown fat have a lower body mass index (BMI) and are less likely to be overweight or obese.
- Improved Insulin Sensitivity: BAT’s function helps your body become more receptive to insulin, regulating blood sugar levels and ultimately reducing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
- Reduced Cardiovascular Risk: Brown fat has been found to improve lipid profiles, reducing the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
- Increased Metabolic Rate: Considered healthy when you have higher levels of brown fat, you can increase your body’s metabolic rate, helping to burn more calories and maintain a healthy weight.
- Protection Against Cold: Brown fat plays a crucial role in maintaining body temperature, protecting against the harmful effects of cold temperatures. Fun fact, you can actually “activate” your BAT by exposing your body to colder temperatures, like with an ice bath or a simple cold shower.
Foods that Contain Brown Fat
Brown fat is found in small amounts in adults, but you won’t have to resort to cannibalism! There are certain foods that have been found to contain higher levels of brown fat than others. One such food is bone broth, which is made by simmering bones and connective tissue for several hours. This process releases collagen, gelatin, and other nutrients, including brown fat, which is present in bone marrow.
Other foods that may contain brown fat include fatty fish, such as salmon and mackerel, as well as organ meats like liver and heart - cooked, of course. These foods are also rich in nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids and iron, which are important for your overall health.
How Your DNA Affects Your Brown Fat Functions
But of course, everybody has unique nutritional responses to different types of foods, which is why genetics plays an important role in your unique body fat levels, obesity risks, and even the amount and activity of brown fat. Variants in genes such as FTO and IRX3 have been linked to decreased brown fat and increased risk of obesity.
Luckily, you can take advantage of this and make the most out of your DNA with a genetic test from CircleDNA. With a painless swab from the comfort of home, you can discover up to 500+ genetic reports on all aspects of your health, including those related to obesity risk and brown fat function. With this information at your disposal, you can take control and make better informed lifestyle decisions that take advantage of brown fat and its many benefits.