What the Heck is Beige Fat and What Can it Do for You?

For years now, obesity researchers have been teasing us with promises of converting white fat (aka your love-handles) into calorie-burning, 6-pack making brown fat.

But now, it turns out that most of that brown fat they found in adult test subjects isn’t brown fat at all – it’s BEIGE FAT.

Beige fat  looks like brown fat and it has the calorie burning abilities of brown fat, but it ain’t brown fat.



A Primer on Body-Fat

It turns out, adults have 3 different types of body-fat:

  • White fat – which stores calories and contributes to obesity
  • Brown fat – initially thought to exist only in babies, brown fat arises from infant muscles and is designed to help keep their little baby-bodies warm. “More recent imaging data suggested that adults, too, maintain some brown fat’.
  • Beige fat – similar looking to brown fat, beige fat doesn’t come from muscle, but is created by the “browning” of white fat in adult humans. It is found in “scattered pea-sized deposits beneath the skin near the collarbone and along the spine in adults”.

What is Beige Fat and What Can it Do for You?

We’ve already established that beige fat is created by the “browning” of white fat cells. And that it looks pretty much identical to brown fat.

But with this new study, we now know that beige fat cells are “genetically somewhere in between white fat and brown fat”.

At baseline, beige fat cells have low levels of uncoupling protein 1 (UCP1) – a protein required by mitochondria to burn calories and generate heat – similar to white fat. But the beige cells also have a remarkable ability to ramp up their UCP1 expression, turning on an energy-burning program – enabling beige fat to burn calories nearly as effectively as brown fat.

And here’s where it gets really interesting…

The team also found that beige cells respond to a hormone known as irisin to turn on the energy-burning program. That’s particularly notable because irisin is released from muscle with exercise, and it is responsible for some of the benefits that physical activity brings.

Irisin might just be the long-sought treatment aimed to increase those coveted energy-burning fat cells. In addition to the therapeutic potential, the new findings might also lead to new and better ways to characterize important differences amongst people in the numbers of beige cells they carry.

How cool is that???


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