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Understanding the Two Types of Fat on the Human Body – Brown Fat vs. White Fat

Did you know that there are two types of fat on the human body? White Fat and Brown Fat

Why You Want One and Not the Other!

White Fat: The Familiar Adipose Tissue

White fat is the type of fat you’re probably more familiar with. It tends to sit on our stomachs and thighs, and when your doctor tells you that you need to ‘lose weight’, white fat is usually the fat they’re referring to.

Brown Fat: The Calorie-Burning Adipose Tissue

Brown fat, also called brown adipose tissue, is a type of body fat that keeps you warm when you get cold. It also stores energy and helps your body burn calories. Babies and young children typically have more brown fat than adults, which may be part of the reason children often insist on running around without their jackets in freezing temperatures!

Brown Fat in Adults

The Decline of Brown Fat

At a certain point in our lives, for most adults, our ability to produce brown fat “switches off” and most adults only have a small amount remaining in the neck and chest area. Recent studies have shown, however, that a small percentage of adults maintain larger amounts of brown fat well into adulthood. As brown fat is metabolically active and helps people to stay lean and maintain muscle, researchers have been long interested in activating brown fat to fight obesity. 

Research on Activating Brown FatThe AC3-AT Gene Study

And some research has demonstrated that brown fat can be activated by cold exposure therapy; unfortunately, this effect doesn’t last very long and a new study has located the protein gene responsible for ‘shutting off’ the brown fat response. Researchers were able to turn off this gene, AC3-AT–in rats. In this study, researchers had two groups of rats, both of which were fed high-fat, high-calorie diets with the aim of rendering them obese. One of these groups had their AC3-AT gene shut off. After 15 weeks, the rats with the switched off AC3-AT gene shut off gained less weight than the control group and were metabolically healthier. 

Implications for Human Health

Brown Fat and Metabolic Health

So, what are the implications for human health? Science tells us that people who tend to have more brown fat than the average human tend to be leaner and more metabolically active, and it is helpful in preventing certain conditions, like Type II diabetes. For more information on cold therapy and exercise recovery, check out our article here. As brown fat is rich in iron, eating an iron-rich diet may also be helpful.

Recommendations for Increasing Brown Fat

While the science is still new, some experts recommend a few methods for increasing brown fat reserves:

  • Cold Therapy: Can be effective in the short-term (for more information on cold therapy and exercise recovery, check out our article here).
  • Iron-Rich Diet: Since brown fat is rich in iron, consuming an iron-rich diet may also be helpful.
  • Exercising: While not directly affecting brown fat stores, exercise can ‘trick’ white fat into burning calories and becoming more metabolically active, creating a phenomenon called ‘beige fat’.

Wishing you all the best on your journey to optimum health!

​​Written by Theresa Faulder, Master’s in English, Certified Personal Trainer and Infofit fitness blog writer.

Works Cited

Cleveland Clinic Medical Professional. (n.d.-a). Brown fat, brown adipose tissue: What it is & what it means. 

ScienceDaily. (2024, April 29). Breakthrough in brown fat research: Researchers have found Brown Fat’s “off-switch. ” ScienceDaily. 

WebMD. (n.d.). What is brown fat? WebMD.