When it comes to body fat, people often think of white fat that can be unhealthy. However, researchers have found that a certain type of body fat may even protect people from common conditions such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Apart from the white fat that most people are familiar with, there is another type of fat that scientists used to think only persisted in animals and in newborns: brown fat, also known as brown adipose tissue (BAT). It was long believed that brown fat would disappear when people reach adulthood, but recent studies found small reserves of it in some adults, mainly in their shoulder and neck areas, Healthline said.
Calling it the “good fat,” the outlet noted that brown fat stores energy in a smaller space compared to white fat and it even burns calories.
In a new study, published in Nature Medicine, a team of researchers found just how beneficial brown fat can be. They looked at 130,000 PET scans of over 52,000 patients from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and found detectable brown fat in 10% of them. Researchers observed a lower prevalence of common chronic diseases in them compared to those without brown fat.
“We report that individuals with BAT had lower prevalences of cardiometabolic diseases, and the presence of BAT was independently correlated with lower odds of type 2 diabetes, dyslipidemia, coronary artery disease, cerebrovascular disease, congestive heart failure and hypertension,” the researchers wrote.
For instance, 18.9% of the people with brown fat had abnormal cholesterol compared to 22.2% of those without it. The risk for hypertension, coronary artery disease and congestive heart failure was also low among the participants with BAT, a news release from The Rockefeller University said.
According to the researchers, the difference was even more striking in patients who were considered obese or overweight. They usually are at higher risks of heart and metabolic conditions, but the researchers found that the prevalence rate of these diseases in obese people with brown fat was actually similar to that of non-obese people.
“The beneficial effects of BAT were more pronounced in individuals with overweight or obesity, indicating that BAT might play a role in mitigating the deleterious effects of obesity,” the researchers wrote. “Taken together, our findings highlight a potential role for BAT in promoting cardiometabolic health.”
It is not clear how brown fat protects people, but the researchers’ work confirms and even expands the previous findings.
“For the first time, it reveals a link to lower risk of certain conditions,” study co-author and senior attending physician at The Rockefeller University Hospital, Paul Cohen, said in the news release. “These findings make us more confident about the potential of targeting brown fat for therapeutic benefit.”
It’s also unclear how people can get more brown fat, although some previous studies have suggested that things like exposure to cold temperatures and exercising can possibly help recruit brown fats or transform white fats into BAT. However, more research is needed to see whether these activities are really effective.
For now, a lifestyle that includes a healthy diet and exercise is still the armor against common chronic diseases.
What Is Brown Fat? People With BAT Possibly At Lower Risk Of Diabetes, Heart Diseases The British Journal Editors and Wire Services/ International Business Times.