Fat plays a vital role in keeping our bodies running smoothly. We store extra energy in body fat. It keeps us warm and provides padding for our interior organs. And it secretes chemicals that play a role in appetite and helps regulate menstrual cycles, among other functions.
In other words, in healthy amounts, it’s a wonder organ — but people don’t seem to be very interested in fat except for how to lose it. Read on for some of fat’s amazing abilities, as well as tips on how to treat it right.
1. Fat has different colors.
When you think of fat, you most likely think of the white stuff on your tummy, hips and thighs that stores energy until you need it. But there’s also brown fat, more prevalent in newborns because it helps them keep their body temperatures stable without shivering. It turns out adults have small amounts of brown fat too, although a lot of research still needs to be done to determine exactly what role it plays.
In 2012, scientists at the University of Sherbrooke published a study showing that when study participants, all men, were exposed to cold temperatures, the brown fat in their bodies kept them warm by using white fat as fuel. In other words, the brown fat burned up the white fat for energy and warmth.
2. Not everybody has brown fat.
However, brown fat almost never shows up in obese people, notes the New York Times, which is why researchers are investigating if the lack of brown fat causes obesity or whether their extra white body fat prevents them from activating their brown fat.
Brown fat researcher Shingo Kajimura, Ph.D., of the UCSF Diabetes Center told HuffPost that adults have about 50 grams of brown fat that can burn energy equal to roughly 10 pounds of white fat a year. However, people start losing brown fat in their late 40s and early 50s, and he suspects this could be related to age-related obesity. Kajimura has been conducting brown fat trials on mice to see if he can activate or inhibit brown fat’s growth, and in a yet-to-be published study, he explains that his team has found an inhibitor to stop the enzyme that helps brown fat grow. He is now looking for brown fat’s activator, which he hopes can lead to a cure for obesity and obesity-related diseases like diabetes and hypertension.
3. Fat keeps us warm, and not just by insulating us.
All fat cells — not just brown ones — can sense temperature directly, and they respond to cold by releasing their energy as heat, according to a 2013 study reported on by Science NOW. The heating process depends on a protein called UCP1, explains ScienceNOW, and when researchers at Harvard Medical School exposed white, brown and “beige” (a mix of white and brown) samples of lab-grown human fat cells to cold temperatures, the amount of UCP1 proteins doubled in white and beige cells.
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