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What Is The Difference Between Brown And White Fat?

Affinity Health, a leading provider of high-quality health cover, sheds light on the differences between brown and white fat. It provides a clearer understanding of their roles in metabolism and potential implications for overall health.

“When it comes to our metabolism, fitness, vitality, healthy weight management, and overall health, it may be a surprise that the colour of our fat cells plays a significant role. Scientists and researchers have extensively studied two colours of adipocytes in the human body: brown and white,” says Murray Hewlett, CEO of Affinity Health.

“Brown fat, also known as brown adipose tissue (BAT), and white fat, or white adipose tissue (WAT), are distinct types of fat cells found in our bodies. While they both play a role in energy storage and thermogenesis, they differ significantly in their structure, function, and distribution throughout the body.”

What is White Fat?

White fat is the more common type of fat found in our bodies. Its primary function is to store excess energy in the form of triglycerides.

Think of white fat as a storage system, holding onto fuel until the body needs it. While having too much white fat can lead to obesity and health problems, it also provides insulation and protects our organs.

What is Brown Fat?

Brown fat (called “brown” because it contains iron-containing mitochondria, giving it a darker colour) specialises in producing heat to keep our bodies warm.

It does this through non-shivering thermogenesis, where the stored energy is directly converted into heat.

Having brown fat has been linked to burning more calories and potentially helping with weight management.

Where is White and Brown Fat in the Body?

Another difference between the two types of fat is where they’re located in the body. White fat is found throughout our bodies, particularly around the waist, hips, and abdomen. Brown fat, on the other hand, is concentrated in specific areas like the neck, collarbones, and along the spine.

Interestingly, recent studies have shown that specific individuals, especially infants and lean adults, have more active brown fat.

The activation and regulation of brown and white fat also vary.

Brown fat can be stimulated by cold exposure and the release of a neurotransmitter called norepinephrine, which triggers thermogenesis. At the same time, white fat is less active metabolically and is influenced by hormones like insulin, which control the storage and release of lipids.

Scientists are excited about the potential of brown fat for therapeutic interventions.

Researchers are exploring methods like cold exposure, medication, and exercise to increase brown fat activity to burn more calories and combat obesity.

Ongoing research focuses on transforming white fat into brown fat through a process known as “browning” or “beiging“.

This involves stimulating white fat cells to take on some characteristics of brown fat, such as increased mitochondria and heat production. By promoting browning, it may be possible to boost metabolism and improve overall metabolic health.

How to Increase the Amount of Brown Fat in Your Body

There’s a lot we still don’t know about brown fat. While doctors aren’t quite ready to start offering pills or other quick fixes to convert white fat to brown, you can still try these different natural ways to boost your levels of brown fat – but first, consult your physician.

Cold Exposure

Exposure to cooler temperatures may trigger your body to create more brown fat. One study, published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, looked at 12 young men with lower-than-average amounts of active brown fat who were asked to sit in a 17 degrees Celsius room for two hours a day over six weeks. They burned an extra 108 calories in the cold compared with average indoor temperatures. Even better, after six weeks, their bodies were burning an extra 289 calories in the cold, prompting researchers to hypothesise that the exposure to lower temps increased the activity of a gene that converts white fat to brown.



Increasing exercise and physical activity may help to increase a protein called irisin, which may be able to convert white fat to brown fat. Leaner people tend to have more brown fat than those who are sedentary. One animal study published in the journal Disease Models and Mechanisms found that working out triggers the release of irisin that prompts fat white cells to convert to brown cells. Newer research presented at the 2013 annual meeting of the American Diabetes Association found that exercise can stimulate the browning of fat in men, with the benefits still increasing after 12 weeks of training on an exercise bike.


Stimulate Your Body’s Melatonin Production

Not only does the hormone melatonin helps regulate our sleep-wake cycle, but research published in the Journal of Pineal Research found that in rats, it increases the presence of beige fat, similar to brown fat in its calorie-burning capabilities.

While you might be tempted to take a supplement, experts say it’s best to stimulate your body’s natural production by avoiding nighttime exposure to light from TVs, computers and other screens, getting sunlight exposure during the day, and loading up on melatonin-rich foods, including almonds, tomatoes, cherries, cardamom, and coriander.


Don’t Over or Under Eat

We rely on hunger-regulating neurons in the brain to notify us when we’ve had enough. Now these neurons have another duty.

Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine found that these neurons can encourage fat to turn brown in mice. The study found that eating too few calories prevented white fat from turning brown while consuming just enough to satisfy hunger- prompting the action of the neurons – turned white fat to brown. Other research shows that overeating can cause harm, as well. Not only does overconsumption increase white fat, but it also interferes with brown fat’s ability to burn calories.

About Affinity Health

Affinity Health is South Africa’s leading health cover provider, offering you a range of options at affordable rates, including access to the widest national provider network. We understand the importance of having medical insurance that meets your needs, budget, and lifestyle. Our healthcare products are designed to protect you and your family when it matters the most. We strive to give our clients peace of mind and the highest standard of service. For more information, follow us on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

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