Over the past few years, there has been some exciting research done on fat tissue; specifically brown fat (often referred to as BAT or Brown Adipose Tissue). Babies are born with it, but we lose most of our brown fat as we age. Researchers know that this is highly active tissue within the body, and it continually burns up calories to produce heat.
Brown fat is not a new thing, however. We have known about it for years, but what is really clever, is that researchers have just started looking at ways in which components in our diet, and other lifestyle changes, can convert our common white fat into metabolically active brown fat; or at least, make our white fat cells behave as if they were brown fat cells.
The process is called the “beiging” of white fat, and numerous studies now suggest that it can be done with the active ingredient in turmeric, called Curcumin.
Why is this possible?
One of the major differences between white fat cells and brown fat cells are the huge number of mitochondria (think of mitochondria as “cellular batteries” producing cellular fuel and energy) which are found in brown fat. Brown fat also uses a very special enzyme that has been at the forefront of all this research. The enzyme is called UCP-1 or uncoupling protein-1, and it is the enzyme that is responsible for why mitochondria found in brown fat behave differently than mitochondria in the rest of the body. UCP-1 can uniquely uncouple the normal metabolic processes by short-circuiting the energy production pathway within the mitochondria and simply produces large amounts of heat instead of ATP that is used for power and energy. It is a process known as “non-shivering thermogenesis”, and it uses up a lot of stored fat.
Forget about Dangerous Thermogenic Diet pills
People have been trying to boost their metabolism for years by taking thermogenic diet pills and other stimulant-based supplements, but brown fat does this naturally within our bodies. Researchers have shown that around 800mg of Curcumin per day can increase the UCP-1 concentration within the common white fat cells and also increase the number of mitochondria present, making these cells “fat burners” instead of “fat storers”. In other words, turmeric extract has been shown to make white fat cells behave more like brown fat cells by causing the mitochondria in common white cells to generate heat from stored fat reserves.
Still an Emerging Area of Nutritional Science To date, most of this published research has been based on animal studies. However, the field is still new, with many of these studies published in 2019, but if you are already taking turmeric extract as a sports supplement for muscle soreness or as a general anti-inflammatory, this is yet another great reason to keep using it, if maintaining an optimum weight is a consideration for you.
If Turmeric is not your thing, however, researchers are also looking at the same effects from hot chilli extract, as well as full immersion in ice baths, (taken once a week). They also have been shown to either increase existing brown fat reserves or turn the white fat into a more metabolically active, “beige” colour.
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El Hadi et al. Food Ingredients Involved in White-to-Brown Adipose Tissue Conversion and in Calorie Burning. Frontiers in Physiology. Volume 9, Article 1954 (2 January 2019).
Concha, F., Prado, G., Quezada, J. et al. Nutritional and non-nutritional agents that stimulate white adipose tissue browning. Rev Endocr Metab Disord20, 161–171 (24 April 2019).
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