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Increase Brown Fat to Lose Weight

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When it comes to losing weight and burning fat we all know the importance of regular exercise and a clean eating plan.

Body fat gets a bad reputation – for most people its the one thing they want to have less of. Too much fat can increase the risk of metabolic disease and it’s the number one reason why people exercise.

But recent research suggests that maybe not all of your fat cells are bad. In this article we’ll introduce you to brown fat – a type of fat cell that you definitely want more of.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

  • What is brown fat?
  • What can you do to activate it?
  • What else burns fat?

What is Brown Fat?

Fat cells are referred to as adipocytes. This type of tissue can be loosely categorized as either visceral or subcutaneous. Visceral fat is the stuff that sits in and around your internal organs – higher amounts can massively increase the risk of illness such as diabetes, high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease.

Subcutaneous fat on the other hand is the type of fat that lies just under the skin. Whilst it is unhealthy to have too much, it isn’t as detrimental to your immediate health. But it’ll certainly hide those rippling abs. We’ve known all of this for years.

Scientists are only just becoming familiar with the concept of white and brown fat though. White fat is a type of adipocyte that stores calories. We don’t want too much of it as it contributes to higher levels of visceral and subcutaneous fat.

Brown fat, or brown adipose tissue (BAT) though is more metabolically active – it is packed with fat burning mitochondria. These are the parts of cells that allow fat to be burned for energy. The more of this we have, the better – it burns stored body fat heat via a process known as thermogenesis. 

Unfortunately we have much more white fat than brown. Our brown fat levels are at their highest during infancy – around 5% of body mass – but decreases as we age. We need lots of it as infants to protect against hypothermia. We still have some in adulthood, but only a couple of ounces as its less likely that we’d freeze to death.

But this small amount still burns hundreds of calories a day. BAT tends to store around the neck area, shoulder, upper arms and around the collarbone.

Interestingly, people with lower body masses have higher amounts of BAT. These fat burning adipocytes definitely appear to help regulate body weight and fat burning potential.

Higher BAT levels are also associated with reduced risk of metabolic disease such as diabetes [1].

If you were able to increase the amount of brown fat you had, you’d burn more calories in a day and reduce your body mass.


Key Point: Brown fat is packed full of mitochondria and burns calories via a process of thermogenesis.

How Can You Increase Brown Fat Stores?

Scientists have known for a long time the dangers of too much white fat – but emerging research now suggests that can activate your brown fat cells by tweaking your lifestyle. Here are a few changes you can implement to help you lose weight.

#1. Exercise

We all know the benefits of exercise for weight loss but a recent research paper has suggested white fat can be changed into BAT with exercise alone.

The research, published in the prestigious journal Nature [2], found that exercise increased levels of a hormone called irisin. This hormone caused an increase in energy expenditure but more importantly BAT levels. 

The research team said that regular exercise ‘browned’ white adipose tissue, turning it into the more mitochondria-rich, fat burning BAT. The amount that the volunteers had, doubled after only 10 weeks of endurance exercise.

#2. Turn down the heat

As the primary purpose of BAT is to increase thermogenesis, spending time in a colder environment can also activate it. Your cells do this in order to keep your blood warm and nourish your brain, heart and other internal organs.

A study in the Journal of Clinical Investigation [3] found that when a group of healthy men were asked to sit in a cold room, they burned an extra 108kcal for the two hours they were in there. This increased to 289kcal after 6 weeks, suggesting that brown fat was being activated more and more each week.

#3. Ursolic acid – eat your apples

This acid contributes to the waxy coat of apples and other fruit such as cranberries. You’ll also find it in herbs such as basil, lavender and oregano.

A study by Kunkel et al [4] found that when mice were given a high fat diet supplemented with ursolic acid, their levels of brown fat – particularly around their shoulders – increased. Interestingly, their levels of muscle also increased this would provide an additional metabolic boost.

#4. Dial in on your melatonin levels

Melatonin is a hormone produced in the pineal gland that controls your sleep-wake cycles. It can be boosted with early morning daylight exposure, good quality sleep and avoiding the bright lights of late night computers, tablets and televisions. You can also eat foods rich in magnesium, vitamin B6 and calcium to really elevate your levels.

Research suggests that increased melatonin can elevate the thermogenic proteins needed to activate brown fat [5].

#5. Thermogenic foods and supplements

Some foods and high-quality fat burners may be able to boost brown fat levels. Green tea extract and capsaicin in particular have been found to activate BAT cells in humans. These are often the core ingredients of Instant Knockout for example.

In one study, 9mg per day of capsaicin supplementation over a 6-week period was found to be just as effective as cold exposure for for activating brown fat [6]. Similarly, the ECGC component of green tea was also found to increase the specific proteins needed to make BAT [7].


Key Point: There are a number of ways you can boost brown fat levels just by making small lifestyle changes.

Summary – Brown Fat and Weight Loss

Brown fat is a special type of adipose tissue found in small amounts in the human body. It is typically found in the neck, shoulders and upper arms. It is packed full of fat burning mitochondria that stimulates thermogenesis and fat burning potential. This can make all the difference when trying to lose weight.

It is different to the white fat tissue we have that can be unhealthy in large amounts – this type of fat cell stores calories and increases the risk of obesity and cardiovascular disease.

Adults only have a small amount of brown fat but there are a number of lifestyle changes you can make to increase levels and boost your weight loss goals. Exercise, changes to body temperature and diet are all ways to turn up your fat burning potential by using brown fat tissue.

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  1. Zhou, Z et al. Cidea-deficient mice have lean phenotype and are resistant to obesity. Nat Genet. 2003; 35(1):49-56
  2. Boström, P et al. A PGC1-α-dependent myokine that drives brown-fat-like development of white fat and thermogenesis. Nature. 2012; 481: 463-468
  3. van der Lans, AA et al. Cold acclimation recruits human brown fat and increases nonshivering thermogenesis. J Clin Invest. 2013
  4. Kunkel, SD et al. Ursolic Acid Increases Skeletal Muscle and Brown Fat and Decreases Diet-Induced Obesity, Glucose Intolerance and Fatty Liver Disease. PLoS One. 2012; 7(6): e39332
  5. Jiménez-Aranda, A et al. Melatonin induces browning of inguinal white adipose tissue in Zucker diabetic fatty rats. J Pineal Res. 2013; 55(4): 416-23
  6. Yoneshiro, T et al. Nonpungent capsaicin analogs (capsinoids) increase energy expenditure through the activation of brown adipose tissue in humans. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012; 95(4): 845-50
  7. Klaus, S et al. Epigallocatechin gallate attenuates diet-induced obesity in mice by decreasing energy absorption and increasing fat oxidation. Int J Obes (Lond). 2005; 29(6): 615-23