LATEST UPDATE: Brown Fat Might Be Good for You

People have obesity for many reasons, but could it be that one reason is having less brown fat than people who are lean? Brown fat was found in adult humans only three years ago, and it burns calories like a furnace.

Boston Medical Center’s Caroline Apovian, MD and Megan Ruth find the potential of brown fat to help control obesity so promising that Ruth and another researcher examined over 1,100 PET scans to find appropriate subjects for research into brown fat. She then created software to quantify the amount of brown fat in the people who were scanned.

In the April 2009 NEJM three studies independently reported finding brown fat in adults. Researchers could see it in scans when adult subjects were kept in cold rooms, wearing light clothes. The scans detected the fat by showing that it absorbed glucose. There was not much brown fat — only a few ounces in the upper back, on the side of the neck, in the dip between the collarbone and the shoulder, and along the spine. The brown fat also kept its subjects warm.

The more obese you are, the less brown fat you have,” says Apovian. “The more brown fat you have, the more calories you can burn. It seems that there’s more brown fat in lean people, and so our hypothesis is that that’s why they’re lean. But we don’t know that.”

“What we’d like to do is figure out a way to activate that brown fat and have the white fat (ordinary fat) around it make more brown fat,” says Apovian. She is hopeful that they can trick the body into making more brown fat. Apovian and BU researchers are seeking funding for their next step, which will test their software program on actual subjects rather than PET scans.

Click here to read the article in BU Today.