3 Reasons You Should Care About Brown Fat

One of the highlights of Obesity Week coming up in Atlanta will be a keynote on beige and brown fat delivered by Bruce Spiegelman of Harvard Medical School. Perhaps you know all there is to know about brown fat and its cousins. But maybe you’re wondering, “Why should I care? Here’s three reasons.PET Scan of Brown Fat in a Mouse

  1. For a better understanding of obesity. The depth and breadth of scientific insight about the role of beige and brown fat in metabolic diseases, including obesity, is exploding. Brown and beige fat help to regulate metabolism and burn energy stored as fat.
  2. For leads to new treatments. With that expanding knowledge base, we are gaining new leads on potential mechanisms for treating obesity by better regulating metabolic function.
  3. To protect yourself from hype. These leads for new treatments are just that — promising leads. Some time will pass before new, evidence-based treatments emerge. In the meantime, count on opportunists to hype their way to some tidy profits with unsubstantiated claims exploiting the buzz around brown fat. Plastic surgeon James Lyons has been selling The Brown Fat Revolution now for four years.

If you want some background to prepare for Spiegelman’s address on Wednesday morning, he and his colleagues have just published an excellent review in Genes and Development. They provide good insight into both brown and beige fat. They also explain the implications for new treatments in obesity, diabetes, and other metabolic diseases.

Another new publication, by Zachary Gerhart-Hines and colleagues from the University of Pennsylvania, documents how a particular protein — Rev-erb alpha — in the nucleus of brown fat cells regulates the circadian rhythm of body temperature. It’s one more piece of the puzzle of white, beige, and brown fat.

Meanwhile, schemes like The Brown Fat Revolution seize the opportunity to spread some hype and grab money from desperate consumers. The book provides a decent enough exercise program, but has no real substantiation for its brown fat hype.

Click here to read the review by Spiegelman and colleagues, here to read the study by Gerhart-Hines et al, here to read a consumer overview of brown fat, and here to read a review of The Brown Fat Revolution.

Warming Glow, photograph © Jamie Manktelow / flickr

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