We're a little crazy, about science!

To Lose the Weight, Feel the… freezer burn?


Are you so fat you can’t see your toes? Have you forgotten what toes even look like? Have you been mistaken for the infamous “Kool-aid man”? Want to shed the pounds easier than taking off your shirt? Well too bad, that is science fiction and the stuff of horrid marketing ploys and this my friends is a science website. Losing weight is hard, I’ve written several articles on it in fact. Nothing is going to be more effective at weight loss than a sensible diet, a calorie deficit and maybe some insoluble fiber that I mentioned in the very first article I’ve written.

A new companion study to this post, which I wrote not long ago not only confirms that original studies findings, but also gives insight into another factor for the mounting obesity epidemic.

For those of you who didn’t click the link [and really why would you] or are too lazy to read through that article, a crazy and almost unbelievable way to help you lose the weight [and by help I mean when you add it to a sensible calorie deficit, we aren’t talking miracles or anything here, again this is science]  may be as simple as turning down the thermostat.

For those avid readers of my blog, this will be a recap but in the body there are two types of fat, white adipose tissue [WAT, yep it’s just that simple] and brown adipose tissue [BAT] or beige adipose tissue when we are talking about adults — the difference isn’t a huge one though for our purposes, so we will just call them interchangeable for now. WAT is the primary way we store fat, BAT is literally baby fat, in that infants are born with this type in abundance because it produces heat. The idea of course is to keep the baby warm.

In case you couldn’t guess it BAT helps you burn calories and is a good kind of fat to have for that reason. WAT is the lazy, not going anywhere fat. What is worse is that WAT decreases insulin sensitivity and BAT increases it. This means that WAT is bad for diabetics, pre-diabetics, or anyone who wants to lose the weight. Again if you are an avid reader of my work then you’ll remember from this post that if you can keep insulin levels low, weight loss won’t be far behind. BAT will help you keep insulin levels low and if you are diabetic, help you manage your condition. WAT on the other hand will just give you a big middle finger and say figure it out yourself.

Now for the meat of the study, how cold is “cold”? Well researchers studied participants for four months. At the end of each month, participants underwent a detailed ‘thermal metabolic evaluation’ in a whole room calorimeter. Measurements taken at the end of the first month represented ‘baseline’. In addition, cold-stimulated PET/CT scans measured brown fat, and muscle and fat biopsies revealed tissue metabolic changes. The five participants lived their normal lives during the day, and returned each night to the center, staying for at least 10 hours in a temperature-regulated room.

For the first month, the rooms were maintained at 24º C, a ‘thermo-neutral’ temperature [which is a fancy way of saying they kept the temperature at a range in which the body does not have to work to produce or lose heat]. The temperature was then moved down to 19º C for the second month, back to 24º for the third month, and up to 27º for the fourth month.

The team found that the cold month increased brown fat by around 30-40%! I know, I know, I shouldn’t use an exclamatory in scientific journalism, but this is my blog damn it. 30-40% can be a huge deal, so I think the exclamatory was warranted. That 30-40% can make it that much easier to lose the weight, it can mean the difference between needing insulin shots and managing your diabetes with just a sensible diet.

“The improvement in insulin sensitivity accompanying brown fat gain may open new avenues in the treatment of impaired glucose metabolism in the future. On the other hand, the reduction in mild cold exposure from widespread central heating in contemporary society may impair brown fat function and may be a hidden contributor to obesity and metabolic disorders,”

–Endocrinologist Dr. Paul Lee from Sydney’s Garvan Institute of Medical Research

For those of you who don’t feel like doing the conversion 19º C is a not-so toasty 66.2 Fahrenheit. Which maybe a small price to pay when you are looking to help control diabetes, or as I’ve mentioned shed the pounds. Studies have been performed in the UK and US measuring bedroom, dining room and lounge room temperatures in people’s homes over the last few decades, and the temperature has climbed from about 19 to 22, a range sufficient to quieten down brown fat.

So in addition to unhealthy diet and physical inactivity, it is tempting to speculate that the subtle shift in temperature exposure could be a contributing factor to the rise in obesity. While this doesn’t mean that we should crank up the AC and pig out on Big Macs, but it could mean that a simple lifestyle shift could end suffering for lots of people who have to fight with their bodies to deal with insulin intolerance [diabetes].

I don’t know about you, but less needle pokes sounds like a good thing to me.

Want the full study? You’re in luck, you can find it —here! And the original study can be found —here!

Lee, P., Smith, S., Linderman, J., Courville, A., Brychta, R., Dieckmann, W., Werner, C., Chen, K., & Celi, F. (2014). Temperature-acclimated brown adipose tissue modulates insulin sensitivity in humans Diabetes DOI: 10.2337/db14-0513

Liu, M., Bai, J., He, S., Villarreal, R., Hu, D., Zhang, C., Yang, X., Liang, H., Slaga, T., Yu, Y., Zhou, Z., Blenis, J., Scherer, P., Dong, L., & Liu, F. (2014). Grb10 Promotes Lipolysis and Thermogenesis by Phosphorylation-Dependent Feedback Inhibition of mTORC1 Cell Metabolism, 19 (6), 967-980 DOI: 10.1016/j.cmet.2014.03.018

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