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Keeping Cool Could Spur Metabolic Benefits: Study

Update Date: Jun 23, 2014 09:04 AM EDT

Ambient temperatures can influence the growth or loss of brown fat in people, according to a new study. Cool environments stimulate growth, warm environment loss, the study added. 

Brown fat is also known as brown adipose tissue. It is a special kind of fat that burns energy to generate heat. It keeps small animals and babies warm while animals with abundant brown fat are protected from diabetes and obesity. 

"The big unknown until this study was whether or not we could actually manipulate brown fat to grow and shrink in a human being," said Endocrinologist Dr Paul Lee from Sydney's Garvan Institute of Medical Research, in the press release.

In their research, scientists found that brown fat increased during the cool month and fell during warm month, independent of the season during which the study was carried out.

"What we found was that the cold month increased brown fat by around 30-40%.During the second thermo-neutral month at 24 degrees, the brown fat dropped back, returning to baseline. When we put the temperature up to 27 degrees during the fourth month, the volume of brown fat fell to below that of baseline."

Dr Lee sees promise in brown fat for people with diabetes, whose bodies have to work hard to bring sugar levels down after a meal, the release added. 

"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," Lee said.

"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."

The study has been published in the journal Diabetes and was presented at the International Society of Endocrinology and the Endocrine Society in Chicago.

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