November 12, 2013, by Lindsay Brooke

Lancet debate on benefits of ‘brown fat’

Professor Michael E Symonds from The University of Nottingham’s School of Medicine, comments in the Lancet today on new research, published in The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology, which suggests ethnicity might affect the function of brown fat – the body’s good fat.

Professor Symonds and his team are studying the benefits of brown fat – brown adipose tissue (BAT) – which plays a key role in how quickly our body can burn calories as energy. With the help of a pioneering technique which uses thermal imaging that can trace our reserves of BAT – the body’s good fat.

If BAT is compromised or its function is defective this can be a contributing factor to obesity. Brown fat is also there to keep us warm and prevent hypothermia. Nearly every person has BAT that is normally activated by cold exposure. The research suggests that south Asians are more dependent on shivering to maintain body temperature than white Caucasians.

Professor Symonds says: “Several important questions arise from this study, including what is the exact difference in molecular composition of BAT between these ethnic groups and when these effects first become apparent. Whether changes in BAT growth and development through childhood and adolescence contribute to differences seen in young adulthood needs to be addressed. Such effects might not be confined to BAT because south Asians have a different overall growth trajectory, as indicated by adult bodyweight and height, which are both substantially lower than other populations.

“This group is now the ideal target for new pharmacological interventions on BAT that might offer proof-of-principle that enhanced BAT function can have long term health benefits against metabolic disease.”

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