While the run-up to Christmas is not usually viewed as the best time for weight loss, it has been speculated that turning down the heating could help people lose weight. So do we burn more calories when it’s cold and is ‘brown fat’ worthy of the hype?
If you’re looking to lose weight, you’re probably familiar with the basics: eat less and move more. A balanced diet, limiting alcohol intake and keeping active are key to weight loss, and this ‘calories in vs calories out’ formula will help many people shed the pounds reliably.
However, you may also have heard the strange-sounding theory that exposure to the cold can help with weight loss. As the theory goes, cold exposure activates a type of fat in our bodies, known as brown fat. This mysterious substance acts as a thermal engine, generating more heat and burning more calories than any other body tissue.
For many years, scientists thought that brown fat was confined to babies. Newborn babies are very vulnerable to the cold, and their brown fat deposits, which make up about 5% of their body weight, are nature’s way of protecting them from hypothermia.
As we get older, we lose most of our brown fat. It’s ‘white fat’ that sits beneath our skin and makes our jeans feel tight. However, in the late 2000s researchers confirmed the presence of brown fat in adults, albeit in small quantities and strange locations – it’s often found in the neck and shoulders, in the chest or down the spine.
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