A new discovery by scientists at the University of Nottingham indicates drinking a cup of coffee can actually stimulate brown fat. Brown fat is the body’s fat fighting defense which just might be the key to tackling diabetes and obesity.
The study published in Scientific Reports, is one of the first ones to be tested in humans in an effort to discover components which might have a direct effect on the functions of brown fat. This important part of the body plays a significant role in how fast we burn calories as energy.
BAT (brown fat tissue) is one of the two types of fat that is found in some mammals and humans. It was initially attributed only to hibernating mammals and babies. It has been discovered in recent years that adults too can have brown fat with its main function being generating body fat by burning calories. This is different from white fat which is a result of excess calorie storage. People that have a lower body mass index thus have a higher amount of the brown fat.
Professor Michael Symonds who co directed the study says that brown fat works in different ways than other types of fat in the body. It produces heat by burning fat and sugar often as a response to cold. By increasing its activity, blood sugar control is improved in addition to the improvement of blood lipid levels and the extra calories that are burned help with weight loss. However, until this study no one has been able to find an acceptable way to stimulate brown fat activity in humans.
The current study is the first one to show that something like coffee can have a direct effect on brown fat functions. Since obesity is a major health concern, the potential implications of the studies results could be big. This also includes potential help for the growing diabetes epidemic.
The researchers began with a series of stem cell studies as a way to see if caffeine could stimulate brown fat. When they found the correct dose, they moved to studies in humans to see if the earlier results would be similar.
They used a thermal imaging technique that had previously been pioneered to follow the body’s reserves of brown fat. This non invasive technique enabled them to find brown fat and then assess its ability to produce heat.
From previous research the team knew that brown fat is mostly located in the region of the neck. They were able to image a person right after they had a cup of coffee to see if the brown fat got hotter.
The imaging results were positive and the team now needs to ascertain whether the caffeine is one of the coffee ingredients which is acting as the resulting stimulus or if there is a different component helping with activating the brown fat.
The team is now looking at caffeine supplements for testing to see if the effect is similar. Once they have confirmed which component activated the stimulus, it could potentially be employed as part of a weight management treatment or as part of a glucose regulation treatment to help prevent the development of diabetes.
To view the original scientific study click below