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Be Suspect Of Weight Loss Claims By Activating Brown Fat Stores

I received an email this week from a reader who wanted to know my opinion of a supplement recommended to her by a physician for activating brown fat stores.

I almost fell out of my chair when I read it was a physician who told her that gamma linolenic acid (GLA), which is an essential omega-6 fatty acid, could help her with weight loss due to it’s ability to activate metabolically active brown fat stores.

She told me that she did some research on the internet and found some articles that appeared to confirm this claim, but wanted to get my opinion as well. I’m glad she did as obviously not everything you read on the internet is true.

This whole activating brown fat (to lose body fat) idea has been around for a while, but it’s a shady claim and I’ll explain why.

More after the jump…

What in the heck is brown fat anyways?

Brown fat, otherwise known as brown adipose tissue (BAT), is essentially a specialized type of fat that actually burns up other fats, producing heat in the process. What makes the fat “brown” in color is the presence of mitochondria (remember from biology class this is the powerhouse of the cell that produces energy). The high mitochondrial content makes brown fat ideal for burning fatty acids for heat production.

In contrast, white fat, the predominant fat store in humans is “white” in color because it lacks mitochondria. The composition of white fat cells is basically triglycerides, water, and some enzymes.

While most mammals have a large amount of brown fat (to keep body temperature up against the cold), humans have minimal stores after infancy. Babies have quite a bit of brown fat, the majority of which is converted to white fat following infancy. Quite simply, from an physiological and evolutionary standpoint human adults don’t need it so we lose it.

Granted there’s still a small amount of brown fat stores in adults, primarily located around spine and some located at the base of the neck, between the shoulder blades and upper back area. This has been confirmed in recent years with PET-CT scans.

None-the-less, we’re talking about very small amounts. All of the research that’s been done that showed fat loss as the result of activating brown fat stores has been done on animals, mostly mice. Enough with the mice studies already!

Any supplement that claims to facilitate fat loss via brown fat activation isn’t worth your time. It would probably work wonders for your overweight pet hamster or fat cat, but that’s about it.

How is brown fat activated per say? Primarily through an adaptation mechanism in the body that’s triggered when exposed of cold temperatures. Hey that sounds like fun, even if we had enough brown fat stores to do much, who wants to freeze their buns off to lose a few pounds?

Ah, what some people would do though to avoid exercise.

Even if research scientists are able to develop a drug that could work via the same pathways as cold temperatures for activating brown fat, I doubt it would do much for humans. We simply don’t have enough of it.

And there’s more bad news. Thinner individuals appeared to have more brown fat than those who were overweight or obese when PET-CT scans were conducted. Those who have more brown fat stores don’t need to lose weight in the first place. I suspect this is all connected to metabolic rate, genetics, etc.

Bottom line, don’t buy into the hype.

A lot of what you see about cold immersion techniques to stimulate fat loss are based on the idea that cold temperatures activate the sympathetic nervous system promoting the release of adrenaline and nor-adrenaline. There’s truth to that as catecholamines work to promote fat oxidation in white fat cells as well.

But you don’t have to sit in a tub of ice or pool of cold water to activate your sympathetic nervous system (although technically that would work).

You could always do some high intensity, short duration, burst training as well. But then again this is exercise and requires effort which eliminates it as an option for the “quick fix” crowd.

If you’re looking for more information on how to sit in the cold to lose weight I can’t help you. Not my thing.

But if you’re looking for some coaching and assistance to lose weight, the “old fashioned” way with diet and exercise, that’s right up my alley.

You’ll sweat instead of freeze, but I assure you that you’ll appreciate the end results way better.

 Shane Doll is a certified Charleston personal trainer, fat loss expert, speaker, and founder of Shaping Concepts Personal Training Studios. He specializes in helping people achieve a body transformation with burst training exercise and whole food nutrition. You can receive a FREE no-obligations trial of his Charleston personal fitness programs and start experiencing the Shaping Concepts difference today.

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