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Fat Cells, Your Under Appreciated Friend

July 16, 2013

Trigger warning: Mocking legitimate research that will soon be exploited for weight loss purposes.

When you’re too busy to shred calories at your local gym or train for an upcoming Iron Man, there just seems to be a lack of innovative ways to stay fit as a fiddle these days! But WAIT!
I’ve just stumbled upon an odd, but strangely appealing, way to burn some calories and get a great cartoon visual of a tiny pin-sized man who travels through your body calling out commands to tiny fat cells wearing a harness.

Per The Washington Post:

Fat is known to help protect animals from the cold — and not only by acting as insulation. In the early 1990s, scientists studying mice discovered that cold temperatures trigger certain fat cells, called brown adipose tissue, to release stored energy in the form of heat — to burn calories, in other words.

Fat Cell

Your fat cells love you and
don’t want you to freeze to death.

Apparently all you need to do is pack up your earmuffs, mittens and yeti fur-lined boots and head off to the Great White North to get your brown (really?) fat cells to fire up and create some heat.

To be honest, I sort of glazed over when I first read this article, but then my imagination took flight and gave me the idea of the tiny fats running frantically in circles around small bonfires, lit explicitly for the purpose of keeping me alive and warm during the many arctic storms I will encounter during my stay in the frozen tundra.

Honestly, I can’t be bothered to move someplace so cold that it requires specialized coping mechanisms from parts of my body. What kind of positive things happen if I move south? Will the good fat cells band together to help me keep cool? Do they do a massive about face with the tiny drill sergeant yelling for them to extinguish the fires and start using giant palm fronds to fan my insides that are overheating from too much time on the beach in the scorching sun?

Regardless, I’m glad to see those crazy little bastards (my unappreciated fat cells) getting some time to shine in the spotlight where they aren’t referred to as “silent killers” or “toxic time bombs waiting to go off.”

5 Comments leave one →
  1. nof permalink
    July 16, 2013 12:24 pm

    I heard that an initial temperature change will cause an uptick in energy use, but your body (as it is wont to do) will adapt and go back to “normal” energy levels within a few days. Can’t recall where though.

    Also I’ve read in several places now that A/C and heating are to blame for obesity: people eat less when it’s hot and burn more calories keeping warm when it’s cool, as the logic goes (fairly certain trial runs of “Get your bikini body with our no-AC summer diet!” will end in murder.)

  2. July 16, 2013 12:33 pm

    There’s a Dr Who spin-off here, surely, involving the Adipose meeting the Ice Warriors…

  3. Dizzyd permalink
    July 16, 2013 8:40 pm

    Your fat cells love you. The diet industry on the other hand hates you and when it isn’t trying to starve, poison or julienne your insides into mashed potatoes in the pursuit of ‘health’, they most certainly will have you go out into the bleak frozen tundra of the Antarctic to freeze those fat cells off. I imagine a ‘Biggest Loser’ type idea with dozens of dieters huddled together like those nature specials with all those penguins.

  4. G. Thallman permalink
    July 20, 2013 9:18 pm

    The obese have very few of these nifty brown fat cells.

    • July 20, 2013 10:16 pm

      Brown Adipose Tissue (BAT) is genetically determined per the NIH, and the study Duffy is referencing is talking about how cold is one of factors that affects BAT. Cold switches brown-in-white (brite) cells on and they start producing heat. This paper in Scientifica explains the others:

      It is now apparent that potentially every human possesses BAT, it can be rapidly activated by cold exposure, the amount decreases with age and body mass index, and it is more likely to be detected in female than male patients. There is, however, considerable variation in potential BAT function which adds to the difficulty in assessing its potential role in overall energy balance regulation

      Researchers are now targeting these brite cells through drugs or other treatments. Of course, we learned from leptin (and pretty much all weight loss drugs) that our weight regulation system isn’t easily hijacked. The only known way now (despite what WebMD is hawking) is to put people in a refrigerator… permanently.

      BAT and leptin are also just two regulatory mechanisms in the body that influence a person’s weight. When you say the obese have very few brown cells, we don’t know whether being fat reduces your BAT or whether the few BAT makes you fat. They’ve only known about BAT in adults for a few years now, so time will tell.


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