Body’s brown fat composition may offer protection against chronic diseases

Prashasti Awasthi Mumbai | Updated on January 05, 2021

People with brown fat have lower risk of hypertension, congestive heart failure and coronary artery disease, suggests study

A new study finds strong evidence that a body that has more brown fat and less white fat enjoys better health. However, it is hard to even identify such individuals since brown fat is hidden deep inside the body.

The study, published in Nature Medicine, analysed over 52,000 participants and confirmed that those who had detectable brown fat were less likely than their peers to suffer cardiac and metabolic conditions ranging from type 2 diabetes to coronary artery disease.

Paul Cohen, senior attending physician at The Rockefeller University Hospital, said: “For the first time, it reveals a link to lower risk of certain conditions. These findings make us more confident about the potential of targeting brown fat for therapeutic benefit.”

Protective fat

In collaboration with Heiko Schoder and Andreas Wibmer at Memorial Sloan Kettering, the researchers reviewed 1,30,000 PET scans from more than 52,000 patients and found the presence of brown fat in nearly 10 per cent of individuals.

The researchers noted that this figure is likely an underestimate because the patients had been instructed to avoid cold exposure, exercise, and caffeine, all of which are thought to increase brown fat activity.

Several common and chronic diseases were less prevalent among people with detectable brown fat. Only 4.6 per cent had type 2 diabetes, compared with 9.5 per cent of people who did not have detectable brown fat. Similarly, 18.9 per cent had abnormal cholesterol, compared to 22.2 per cent in those without brown fat.

Moreover, the study revealed three more conditions for which people with brown fat have lower risk: hypertension, congestive heart failure, and coronary artery disease — links that had not been observed in previous studies.

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Another notable finding was that brown fat may mitigate the negative health effects of obesity.

The study stated that brown-fat cells consume glucose in order to burn calories, and it is possible that this lowers blood glucose levels, a major risk factor for developing diabetes.

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The role of brown fat is more mysterious in other conditions like hypertension, which is tightly connected to the hormonal system.

“We are considering the possibility that brown fat tissue does more than consume glucose and burn calories, and perhaps actually participates in hormonal signalling to other organs,” Cohen said.

Published on January 05, 2021

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