Understanding Brown Fat in Our Bodies

The more we learn about the human body, the more we realize that the human body is truly amazing. For example, one type of fat cell in the body can help burn another type of fat.

It can even turn that fat into a particular fat like itself. If we can make this unique fat active, it may help us achieve the purpose of weight loss to a certain degree.

White fat and brown fat 

The fat cells we usually see are white, and their function is to store energy for our body. They also play a protective role for our organs and bones in addition to helping keep our bodies warm. White fat contains large fat globules, which give rise to its white appearance.



Do you know that there is also another extraordinary kind of fat cell in the body called brown fat? Its small fat particles are packed into the mitochondria of the cell, which is rich in iron, the element responsible for its “brown” appearance.


Where is brown fat found

Why can’t we see the brown fat? From infancy to adulthood, the amount of brown fat in our bodies decreases.

Babies are born with a lot of brown fat behind their shoulder blades. However, brown fat decreases as they grow into adulthood.

In adults, brown fat is found in the body’s shoulder blades, neck, spinal cord, and kidneys. That is why we usually are not aware of its existence.


How brown fat works

So what exactly does brown fat do? Why does it carry so many mitochondria? Mitochondria are the small cells of our body responsible for providing energy to our cells. Therefore, one of the roles of brown fat cells is to produce heat.

Study also found that brown fat not only produces energy but also increases the body’s sensitivity to insulin and reduces the body’s inflammatory response. We know that both of these are vital to our health.

A team at Rutgers University published a paper discussing how brown fat may decrease the likelihood of becoming obese or developing diabetes. Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are typically found in meat and dairy products. A high BCAA concentration in the blood can contribute to diabetes and obesity. Brown fat may help clear the BCAAs out of the bloodstream.

Physically active individuals may be less likely to develop these conditions due to having increased brown fat stores that can clear excess BCAAs out of the blood and decrease the risk of developing diseases.


How brown fat burns the white fat 

Brown fat relies on burning the white fat to produce heat in the body!


When our bodies are exposed to cold temperatures, brown cells are activated and burn white fat to bring heat to our bodies. According to Chinese medicine, the human body has a mechanism of self-balancing called Yin and Yang. In other words, every tissue in the body exists and functions to keep the body’s energy in balance.

Researchers at the Medical University of Vienna found eight healthy volunteers with brown fat in their bodies and eight volunteers who matched in age and weight but did not have brown fat. They put them in cooling undershirts for 90 minutes to test a variety of physiological indicators. It was found that the eight volunteers with brown fat burned 15% more calories than those without brown fat, which equates to 20 kilocalories more per day.


How to increase brown fat?

Various methods and lifestyle practices are shown helpful to increase brown fat. One promising method is to expose your body to cooler temperatures, whether lowering the thermostat at home, taking a cold shower, or going out for an early morning run. Studies show that just two hours of daily exposure to colder temperatures could increase your brown fat stores.



Irisin is a protein produced in the human body that has been shown to increase the rate at which white fat is turned into brown fat. Naturally, we should then ask: Is it possible to increase the rate at which my body produces Irisin? A study in 2016 showed that sedentary individuals produced less Irisin than those who regularly engaged in aerobic exercise. While there is not a large body of evidence to answer with an affirmative, it appears that aerobic exercise, specifically interval training with higher intensity, can lead to an increase in Irisin production and, therefore, an increase in the conversion of white fat to brown fat. One should also not forget the overwhelming benefits of aerobic exercise for cardiovascular and mental health.


Wellness and Weight Control Program at Yang Institute

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