Register for an account

X

Enter your name and email address below.

Your email address is used to log in and will not be shared or sold. Read our privacy policy.

X

Website access code

Enter your access code into the form field below.

If you are a Zinio, Nook, Kindle, Apple, or Google Play subscriber, you can enter your website access code to gain subscriber access. Your website access code is located in the upper right corner of the Table of Contents page of your digital edition.

Health

What's the Difference Between White Fat and Brown Fat?

Our bodies' actually have not one, but two kinds of fat.

By Alex OrlandoDecember 25, 2019 6:00 PM
Brown Fat
Brown fat is different, and healthier, than our body's normal white fat reserves. (Credit: Albina Glisic/Shutterstock)

Newsletter

Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

It’s easy to lump “fat” into a single category — the stuff beneath the skin that makes your stomach wobble and can raise the risk of diabetes and heart disease. But not all fat is created equal. For years, scientists have known that fat tissue comes in at least two different shades. White fat, which most of us are familiar with, stores energy in big, oily droplets throughout the body. In large quantities, it can lead to obesity. 

Brown fat, conversely, contains both smaller droplets and high amounts of mitochondria, which lend the tissue its chestnut color. Mitochondria, the body’s power plants, use these fatty droplets to generate heat. The tissue helps newborn infants — who lack the insulation provided by body hair and haven’t yet learned how to shiver — regulate their body temperature.

Scientists once thought that all brown fat disappears by adulthood. But, in 2009, new research in the New England Journal of Medicine  revealed that grown-ups can produce brown fat, too. Now, scientists are exploring new ways to harness the tawny tissue for therapeutic purposes because of its potential to turn fat into energy.

Some studies say that exposure to cold temperatures can prompt the body to recruit more brown fat cells. Another paper probes how brown fat can be leveraged to combat diabetes and obesity. Ultimately, more research is needed on humans to see how brown fat might help treat these conditions.


Read more:

When Dieting, Should We Be Fasting or Grazing?

The Biggest Factor Behind Obesity May Be One We Don't Want to Hear

Breakfast Might Not Be So Essential After All

2 Free Articles Left

Want it all? Get unlimited access when you subscribe.

Subscribe

Already a subscriber? Register or Log In

Want unlimited access?

Subscribe today and save 70%

Subscribe

Already a subscriber? Register or Log In