Not All Fat Cells Are Created Equal

Without getting too “sciency” on you (I’ve probably lost half my readers already), there are several types of fat cells, the most relevant being White and Brown.

White fat cells actually constitute an endocrine organ, and regulate a lot of bodily processes, but the problem with them is if they get too big, so do you, through such unfortunate mechanisms as insulin resistance, inflammation and nasty cardiovascular events.

You’re much better off keeping white fat cells at a minimum and focusing on creating an abundance of brown fat.

How the heck does one accomplish that, you ask?

If you’re lean, and less insulated with white fat, you’ll have a good amount of brown fat, as it’s sprung into action to keep your skinny ass alive!

If you aren’t lean, you can help yourself by sparking brown fat. For one, if you keep the heat down at home, you may benefit in the brown fat department. Why is that? Being cold engages the body’s “fight or flight” sympathetic nervous system (1), which subsequently triggers brown fat into action, oxidizing calories for energy, and later body fat stores, to keep you ticking along. Try to win a heating bill argument with the significant other with that one, but tread with caution (and don’t identify me as your source).

If you think you’re “brown fat” challenged and limited by your genetics, think again. Those who work outdoors in the cold have more than their share of brown fat (2), and brown fat levels actually increase in the wintertime in cold climates (3). This suggests to me that everybody can get their body in a fat burning environment with the right tools.

But even if you aren’t willing to go streaking down Portage & Main on one of those minus-40 winter nights to create more brown fat cells, there are other ways to increase your fat burning prowess.

Do these 4 Things To Boost Brown Fat:

Work your butt off.
A 2012 study found a protein produced in skeletal muscle during exercise that makes fat cells turn brown. So work, work, and work. You knew you had to do that anyway, but now you have another reason to push it hard.

Eat spicy foods and drink green tea.
Capsaicin in spicy peppers is thermogenic and appetite suppressive. Oddly, even though feeling cold seems to be the best way to turn on brown fat activity, the hot spice capsaicin mimics the effects of cold on brown fat, exciting it in much the same fashion. Green tea acts along a similar pathway.

Get a moderate amount of sun.
When the skin cells are browned, melanin is activated. This antioxidant, which has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties, could be the body’s natural defense against obesity-related conditions such as Type 2 diabetes because of those very same anti-inflammatory effects on fat cells.

You may have also heard of a compound called Melanotan II, which activates melanin, thereby increasing brown fat activity. It’s been used experimental as a tanning and weight loss agent.

Eat the right foods.

Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) and Essential Fatty Acids are found in abundance in wild fish and grass-fed meats, as well as supplements. These mimic the activity of brown fat cell activity by stimulating fatty acid oxidation.


Mitch Calvert is a Winnipeg-based fitness coach for men and women like his former self. Heavyset in his 20s, he lost 60 pounds and now helps clients find their spark and lose the weight for life.