Author: Brianna Nee
Editors: Shirley Chen, Peggy Yang
Artist: Serena Yung
In the human body, there are two types of adipose, or fat, tissue: brown and white. White adipose tissue is typically associated with obesity, while brown adipose tissue is found in smaller spaces and is useful for burning calories through thermogenesis. Brown adipose tissue gets its color from the iron-rich mitochondria, the organelle that helps burn calories. Under cold temperatures, the mitochondria in the brown adipose tissue are activated to produce heat and burn away the fat. The way brown fat burns calories interests researchers who wish to investigate how to manipulate regular and brown adipose tissue to promote weight loss, which can help lower the risk of other diseases.
Although many people have different reasons for wanting weight loss, including appearance or confidence, weight loss can be important for health. “Healthy weights” that are based on height are associated with “lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels, lower blood pressure, less stress on bones and joints, and less work for the heart,” according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. They believe that weight loss should be sustainable, recommending losing no more than 2 pounds per week and avoiding extreme low-calorie diets.
With changes to diet and exercise, weight loss can be achieved, but there is a biological component that should also be explored. Brown fat has been of recent interest due to the debunking of the idea that it was only found in babies. Of particular interest is recruitable brown fat, which is when regular fat changes to brown fat under the right circumstances in the body. Some research suggests that because brown fat is activated under cold temperatures, cooling the body down will cause the body to create or “recruit” more brown fat. On the other hand, evidence has suggested that when exercising, which has always been linked to weight loss, the body releases a protein called irisin that may lead to increased amounts of recruited brown fat from white fat. However, most research has been tested with mice, not human models, so there is more work to be done.
To solve this issue, some possible directions of research that have been under consideration include investigating the pathways, genes, proteins, and other factors that may be involved in the transition of white fat to brown fat. In order to continue expanding the range of treatments available to people with health problems, including those related to weight reduction, new technology and our understanding of the functions of the human body have increased drastically. As people lose and gain weight differently, methods of healthy and sustainable weight loss will further be explored in depth.
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Medical Education and Research, 5 Nov. 2020, https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-
“Maintaining Weight Loss.” Johns Hopkins Medicine,
Marcin, Ashley. “What You Should Know about Brown Fat.” Healthline, Healthline Media,
24 Jan. 2022, https://www.healthline.com/health/brown-fat#research.