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What Colour Is Your Fat?

We have all been brought up to think that fat in our body is not good. Stay lean and you are healthy. In fact, not all fats are created equal. Fats are classified in three colours: brown, white and beige

When babies are born, they contain only brown fat. This fat exists in our shoulder blades, neck, along our spinal cord and above the collar bone. They can also wrap around our vital organs, and help turn food into heat for the body. 

Brown fat has many small lipid droplets that contain mitochondria (energy generating organelles). They are rich in iron which explains why it turns brown – when this fat is exposed to oxygen, the iron in it turns it brown.

According to old biology, the brown fat will disappear and turn white when the baby grows up. However, this belief has been overturned by newer research and studies. 

White fat cells are larger round cells with a single lipid droplet, and exist in our body’s connective tissues, usually beneath our skin (subcutaneous fat) and abdominal area (visceral fat). When we eat, white fat cells will convert excess energy into glucose, and excess is turned into lipid droplets, which are molecules called triglycerides. These molecules are signaling molecules that regulate our appetite and energy balance.  When we are starving or need more energy, these droplets can be converted into fatty acids which in turn becomes energy and can be absorbed into our bloodstream. 

Brown + White = ??

Then there is beige fat, which is a hybrid between brown and white, and is found in similar areas as white fat. The beauty of beige fat is that it can burn energy to produce heat (like brown fat). The “browning” effect of white fat cells can be achieved by exposure to low temperatures for a period of time (11℃  for women and 9℃ for men), good nutrients and exercise.

Changing Fat Types

Many researchers are aware that fat types can change from one form to another based on the triggers they are exposed to and the demands placed on where they are found. This can be done in one of two ways. TRANSdifferentiation is when a fat cell switches its corresponding gene. The second way is by firstly reversing a mature fat cell into its parental form (DEdifferentiation), then reprogramming its genes (REdifferentiation). In other words, once the fat turns beige, your body can burn more fat and you will lose weight! This can be achieved naturally. 

It is well known that supplements can speed up the process of redifferentiation. Increase intake of supplements (from food ideally) rich in flavonoids resveratrol (found in pistachios, grapes blueberries, cranberries and cocoa) and quercetin (found in onions, green leafy vegetables, apples, grapes, berries, broccoli, green tea).

The body can also turn white fat into beige fat when the body is in a shivering condition for at least 2 hours. This method is probably not practical as you can only obtain desired results when this is repeated regularly.

Many studies have shown that brown / beige fat is associated with better health. Besides weight loss, there is also a decreased risk of hypothermia, as well as decrease risk of diabetes (as insulin sensitivity increases).

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