Brown Fat – What is That?

Most of us pack a few extra pounds. And a lot of us pack a lot extra! But no one actually wants to be fat; we all know that the pounds we carry can eventually lead to arthritis, diabetes, or heart disease. There are different kinds of fat — brown, visceral, and white. And one of these kinds of fat, you actually want more of.


Visceral and white fats

These are the ‘bad’ fats. When you carry extra pounds, when your jeans get too tight, these are to blame.


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–  Visceral fat

This is the really dangerous fat. This “deep” fat wraps around the inner organs. If you have a large waist, you know for certain that you have visceral fat. However, visceral fat is also a hidden danger as it can be concealed unknown around the organs of thin people. Visceral fat increases the risk of dementia, diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Visceral fat plays a role in insulin resistance, which is why it increases the risk of diabetes more than other types of fat.




– White fat

White fat, or subcutaneous fat, is the layer of fat found directly under the skin. This type of fat, when found on thighs and buttocks, is not as bad in terms of overall health as when it is deposited on the belly. White fat stores energy and produces hormones secreted into the bloodstream. It isn’t known why belly fat and dementia are linked but it could be related to the release of the hormone leptin in increasing amounts. Leptinassists in appetite regulation as well as learning and memory.

How do you know if you’re too fat? Women with a waist measuring more than 35 inches (89 centimeters) and men with a waist measuring more than 40 inches (102 centimeters) have an increased disease risk.It is important to acknowledge that if you are carrying extra fat that you need to make changes to your diet and exercise. When you lose weight, you lose white fat. If you exercise in addition to making healthy diet choices, you tend to lose a bit more visceral fat.




Brown fat

Like to blame your excess weight on your metabolism? You might have a point. The amount of different ways people respond to calorie intake and expenditure – diet and exercise – are innumerable! But one thing that does affect how many calories we burn and our tendency for obesity is how activated our brown fat cells are. Brown fat is beneficial to our bodies mostly due its ability to burn the calories (energy) we eat and use them for body heat. Brown fat can burn up to five times more calories than other types of body fat!

Babies have much more brown fat than adults do and the brown fat that we keep into adulthood functions in body weight regulation. Brown fat contains mitochondria, the cells’ “powerhouse”, and acts like muscle tissue in some ways as it can use white fat for fuel. Brown fat takes energy from food and transfers it to heat – this burns calories by using energy not only to make heat but also to take away energy from white fat, thereby stopping fat deposition. In this way, it regulates blood sugar and helps to control appetite hormones.




How to get more brown fat and less white fat? There are certain foods that have anti-obesity effects. Cayenne pepper, for one, increases metabolic rate in people with brown fat– but not in people without it. This means that it is the brown fat that is responsible for increased calorie expenditure. There are similar molecules in foods like black pepper and ginger that probably work the same way. To boost brown fat, and reduce white fat as well, eat more arginine-rich foods that may stimulate brown fat. These foods include beans, nuts, seeds, and soy.Your heart will thank you.


Dr. James Kneller treats atrial fibrillation, arrhythmia, and other heart conditions.  He is an internationally recognized authority on cardiovascular health and personal development.





Bartelt, A., Heeren, J. (2012). The holy grail of metabolic disease: brown adipose tissue. Current Opinionin Lipidology.23(3).p190-5.