What Is The Difference Between Brown & White Fat?

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When it comes to our metabolism, fitness, vitality, healthy weight management, and overall health, it may come as a surprise that the colour of our fat cells plays a significant role. Scientists and researchers have extensively studied two colours of adipocytes in the human body: brown and white.

Brown fat, also known as brown adipose tissue (BAT), and white fat, or white adipose tissue (WAT), are distinct types of fat cells found in our bodies. While they both play a role in energy storage and thermogenesis, they differ significantly in their structure, function, and distribution throughout the body.

What is White Fat?

This is the more common type of fat found in our bodies. Its primary function is to store excess energy in the form of triglycerides. Think of white fat as a storage system, holding onto fuel until the body needs it. While having too much white fat can lead to obesity and health problems, it also provides insulation and protects our organs.

What is Brown Fat?

It is called “brown” because it contains iron-containing mitochondria, giving it a darker colour that specialises in producing heat to keep our bodies warm. It does this through a process called non-shivering thermogenesis, where the stored energy is directly converted into heat. Having brown fat has been linked to burning more calories and potentially helping with weight management.

Where Is White And Brown Fat In The Body?

Another difference between the two types of fat is where they’re located in the body. White fat is found throughout our bodies, particularly around the waist, hips, and abdomen. Brown fat, on the other hand, is concentrated in specific areas like the neck, collarbones, and along the spine. Interestingly, recent studies have shown that certain individuals, especially infants and lean adults, have more active brown fat.

The activation and regulation of brown and white fat also vary.

Brown fat can be stimulated by cold exposure and the release of a neurotransmitter called norepinephrine, which triggers thermogenesis.  White fat is less active metabolically and is influenced by hormones like insulin, which control the storage and release of lipids.

Scientists are excited about the potential of brown fat for therapeutic interventions. Researchers are exploring methods like cold exposure, medication, and exercise to increase brown fat activity as a way to burn more calories and combat obesity. Ongoing research focuses on transforming white fat into brown fat through a process known as “browning” or “beiging”.

This involves stimulating white fat cells to take on some characteristics of brown fat, such as increased mitochondria and heat production. By promoting browning, it may be possible to boost metabolism and improve overall metabolic health.

How To Increase The Amount Of Brown Fat In Your Body

There’s a lot we still don’t know about brown fat. While doctors aren’t quite ready to start offering pills or other quick fixes to convert white fat to brown, you can still try these other natural ways to boost your levels of brown fat – but first, consult your physician.

Cold Exposure

Exposure to cooler temperatures may trigger your body to create more brown fat. One study, published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, looked at 12 young men with lower-than-average amounts of active brown fat who were asked to sit in a 17 degrees Celsius room for two hours a day over the course of six weeks. They burned an extra 108 calories in the cold compared with normal indoor temperatures. Even better, after six weeks their bodies were burning an extra 289 calories in the cold, prompting researchers to hypothesise that the exposure to lower temps increased the activity of a gene that converts white fat to brown.


Increasing exercise and physical activity may help to increase a protein called irisin, which may be able to convert white fat to brown fat. Leaner people tend to have more brown fat than those who are sedentary. One animal study published in the journal Disease Models and Mechanisms found that working out triggers the release of irisin that prompts white fat cells to convert to brown.

Stimulate Your Body’s Melatonin Production

Not only does the hormone melatonin helps regulate our sleep-wake cycle, but research published in the Journal of Pineal Research found that in rats, it increases the presence of beige fat, which is similar to brown fat in its calorie-burning capabilities.

While you might be tempted to take a supplement, experts say it’s best to stimulate your body’s own natural production by avoiding nighttime exposure to light from TVs, computers, and other screens, getting sunlight exposure during the day, and loading up on melatonin-rich foods, including almonds, tomatoes, cherries, cardamom, and coriander.

Don’t Over Or Under Eat

We rely on hunger-regulating neurons in the brain to notify us when we’ve had enough. Now it turns out these neurons have another duty. Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine found that in mice, these neurons can actually encourage fat to turn brown.

The study found that eating too few calories prevented white fat from turning brown while eating just enough to satisfy hunger- prompting the action of the neurons – turned white fat to turn brown. Other research shows that eating too much can do harm, as well. Not only does overconsumption increase white fat, but it also interferes with brown fat’s ability to burn calories.

For more information, please visit Affinity Health South Africa