Beige and brown fat — making your body healthier

It is a well-known fat that sedentary living and the consumption of calorie dense and nutritionally deplete foods is implicated in the global epidemic of “Globesity.” As part and parcel of this trend is the precipitous rise of obesity related diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, insulin resistance, high blood pressure and various types of cancer.

Brown adipose (fat) tissue is a key site of thermogenesis (heat production) in mammals and for many decades has been considered by researchers as a possible option to promote weight loss.

The biomedical interest in brown and beige (fat that is on its way in the conversion from white to brown) fat cells is centered mostly on the ability of these cells to counteract metabolic diseases including type 2 diabetes and obesity.

Increasing the activity of brown and beige fat holds tremendous promise for the treatment of these diseases as well as for weight loss.

An interesting article published in Nature Medicine in 2013 entitled “Brown and Beige Fat Development, Function, and Therapeutic Potential”, noted that many genes and pathways that regulate brown and beige cell biology are now identified, and the authors suggested that mature white fat cells can differentiate into beige fat calls under certain conditions.

Recent findings suggest that exercise doesn’t just shrink the size of your fat and possibly increase your muscle mass, and build stronger bones, but also stimulates the beiging of white adipose tissue.

The white fat accumulates more mitochondria within the cells and therefore become more metabolically active as it “beiges.”

The mitochondria is the sub-cellular organelle responsible for generating energy.

An article published in Diabetes in 2015 (Exercise Effects on White Adipose tissue: Beiging and Metabolic Adaptations) reported that the newly formed beige fat releases adipokines a protein which function as hormonal messengers to improve the metabolism of skeletal muscle and the liver.

As well, it is noted that the adipokines induce cells to be more sensitive to insulin and glucose signaling. Of course, the opposite is true of a sedentary lifestyle which is correlated to obesity, insulin resistance, and high blood glucose leading to type 2 diabetes.

In another very interesting article published in the Journal of Physiology in December of 2013, researchers demonstrated that exercise could counteract some of the metabolic consequences of short-term overeating.

In the study, active young men were randomly assigned to either consume 50 percent more calories than normal while strictly limiting their physical activity or to consume 50 percent more calories than normal but add 45 minutes of daily treadmill running.

In the group who did not exercise, the insulin responses of the participants indicated that they developed insulin resistance (a condition which leads to type 2 diabetes) whereas the participants in the exercise group did not develop insulin resistance.

In the group who did not exercise, 7 of the 17 genes related to fat storage were increased while in the exercising group, no significant changes were noted. The researchers concluded that vigorous exercise counteracted most of the harmful effects of short-term overeating with respect to fat.

Clearly, the value of exercise goes far beyond just looking good and feeling well. It surpasses the increase in bone density, the balance, the flexibility, the strength, the endurance, the power, and the lithe lean body that is possible at any age. Your very cells respond, even your fat cells change for the better.


Dr. Jane Riley, EdD., is a certified personal fitness trainer, nutritional adviser and bhavior change specialist. She can be reached at, 212-8119 cell/text and


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