Scientists discover white fat cells respond to cold temperatures

By Stephen C. Webster
Tuesday, July 2, 2013 11:40 EDT
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"Stock Photo: Woman Measuring Her Belly Fat" on Shutterstock: http://tinyurl.com/o7p2sk6
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A study published Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reveals that white fat cells are actively aware of the ambient temperature and burn off calories when cold to generate heat.

“We were a little surprised that no one had tried this before,” Harvard cell biologist Bruce Spiegelman told Science Now.

Brown fat cells have long been known to exhibit similar behavior in the cold — one of many protective traits science has assigned brown fat over other types of adipose tissue. Researching the process brown fat takes to initiate calorie burning, Spiegelman and his team accidentally discovered that white cells do the same thing.

Three mixtures of human fat cells were placed into cold storage for various intervals ranging from four hours up to 10 days. Brown fat cells, white fat cells, and both of them blended together were then exposed to temperatures between 27 and 39 degrees Celsius.

When they were removed, researchers observed the white cells and the mixture expressed a protein called UCP1 at a much higher rate than before, doubling after just eight hours. Importantly, they also performed the same test on fat cells taken from mice that were bred to be missing a key nervous system trait linked to brown fat’s cold response, and the results were much the same.

While there is a whole sector of do-it-yourself home remedy folks who claim that cold exposure can help burn fat — and lots of products in that same vein — the science is lacking and it’s not clear if this latest research gives it any credence.

Spiegelman did not respond to a request for comment, but told Science Now that his findings are no miracle fat cure.

“It’s a piece of the basic science, adding to an evolving awareness that fat cells have many lives that we never knew about,” he said. “Now we know they can sense temperature directly. The next question is, how do they do it, and can that ability be manipulated?”

["Stock Photo: Woman Measuring Her Belly Fat" on Shutterstock.]

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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