Newly Discovered Beige Fat May Help Reduce Obesity

Researchers classify fat into two basic types known as white fat and brown fat. Recent studies have revealed that a third type of fat known as beige fat may be the most important type of fat for burning calories and preventing obesity in adults, which is a significant risk factor in diabetes.

Most of the fat in the human body is white fat. This kind of fat provides a readily available source of energy and also stores and releases hormones as needed. White fat accumulates under the skin and around internal organs. It is also the primary fat associated with being overweight or obese. Because white fat can affect how hormones such as insulin work, greater than normal amounts of white fat can also increase the risk of type 2 diabetes.

Brown fat, which was once believed to only exist in infants, helps protect the body from cold by burning calories to generate heat. Calories that are not used are saved by the body as white fat. More recently, researchers discovered what they thought was brown fat in small quantities in adults. New research from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute has concluded this fat is actually a third type of fat known as beige fat.

Similar to brown fat, beige fat has the ability to burn calories due to organelles called mitochondria located inside the fat cells. Mitochondria require a protein known as UCP1 to burn calories. Brown fat in infants is known to produce large amounts of UCP1. Beige fat is typically low in UCP1, which means most beige fat does not actively burn calories. Researchers discovered that the hormone irisin, which is released during exposure to cold and by muscles during exercise, can trigger beige cells to increase production of UCP1 which leads to calorie burning.

In adults, most beige fat cells have been located in pea-sized deposits along the spine and just under the skin around the collarbone. Further research concluded that the presence of irisin can convert white fat into beige fat. This discovery may lead to new ways to treat overweight and obese people using irisin to convert white fat to beige fat and to encourage beige fat to burn more calories.

Denise DeWitt is a freelance writer for




Science Daily. Newly Isolated ‘Beige Fat’ Cells Could Help Fight Obesity. Web. July 30, 2012.


Yahoo! News. ‘Beige” Fat Joins Brown Fat as Potential Weight-Loss Target. Web. July 30, 2012.


Web MD. The Truth About Fat. Web. July 30, 2012.


Livestrong. Different Types of Belly Fat. Wendy Stewart. Web. July 30, 2012.


Mayo Clinic. Belly fat in women: Taking – and keeping – it off. Web. July 30, 2012.



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