Study of 50,000 people finds brown fat may protect against numerous chronic diseases


by  Rockefeller University

Study of 50,000 people finds brown fat may protect against numerous chronic diseases
In these PET scans, the person on the left has abundant brown fat around the neck and cervical spine. The person on the right has no detectable brown fat. Credit: Andreas G. Wibmer and Heiko Schöder.

Brown fat is that magical tissue that you would want more of. Unlike white fat, which stores calories, brown fat burns energy and scientists hope it may hold the key to new obesity treatments. But it has long been unclear whether people with ample brown fat truly enjoy better health. For one thing, it has been hard to even identify such individuals since brown fat is hidden deep inside the body.

Now, a new study in Nature Medicine offers strong evidence: among over 52,000 participants, those who had detectable brown fat were less likely than their peers to suffer cardiac and metabolic conditions ranging from type 2 diabetes to coronary artery disease, which is the leading cause of death in the United States.

The study, by far the largest of its kind in humans, confirms and expands the health benefits of brown fat suggested by previous studies. “For the first time, it reveals a link to lower risk of certain conditions,” says Paul Cohen, the Albert Resnick, M.D., Assistant Professor and senior attending physician at The Rockefeller University Hospital. “These findings make us more confident about the potential of targeting brown fat for therapeutic benefit.”

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