Good News for Cold Weather

November 13, 2014

There no mistaking recent weather changes ... the beginning of winter is here. Many of us have conflicting feelings about the coldest season. Winter brings the opportunity form many favorite pastimes -- skiing, sledding and skating. There is the beauty of snow hanging on tree branches, warming up in front of the fireplace, but there's also snow shoveling, layers of clothes and winter driving! Now, according to researchers from the University of the Kentucky School of Medicine, we're aware of another winter plus! It has to do with body fats. First, you may be aware that we have two main types of fat:
  1. Brown fat is composed of small droplets of organic compounds(also referred to as lipid droplets or adiposomes) and many iron-containing mitochondria - specialized structures in which the processes of respiration and energy production occur. The iron, and a large number of tiny blood vessels in brown fat, give it a brownish appearance. It is usually found in the front and back of the neck and upper back and is derived from muscle tissue.  Brown fat generates heat and is found in newborns and hibernating animals. Adults with more brown fat tend to be younger, weigh less, and have healthy blood sugar levels. In other words, this is the good fat.
  2. White fat is composed of a single lipid droplet and a greatly reduced amount of mitochondria and blood vessels, giving it a white or yellow appearance. It is the most common form of fat in the body. White fat does provide our largest energy reserve. It also acts as insulation and protects our internal organs. It is a major endocrine organ with receptors for insulin, growth hormone, adrenaline, and cortisol. Excess white fat in the belly is associated with metabolic syndrome, while extra fat throughout the body raises risks for breast, colon, esophageal, gall bladder, and pancreatic cancer.
What does this have to do with the University of Kentucky School of Medicine? In a study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism researchers from the university compared belly fat taken from fifty-five people during the summer and and again in the winter. The belly fat taken from people in the winter had higher levels of two genetic markers for brown fat than that collected in the summer. Additionally, they examined thigh fat collected from 16 people after holding ice packs on their thighs for 30 minutes, it had higher levels of three genetic markers that are linked with brown fat. In other words, cold temperatures may actually turn some unhealthy white fat in your thighs and belly into brown fat that burns calories for body heat! However, you don't have to stand out in the cold to increase your levels of brown fat!  Studies presented  of the American Diabetes Association demonstrated that both exercise can also impart brown fat characteristics to the white fat that slowly accumulates  from sedentary behavior. It's important to note that the cold weather effects were lessened for obese people, and while this is a promising study, more people die from heart-disease during the winter months than at any other time. Exercise, dress warm, and when you thighs begin to tingle think about the possible positive effects and ... smile!

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