Strapping on an ice-pack to a flabby area for 30 minutes may be key to burning body fat, suggests a new study.
Exposure to cold temperatures may prompt unhealthy white fat in the thighs and belly to turn into brown fat that burns calories for body heat, researchers have found. Most adult fat deposits are what is known as white fat, and it was once believed that only babies have brown fat, which appears to help keep them warm.
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Previous research suggested, however, that adults also have some brown fat.
While brown fat in babies arises from muscle, brown fat in adults is actually a "beige" fat that occurs from the "browning" of white fat, according to a 2012 study by Harvard researchers.
In the new study, a team led by Dr Philip Kern of the University of Kentucky School of Medicine compared belly fat taken from 55 people during the summer and the winter, 'HealthDay' reported.
They also examined thigh fat collected from 16 people after they held an ice pack on their skin for 30 minutes.
Belly fat taken from people in the winter had higher levels of two genetic markers for brown fat than belly fat collected in the summer, the study found.
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The thigh fat taken after people placed an ice pack on their skin also had higher levels of three genetic markers linked with brown fat, researchers said.
However, these brown fat-producing effects were blunted in obese people, researchers found.
"We wanted to investigate whether human adults had the ability to transform some white fat deposits into beige fat when they were exposed to cold," Kern said.
"Browning fat tissue would be an excellent defence against obesity. It would result in the body burning extra calories rather than converting them into additional fat tissue," he added.
Kern said the findings "indicate inflammation can hinder the conversion of white to beige fat." The study was published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.