Chromatography

Do You Burn Fat When You're Cold?

May 21 2018 Read 741 Times

For most people, shivering means reaching for a sweater or cranking the heating an extra notch. But in the wake of a new study scientists are suggesting that shivering could burn calories and replicate the benefits of physical exercise.

There's no arguing with the fact that physical exertion improves cardiovascular health, regulates triglyceride levels and keeps weight in check. However, little is known about the actual mechanisms of these processes. The study, fronted by Harvard's Dr Laurie Goodyear and Ohio State University's Dr Kristin Stanford, explored this grey area by analysing how the body burns brown adipose fat, also known as BAT.

Harnessing the power of BAT

In a report published in Cell Metabolism, the team tested how 45 minutes of moderate intensity exercise affected blood molecules. While most molecules usually decrease with exercise, results indicated that the lipid 12,13-dihydroxy-9Z-octadecenoic acid (12,13-diHOME) significantly increased with exertion. The lipid is released by BAT, a tissue that's found in almost all mammals. It's used by the body to generate heat by burning calories, a function that's been observed in both human infants, hibernating bears and now, shivering adults. Interestingly, concentrations of 12,13-diHOME were not only increased by physical exercise, but also by exposure to cold. This suggests that the two could be akin, at least in some respects.

"Most data have suggested that cold and exercise have opposite effects on BAT, so to see that 12,13-diHOME was released from BAT after both exercise and cold exposure was unexpected," comments Stanford.

Replicating the benefits of exercise

That said, there are some notable differences in the behaviour of BAT and 12,13-diHOME. During exercise BAT signals to skeletal muscles to absorb and burn fatty acids. In contrast, during exposure to cold BAT burns calories directly in a bid to keep the body warm.

The team are currently planning additional experiments that will explore both the similarities and differences between physical exercise and exposure to cold. They also plan to investigate whether it's possible to manually stimulate the release of 12,13-diHOME and in turn, replicate the benefits of physical exercise without having to lift a finger.  

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