Brown fat may be key to treating obesity

Brown fat, also known as brown adipose tissue, is a very high energy consuming fat which contains large amounts of mitochondria compared to the more commonly known white fat, and specialises in burning energy and releasing it as heat rather than storing it. 

While researchers have known for many years that brown fat, at least in animals, offers protection against diabetes and obesity, it was thought to be irrelevant in human research because it was thought that humans shed brown fat following infancy. 

However, new scanning techniques have been able to show the presence of brown fat in lean and metabolically healthy people – offering the momentum for researchers to explore ways to harness brown fat in humans. 

Endocrinologist Dr Paul Lee, from the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, has been able to show that ordinary human white fat can change into brown fat through moderating ambient temperature ranges.