Caffeine may fight obesity by stimulating body’s natural fat-fighting defense

Scientists from the University of Nottingham have discovered that drinking a cup of coffee can stimulate ‘brown fat’, the body’s own fat-fighting defense.  The research suggests that caffeine could be used to tackle obesity and diabetes.

Brown adipose tissue (BAT), also known as brown fat, is one of two types of fat found in humans and other mammals. Initially only attributed to babies and hibernating mammals, it was discovered in recent years that adults can have brown fat too.  

Brown fat’s main function is to generate body heat by burning sugar and fat, often in response to cold.  This is opposite to white fat, which is a result of storing excess calories.  Research has shown that increasing brown fat’s activity improves blood sugar control, improves blood lipid levels and facilitates weight loss by causing extra calories burnt. However, until now, no one has found an acceptable way to stimulate brown fat’s activity in humans.

The pioneering study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, is one of the first to be carried out in humans to find compound that could directly affect ‘brown fat’ functions.  Using caffeine as a test ingredient, the U of N team started with a series of stem cell studies to see if caffeine would stimulate brown fat. Once they had found the right dose of caffeine, the scientists moved on to humans to see if the results were similar among caffeine consuming (coffee drinking) population.  The team used a thermal imaging technique to trace the body’s brown fat reserves. The non-invasive technique helps the team to locate brown fat and assess its capacity to produce heat after volunteers drink a cup of coffee.  The result suggests that coffee drinking seems to stimulate “brown fat” activity in human body and therefore may potentially lead to weight loss.  

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Thanks for reading.

Journal Reference:

  1. Ksenija Velickovic, Declan Wayne, Hilda Anaid Lugo Leija, Ian Bloor, David E. Morris, James Law, Helen Budge, Harold Sacks, Michael E. Symonds, Virginie Sottile. Caffeine exposure induces browning features in adipose tissue in vitro and in vivoScientific Reports, 2019; 9 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41598-019-45540-1