Most mainstream doctors are horrified when they hear I teach my patients about the benefits of more fat. The patients who come to the Sears Institute for Anti-Aging Medicine tell me as much.
But I’m not just talking about adding more healthy fats – like butter, lard, coconut oil, or omega-3s – to your diet.
I’m also talking about a special kind of fat you already have in your body… A fat that makes you thin.
Broadly speaking, there are two main types of fat in your body – white fat and brown fat.
And, despite what doctors and nutritionists will tell you, the more brown fat you have, the better.
Until a few years ago, scientists thought only babies had brown fat – that this was nature’s way of keeping them warm before they develop the ability to shiver.
Unlike white fat – which shows up as flabby bellies, love handles, and plump thighs – brown fat burns calories rather than storing them.
But studies show brown fat is very different from white fat in another important way…
Brown fat contains mitochondria, which are full of iron and give this fat its brown color.1
As you may know, mitochondria are the energy-generating organelles in your cells. They are the power plants that turn fuel into energy for your body.
Brown fat is also healthy. It cuts your risk of multiple conditions, including:2
- Type 2 diabetes
- Cardiovascular disease
- High blood pressure
- Congestive heart failure
Although most of your brown fat disappeared when you were a baby, your adult body retained small amounts – mainly in your neck, around the collarbone and the upper half of your spine.
And even in small quantities, brown fat has the ability to burn huge amounts of calories.
Although it makes up less than 5% of all your fat, it burns up a staggering 70% of your total calorie expenditure each day.
By contrast, white fat burns almost no calories at all.
Now astonishing new research shows you can easily transform your flabby white fat into calory-burning brown fat.
The clue lies in a little-known protein called Zfp516.
Animal studies conducted at the University of California, Berkeley, found that Zfp516 works to turn white fat into brown fat, and can be triggered by exposure to cold temperatures.3
The researchers found that mice with boosted Zfp516 levels had “browned” parts of their white fat, and as a result gained 30% less weight than the control mice.
The good news is you don’t have to expose yourself to extreme temperatures to “brown” your own white fat.
I experienced extreme below-freezing temperatures when I was climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. It was a life-changing experience, but I don’t want to subject myself to cold temperature if I don’t have to!
Turn Flabby White Fat Into Calorie-Burning Brown Fat
Luckily, there are much more comfortable ways to brown your fat. Here are three:
- Supplement with berberine: This ancient herbal medicine for treating diarrhea, and now one of the most effective treatments for diabetes, also activates Zfp516 and helps turn flabby white fat into healthy, pound-shedding brown fat.4 Berberine is a plant phytonutrient extracted from a number of medicinal herbs, such as barberry and goldenseal. A dose of 1,000 mg to 1,500 mg is effective for most people, and it has been shown to have no nasty side effects.
- Use the power of flavanols: Recent studies conducted by scientists in Japan reveal that foods rich in these antioxidant plant compounds – also known as flavan-3-ols – have the ability to turn white fat brown.5 Flavanols have long been known to have multiple health benefits, including antioxidant, anticarcinogenic, cardioprotective, antimicrobial, antiviral, and neuroprotective properties. Foods that are rich in flavan-3-ols include apple, grapeseed, berries, legumes, citrus fruits, red wine, and green tea. But the two best sources are dark chocolate and cocoa powder.
- Don’t forget to PACE yourself: Studies at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Australia show that exercise is just as effective as cold exposure for “browning” white fat.6 The researchers found that an hour of moderate exercise was equivalent to 10 to 15 minutes of shivering in the cold for turning white fat brown. I recommend my PACE exercise program. It stands for Progressively Accelerating Cardiopulmonary Exertion. It uses brief but vigorous routines of increasing intensity – so, the beauty of it is that you only need to exercise for 12 minutes a day, instead of an hour.
To Your Good Health,
Al Sears, MD, CNS
1. Minwoo N and Cooper MP. “Role of energy metabolism in the brown fat gene program frontiers in endocrinology.” Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). 2015;6:104.
2. Cohen P and Spiegelman BM. “Brown and beige fat: molecular parts of a thermogenic machine.” Diabetes 2015;64:2346–2351
3. Depriver J, et al.” Cold-inducible Zfp516 activates UCP1 transcription to promote browning of white fat and development of brown fat.” Mol Cell. 2015 Jan 22;57(2):235-46.
4. Song, NJ, et al. ‘Induction of thermogenic adipocytes: molecular targets and thermogenic small molecules.’ Exp Mol Med 49, e353. 2017.
5. Ishii Y, et al. “Repeated oral administration of flavan-3-ols induces browning in mice adipose tissues through sympathetic nerve activation” Nutrients. 2021;13(12):4214.
6. Lee P, et al. “Irisin and FGF21 are cold-induced endocrine activators of brown fat function in humans.” 2014. Cell Metabol. 19(2):302-309