This fat could protect you from many dangerous diseases

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In a recent study at the Rockefeller University Hospital, researchers found that people who had detectable brown fat were less likely than their peers to suffer heart and metabolic conditions ranging from type 2 diabetes to coronary artery disease.

The study is published in Nature Medicine. One author is Paul Cohen, M.D.

Although brown fat has been studied for decades in newborns and animals, it was only in 2009 that scientists appreciated it can also be found in some adults, typically around the neck and shoulders.

Unlike white fat, which stores calories, brown fat burns energy, and scientists hope it may hold the key to new obesity treatments.

Large-scale studies of brown fat have been practically impossible because this tissue shows up only on PET scans, a special type of medical imaging.

In the study, the team reviewed 130,000 PET scans from more than 52,000 patients and found the presence of brown fat in nearly 10% of individuals.

Several common and chronic diseases were less prevalent among people with detectable brown fat.

For example, only 4.6% had type 2 diabetes, compared with 9.5% of people who did not have detectable brown fat.

Similarly, 18.9% had abnormal cholesterol, compared to 22.2% in those without brown fat.

Moreover, the team found three more conditions for which people with brown fat have lower risk: high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, and coronary artery disease—links that had not been observed in previous studies.

Another surprising finding was that brown fat may mitigate the negative health effects of obesity.

In general, obese people have an increased risk of heart and metabolic conditions; but the researchers found that among obese people who have brown fat, the prevalence of these conditions was similar to that of non-obese people.

The team says that brown-fat cells consume glucose in order to burn calories, and it’s possible that this lowers blood glucose levels, a major risk factor for developing diabetes.

The role of brown fat is more mysterious in other conditions like hypertension, which is tightly connected to the hormonal system.

It is possible that brown fat tissue does more than consume glucose and burn calories, and perhaps actually participates in hormonal signaling to other organs.

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