So many of my recommendations are focused on helping you to shed excess body fat — and for good reason. Obesity is probably the biggest health threat of our time. Especially when you consider its role in fueling the runaway train that is the modern diabetes epidemic.
So what I’m about to say might shock you. But new research suggests that the secret to conquering diabesity, once and for all, may actually be…body fat.
But not just any old body fat. Today, I’m talking about brown fat. And believe me when I say that it’s a far cry from the flab that’s left this country in a metabolic tailspin.
In fact, it may just be the key to our recovery.
The heat-generating, calorie-burning fat
If you’ve been reading Logical Health Alternatives and my Reality Health Check e-letter for a while, then you’re already well aware that fat does more than just spill over your jeans. It’s also responsible for sending key metabolic messages to your body.
Let’s start with white adipose tissue (WAT). Its purpose is to store excess calories for emergency use. (That’s one reason why chronic overeating leads to obesity.) But it also generates metabolism- and hunger-regulating hormones like adiponectin and leptin, as well as inflammatory substances.
This is why trimming down is rarely as simple as “eat less, lose weight.” Obesity disrupts healthy metabolic signaling—leading to an excess of hormones telling you to eat more and store more fat, while ratcheting up your inflammation levels in the process.
This leads to metabolic syndrome. Which, ultimately, leads to diabetes.
And that’s where brown fat, technically known as brown adipose tissue (or BAT), comes to the rescue. Think of it as the antidote to white fat. In fact, it behaves more like muscle.
It boasts an abundance of mitochondria — your body’s molecular energy centers. And while WAT stores energy, BAT actively generates it — through a process called thermogenesis, which burns calories and creates heat.
Until recently, scientists thought that only human infants and other animals lacking a shiver reflex — like rats, for example — had active stores of BAT.
But breakthrough research over the last decade has led to some incredible discoveries. And they may change our approach to diabetes and obesity management forever.
Brown fat keeps you warmer, leaner — and healthier
First off, we now know that the benefits of brown fat reach well beyond infancy.
For one thing, studies show that leaner kids have higher active stores of brown fat than obese children.1 And that this extra brown fat eventually leads to higher muscle mass in puberty.2
The benefits don’t end there, though. Because back in 2009, researchers at Boston’s Joslin Diabetes Center discovered that adults have active brown fat stores, too. And as you might expect, bigger stores correlated to leaner bodies — and lower blood sugar levels, to boot.3
This research also found that older adults with a high BMI had lower brown fat stores pretty much across the board. And recent animal research offers one explanation as to why. It seems that advancing age deactivates brown fat’s potent calorie-burning powers.4
The good news is, there are ways to turn your brown fat stores back “on.” And some of them are far simpler than you may imagine.
How physical stress flips the brown fat switch
Much of the research on brown fat has focused on physical stress as a primary activation trigger.
Case in point: We know that cachexia — the clinical term for the wasting syndrome that affects patients with end-stage cancer and other terminal diseases — is partly driven by the conversion of white fat to brown.5 And a team of researchers from the University of Texas found similar brown fat activation in patients with severe, lifethreatening burns over large portions of their bodies.6
But luckily, brown fat activity ramps up under far less extreme conditions, too — like cold temperatures, for example.
And we’re not talking sub-zero, either. One recent study revealed that simply spending the majority of your day in temperatures around 60 degrees can increase calorie burning by 30 percent in just over a week.7 (Which might explain why human fat samples have shown greater brown fat activity in the wintertime than in the summertime.)8
So I’m not at all surprised to see “cool workouts” emerging as the next big fitness trend. Especially when you consider the fact that exercise appears to be an effective brown fat stimulator all by itself.9-10
Of course, if everyone in the world was getting the exercise they should be, it’s doubtful we’d have a diabesity crisis on our hand in the first place. So you can bet Big Pharma is already hard at work developing the next “wonder drug” that can turn white fat into brown fat with the pop of a pill.
What they don’t want you to know is that there’s already a “pill” for that. Several of them, in fact. These are all natural substances that can help to “brown” your fat stores… and send your risk of metabolic syndrome packing.
The “big four” brown fat activators
Research on brown fat activation is still in its early stages — so we don’t have a lot to go on just yet. But a small body of very promising research has set the stage for some serious breakthroughs in the field. With a particular focus on four natural supplements in particular.
Here’s what we know so far…
• Resveratrol is a powerful antioxidant with a star reputation. Research has suggested it has anticancer and anti-inflammatory properties. That it lowers blood sugar. That it aids heart health. And that it helps prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Studies have even shown that resveratrol mimics the effects of calorie restriction.
So it probably won’t surprise you that research on mice shows that even small doses — amounting to just .1 percent of the diet — are able to turn white fat brown.11 I generally recommend 500 mg of transresveratrol (the most potent form) per day.
• Curcumin is a jack-of-all-trades, much like resveratrol — a potent anti-inflammatory with benefits against everything from diabetes, to arthritis, to depression. Recent research indicates that it may even be an effective weight loss aid — and it’s no wonder.
According to another study published just this year, curcumin blocks new fat formation — while inducing “brown” changes in existing fat cells.12 I recommend taking 500 mg every single day. (But make sure it’s a bioavailable form, to maximize absorption.)
• Green tea is another disease-fighting dynamo with a stellar resume. It packs a strong punch against high blood sugar — but its most popular use is as an allnatural fat-burner. (It remains a staple in my practice for both purposes.)
But while green tea’s thermogenic properties were once attributed to its caffeine content, research shows that this is simply not the case. In reality, green tea extracts stimulate brown fat activity.13 And that’s a more powerful benefit than simple caffeine could ever offer — which is why I recommend 500 mg daily.
• Berberine is one of the newest additions to my “Desert Island” supplement list. There are a lot of reasons why it made the cut — but what has impressed me most is its ability to slash blood sugar levels at lightning speed. And its effects on brown fat may offer one clue as to how it’s able to do this.
A 2014 study showed that berberine burned calories, stalled weight gain, boosted cold tolerance, and enhanced BAT activity in obese mice.14 I recommend starting with 500 mg per day — but you can work your way up to 1,500 mg, if necessary.
Granted, this is all laboratory research, mostly focusing on mice. (And you know how I feel about animal studies.) But you have to start somewhere.
And given these supplements’ already outstanding reputations when it comes to boosting metabolic health, I’m not at all surprised to see the lens pointing in their direction.
Combine the substances above, and you’ve got a simple but effective cocktail for stress-free brown fat activation. That’s why I advise you add all of them to your daily rotation. It’s the same recommendation I’ve been giving to my patients for years — now, I just have one more very exciting reason to keep giving it.
 Drubach LA et al. J Pediatr. 2011 Dec;159(6):939-44.
 Gilsanz V, et al. Pediatr Res. 2013 Jan;73(1):3-9.
 Virtanen KA, et al. N Engl J Med. 2009 Apr 9;360(15):1518-25.
 Sugatani J, et al. FASEB J. 2014 Jan;28(1):440-52.
 Petruzzelli M, et al. Cell Metab. 2014 Sep 2;20(3):433-47.
 Sidossis LS, et al. Cell Metab. 2015 Aug 4;22(2):219-27.
 Lichtenbelt W, et al. Trends Endocrinol Metab. 2014 Apr;25(4):165-7.
 Kern PA, et al. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2014 Dec;99(12):E2772-9.
 Boström P, et al. Nature. 2012 Jan 11;481(7382):463-8.
 Sanchez-Delgado G, et al. Ann Nutr Metab. 2015;67(1):21-32.
 Wang S, et al. Int J Obes (Lond). 2015 Jun;39(6):967-76.
 Lone J, et al. J Nutr Biochem. 2016 Jan;27:193-202.
 Dulloo AG, et al. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2000 Feb;24(2):252-8.
 Zhang Z, et al. Nat Commun. 2014 Nov 25;5:5493.