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 recently discovered that adults can have brown fat too. Its main function is to generate body heat by burning calories, while white fat is a result of storing excess calories. (Learn more about thermogenics and weight loss here.)
“Brown fat works in a different way to other fat in your body and produces heat by burning sugar and fat, often in response to cold,” the researchers wrote. “Increasing its activity improves blood sugar control as well as improving blood lipid levels and the extra calories burnt help with weight loss. However, until now, no one has found an acceptable way to stimulate its activity in humans.”
For the study, researchers at the University of Nottingham started with a series of stem cell studies to see if caffeine would stimulate brown fat. Once they found the right dose, they moved on to humans to see if the results were similar. The team used a thermal imaging technique, which they’d previously pioneered, 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.
“From our previous work, we knew that brown fat is mainly located in the neck region, so we were able to image someone straight after they had a drink to see if the brown fat got hotter,” they wrote. “The results were positive, and we now need to ascertain that caffeine as one of the ingredients in the coffee is acting as the stimulus or if there’s another component helping with the activation of brown fat.”
The team is currently looking at caffeine supplements to test whether the effect is similar. “Once we have confirmed which component is responsible for this, it could potentially be used as part of a weight management regime or as part of glucose regulation program to help prevent diabetes,” they wrote.
In recent years, coffee and tea brands have launched innovative beverages with flavors, ingredients and functionalities appealing to the conscious consumer who craves new flavors in his or her beverage, but who also desires natural, clean-label drinks. Trends such as exotic flavorings, cold-brew coffees and ready-to-drink (RTD) beverages are making their way into the market, and according to Mintel, the top three non-alcoholic beverages (carbonated soft drinks, juices and dairy milk) have all shown stagnant or declining sales, while energy drinks and coffee experienced a strong sales growth of 8.7%.