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Coffee may help lower the risk of obesity

According to researchers at the University of Nottingham, drinking a cup of coffee can trigger the body’s fat-fighting defense called brown adipose tissue (BAT), or “brown fat,” which therefore lowers one’s risk for obesity and diabetes.

This study, published in Scientific Reports, is one of the first to look into the direct effects of BAT functions in humans — functions that dictate how quickly we can burn calories as energy.

Adults were just recently discovered to have BAT, which was thought to only be found in babies and hibernating mammals. BAT generates body heat by burning calories whereas white fat simply stores away excess calories. Therefore, people with more brown fat have lower body mass indexes (BMI).

“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. Increasing its activity improves blood sugar control as well as improving blood lipid levels and the extra calories burnt help with weight loss,” said study co-director Professor Michael Symonds, from the School of Medicine at the University of Nottingham. “However, until now, no one has found an acceptable way to stimulate its activity in humans.

“This is the first study in humans to show that something like a cup of coffee can have a direct effect on our brown fat functions,” he continued. “The potential implications of our results are pretty big, as obesity is a major health concern for society and we also have a growing diabetes epidemic and brown fat could potentially be part of the solution in tackling them.”

After using stem cells to calculate the dosage of caffeine needed to stimulate brown fat, the team used a thermal imaging technique to track the body’s brown fat reserves and assess its ability 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,” Professor Symonds said. “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. We are 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 programme to help prevent diabetes,” he concluded.

By Olivia Harvey, Staff Writer

Image Credit: Shutterstock/Nobuhiro Asada

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