What Color Are Your Fat Cells, White, Brown Or Beige?

No, this is not a decorating tip. Over the last decade researchers have developed a new understanding of our fat cells. Traditionally, fat cells were viewed as energy storage containers. Food that was not needed for metabolism or energy was converted into fat and then stored in white fat cells, principally located beneath the skin or in the abdominal cavity. When energy needs are high, stored fat is broken down so it can be used for energy. White fat cells have other functions. They release signals that help regulate appetite and energy balance.


Brown fat cells, primarily found along the shoulder blades, neck and spinal cord, are metabolically very active. Containing high concentrations of mitochondria, the cell’s energy factories, brown cells have much more in common to muscle cells than to white fat cells. Brown fat cells primarily promote energy expenditure which is why they are often termed the "good fat cells". They also have the ability to increase fat metabolism in the absence of muscle energy needs. In other words, they can increase fat burning. Brown cells play an important role in maintaining body temperature. For example when you are cold and begin to shiver brown fat cells are activated to increase the burning of fat to create heat. Brown fat cells are of particular interest to researchers because they have the potential of increasing weight loss and this has been shown in laboratory animals.


Recently scientists identified a third type of fat cells called "beige fat cells". This is where things get interesting.  Beige fat cells act similarly to brown cells however they represent a conversion of white fat cells. In other words, they transform from "bad" to "good" fat cells.  From a fitness prospective, browning of white cells makes us healthier. Now I am sure you are asking; how do I convert my "bad" fat cells into "good" ones.  That will be the topic of next week’s Performance Tip. Enjoy your July 4th picnic and don't forget to exercise.