Brown Adipose Tissue: Why Is It Important for Health?

Research on the function of brown adipose tissue has yielded interesting results in recent years. That is why it's now associated with weight loss and other important processes.
Brown Adipose Tissue: Why Is It Important for Health?

Last update: 25 May, 2021

Brown adipose tissue is the fat that activates in the body when we perceive a cold sensation. In contrast to white or yellow fatty tissue, whose function is mainly as an energy reserve, this type of fat has important health implications.

It’s present mainly in the pericardial and supraclavicular areas and around organs such as the pancreas and kidneys. It’s a metabolically active tissue with a large number of mitochondria in its composition. Its function is thermoregulatory and, in infants, it’s of particular importance.

The activation of brown adipose tissue

When we’re cold, we burn more fat in order to generate heat. This is due, in particular, to the stimulation of brown adipose tissue. Physical exercise also seems to activate this type of fat, which has an impact on the elimination of white adipose tissue.

A group of researchers found a positive relationship between melatonin intake and the increase in brown fat. The results of their study, published in 2018, suggest that administration of this hormone could prove to be an effective mechanism for weight control by stimulating this metabolically active brown adipose tissue.

However, the studies conducted in this regard have been executed on animal models. This means that the conclusions drawn aren’t entirely extrapolatable to humans. Nevertheless, experts suggest that there may be a close link between brown fat tissue, weight loss, and blood glucose regulation.

However, the distribution of this fat isn’t homogeneous between individuals, and there are also gender differences. Women seem to have a greater amount of this tissue, according to an article in the journal Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology.

Brown adipose tissue under a microscope.
Although it’s a topic that’s still under investigation, experts associate brown adipose tissue with weight loss.

You may be interested in: White, Beige, and Brown Types of Body Fat


The thermogenesis process that occurs in brown adipose tissue has the function of producing heat when the body detects a low temperature. For this purpose, triglycerides and glucose are used in a protein-mediated metabolic reaction.

Therefore, there’s a positive relationship between the amount of brown fat in the body and energy expenditure. Activation of this tissue can lead to an increase of up to 5% of the resting energy expenditure, which could mean an increase in energy requirements by 100 kcal.

The organs responsible for mediating the activation of this tissue are the heart, through the secretion of peptides; muscles, by means of hormones called myokines; and the nervous system, thanks to the secretion of catecholamines.

Nutrition and brown adipose tissue

Some active compounds in food could have to do with the amount of brown fat in the body and with its metabolic capacity. Capsaicin, resveratrol, curcumin, and green tea seem to be able to stimulate this type of brown adipose tissue, as do conjugated linoleic fatty acids.

This could be the reason why regular intake of foods with these nutrients is linked to weight loss, according to a study published in 2017. However, the evidence for this isn’t strong, and more human trials would be necessary in order to confirm these associations.

A hot cup of green tea.
Green tea, as well as substances such as capsaicin and resveratrol, are associated with brown adipose tissue stimulation.

Discover: Is It Possible To Get Rid of Fat Locally?

Brown adipose tissue, a metabolically active tissue

Brown fat, unlike white or yellow fat, is a metabolically active tissue. It plays a role in the body’s thermoregulation and starts to function when the body senses the feeling of cold.

This activation leads to significant increases in metabolic expenditure at rest, which can lead to weight loss through the destruction of white fat tissue. The effects of melatonin and certain active compounds in food on brown adipose tissue are currently the subject of investigation.

The intake of certain substances could, to a certain extent, increase the proportion of melatonin in the body. It may even improve its metabolic activity. At the same time, exercise contributes to the stimulation of the functions of this tissue, increasing energy expenditure and thus maximizing weight loss.

Finally, it’s important to note that this fat is more abundant in newborns than in adults. There are also gender differences, as it can be present in greater quantities in women than in men.

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  • Fernández Vázquez G., Reiter RJ., Agil A., Melatonin increases brown adipose tissue mas and function in zucker diabetic fatty rats: implications for obesity control. J Pineal Res, 2018.
  • Bredella MA., Sex differences in body composition. Adv Exp Med Biol, 2017. 1043: 9-27.
  • Okla M., Kim J., Koehler K., Chung S., Dietary factors promoting brown and beige fat development and thermogenesis. Adv Nutr, 2017. 8 (3): 473-483.