Brown Fat Measured by Thermal Imaging

Heat-seeking cameras could be used to measure people’s “good fat” and determine which foods they ought to be avoiding, scientists claim.

Brown fat is good for our bodies because it burns calories by producing large amounts of heat, which could help us avoid storing surplus energy as white fat around our waistlines.

Although it had long been known that newborn babies used brown fat to keep them warm, scientists only recently discovered that we retain small deposits of it even in adulthood.

Now researchers from Nottingham University suggest that by measuring someone’s levels of brown fat, and most importantly how hot it is, they could determine which foods will help them lose or gain weight.

In a new study in the Journal of Pediatrics, Prof Michael Symonds and Dr Helen Budge demonstrated that thermal imaging cameras can be used to accurately trace people’s brown fat deposits.

Because brown fat produces 300 times more heat than any other tissue type, heat-sensitive technology cannot only identify it but measure how active it is, or how much heat it is producing.

The thermal imaging technique avoids the potentially harmful radiation which has been used in previous studies to measure brown fat in adults, and which has prevented scientists accurately measuring brown fat in children for safety reasons.

By using the new technique on children as well as adults, the researchers demonstrated that children have larger stores of brown fat and produce heat much more rapidly than adults.

Dr Budge said: “Brown fat does appear to be present in higher amounts in larger people than in people of lower body weight, but we think the key difference is in how active it is from person to person.

“The reason this is exciting is that if you “switch on” brown fat and it uses up energy, then potentially that is one way of controlling body weight.”

Further studies of how brown fat responds to different food groups could enable food manufacturers to include a new category of health advice on food packaging, the researchers added.

Prof Symonds said: “Potentially we could add a thermogenic index to food labels to show whether that product would increase or decrease heat production within brown fat. In other words whether it would speed up or slow down the amount of calories we burn.”

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