If you're home enjoying a snow day, you're probably quite thankful for the strange weather we've been having. But, if you had to trek through snow and ice and bone-chilling winds to get to work today, you're probably quite annoyed with this deep-freeze business. In the spirit of finding a silver lining, however, Time offers up a new scientific discovery: Complain all you want about the polar vortex, but this cold-weather phenomenon is apparently going to make us all skinnier. A new report in Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism claims that exposure to colder temperatures can be beneficial for weight loss. And, really, who cares if you're freezing so long as you're thin? Think of all the layers you'll be able to fit under your now-too-huge winter jacket.
The author, Wouter van Marken Lichtenbelt of the Maastricht University Medical Center in the Netherlands, conducted a study using 51 young men (though it's not clear exactly what age qualified as "young" in this experiment). Van Marken Lichtenbelt's team exposed the men to a refrigerated room (62-degrees Fahrenheit) in a lab for 10 days. The men got used to the cold — to the point where they stopped shivering and failed to notice a several-degree drop in temperature. According to the researchers, this is because of the brown fat in their bodies.
Brown fat is a sort of wonder fat that burns your body's energy instead of storing it. And, until now, it was thought that this special fat existed primarily in newborns. According to this study, however, adults may have more brown fat than previously thought, and activating it could help with weight loss. Not only do the brown fat's processes create heat, but it actually eats away at the white fat (which you may recognize from your thighs). It can burn up to 30% of your body's energy. And, researchers at University Hospital of Sherbrooke in Canada found that exposing people to the cold activates this brown fat. It's enough to make you welcome the polar vortex with open, less-flabby arms.
As van Marken Lichtenbelt explains, "Indoor temperature in most buildings is regulated to minimize the percentage of people dissatisfied. This results in relatively high indoor temperatures in wintertime. By lack of exposure to a varied ambient temperature, whole populations may be prone to develop diseases like obesity. In addition, people become vulnerable to sudden changes in ambient temperature.” With this information, scientists are looking into ways to preserve or amplify levels of brown fat.
Magical fat jokes aside, we must pause to consider the importance of this discovery. To be sure, the nation's obesity epidemic is worth tackling. But, have we forgotten the benefits of a bit of winter weight? And, it's important to remember that less weight doesn't necessarily mean better overall health. While we wait for more research on brown fat, we hope that the focus shifts from weight loss to the other body-warming capabilities that may be applied on a global scale — not just to obesity. (Time)