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Obesity, or having excess body fat, is a known risk factor for a wide range of diseases, including diabetes, cancer, and dementia. Findings from a new study indicate that having brown fat is linked with lower risk of some chronic diseases.

Brown fat, also known as brown adipose tissue, is found in all mammals and is particularly abundant in newborns. Unlike white fat, brown fat is a metabolically active tissue that is rich in mitochondria. It helps maintain body temperature during cold exposure, during which its uptake of glucose is eightfold higher than that of muscle tissues.

The authors of the retrospective case-control investigation reviewed imaging reports from more than 52,000 adults who had undergone diagnostic positron emission tomography (PET) scans (nearly 135,000 total scans). They also reviewed the participants' health records.

The PET scans revealed that nearly 10 percent of the study participants had detectable brown fat. Those who had brown fat were less likely to have type 2 diabetes, abnormal lipid levels, coronary artery disease, cerebrovascular disease, congestive heart failure, and hypertension. They were also more likely to have favorable blood glucose, triglyceride, and high-density lipoprotein levels. These effects were greatest in people who had obesity or overweight. The authors suggested that having brown fat might counteract some of the harmful effects of obesity.

These findings indicate that brown fat may protect against some diseases and suggest that adopting lifestyle behaviors that promote production of brown fat, such as exercise or cold exposure, may be beneficial. Some nutrients and bioactive compounds, such as curcumin, capsaicin, resveratrol, and omega-3 fatty acids, may increase brown fat production, too.

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