09 April 2009

You Want This Fat (Really)

Quick shoutout to an article today in the NYTimes about a kind of body fat we all need more of, called brown fat. This fat is highly metabolically active (i.e., it burns loads of calories), but it is only activated in certain conditions, principally by cold or "by catecholamines, hormones that are part of the fight or flight response" (see on adreneline, below). Babies have lots of the stuff, but adults much less or even none at all. Amount seems to be determined by genetics, and an individual's amount of brown fat doubtless factors in to their overall metabolic rate. That is, naturally obese people seem to have less than thin people, or in some cases, none. But useful research on this in just beginning.

Of course, a pill that stimulates brown fat would be brilliant. Scientists will be working on that, guaranteed. But one medicine that inhibits its action is beta blockers, taken for high blood pressure. The only substances known to stimulate it are epinepherine (adreneline) and ephedra/ephedrine.

Ephedra is just the natural form of the pharmaceutical ephedrine. Ephedra has been (irrationally) banned, but ephedrine can be purchased OTC in antihistamines. It is a mild stimulant, but one of the things it stimulates is brown fat, especially if taken with caffeine. The article says that ephedra/ephedrine and caffeine "have too many side effects to be used for weight loss," which as a general statement may be true. Again, they are mild stimulants. They may cause weight loss, but can also cause twitchiness or even anxiety. Think of the prototypical coffee (caffeine) and cigarette (nicotine) addict. Thin but jittery.

But the fact is, this has been known for years. Tens of thousands of physique athletes take an "EC stack" when cutting fat to boost metabolism and keep from loosing muscle. It's one of the only proven thermogenics. Likewise, green tea, another mild stimulant, has long been known to contribute to weight control. There are many reasons Asians traditionally are thin, but one factor is that they drink oceans of green tea.

This is not to advocate stimulants for weight loss, but just to say: science has once again succeeded in demonstrating what we've always known.

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