Photo: The University of Nottingham
Scientists at the University of Nottingham have identified a groundbreaking technique that could help tackle the global obesity epidemic. The pioneering method uses a thermal imaging camera to detect healthy fat in the body, known as brown fat.
The heat-seeking technology has been available before but this is the first time it has been used to assess the amount of fat, Michael Symonds, lead author of the study, told us.
Brown fat is one of the two types of fat our bodies contain. The other is white fat. White fat stores calories and leads to weight gain. Brown fat, on the hand, burns calories as it generates heat to keep babies and children warm.
This means that the more brown fat we have, the more heat we produce and the less likely we are to store excess energy or food as white (bad) fat.
Using thermal imaging researchers were able to see brown fat in children (located in the neck and shoulder area) and measure how much heat it produces. According to the study published in the Journal of Pediatrics, researchers hypothesize that children who become obese early in life not only have more white fat cells, but have less brown fat. The ability to readily assess the activity of brown fat could be useful in several areas. For example, it could help pharmaceutical companies develop compounds that target calorie-burning brown fats.
“[Our imaging technique] avoids harmful techniques which use radiation and enables detailed studies with larger groups of people,” Symonds said in a statement. “This may provide new insights into the role of brown fat in how we balance energy from the food we eat, with the energy our bodies use up.”
Symonds also believes there’s potential to add a thermogenic index to food labels. This would indicate whether a product increases or decreases the amount of calories we burn based on the product’s effect on heat production within brown fat.
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