Stressed? You Might Also Be Burning fat

Stress could activate burning of brown fat, University of Nottingham study finds


Stress might wreak havoc on your day, but could it have a slightly positive effect on your health?

A new study from the University of Nottingham in the UK has found that mild stress could activate brown fat in the body. Brown fat, or brown adipose tissue, is a kind of fat that burns calories in order to create heat and maintain body temperature, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Brown fat burns calories while white fat is used to store calories, which leads to excess weight. Brown fat, which was discovered in human adults in 2009, could also help sugar and fat metabolize in the body, according to recent studies.

In this study, researchers found that when faced with a math test, five healthy and fit women who experienced elevated stress levels before the test, also experienced warmer brown fat. As cortisol, the hormone that is released by the body during times of stress, increased, so did the activity of brown fat, which could possibly mean that the fat burned more calories during stressful moments.

"Our research indicates that the variation in brown fat activity between individuals may be explained by differences in their response to psychological stress. This is important as brown fat has a unique capacity to rapidly generate heat and metabolize glucose," co-author Michael E. Symonds, a professor at the School of Medicine at the University of Nottingham, said in a press release.

According to Symonds, brown fat could metabolize sugar and fat quickly since not only do healthy people tend to have more brown fat, but brown fat generates heat rapidly, or at 300 times the capacity of white fat.

There is no definite research as of yet about whether brown fat is directly linked to calories, but according to Symonds, this small study could lead to new ways to combat obesity and the diseases associated with it.

"A better understanding of the main factors controlling brown fat activity, which include diet and activity, therefore has the potential to introduce sustainable interventions designed to prevent obesity and diabetes," he said in the release. "In future, new techniques to induce mild stress to promote brown fat activity could be incorporated alongside dietary and/or environmental interventions."

However, there is no need to wake up on the wrong side of the bed just yet.

"This is likely to contrast with the negative effects of chronic and more severe stress that can contribute to poor metabolic health," Symonds said in the release.

This study was published February 8 in the journal Experimental Physiology.

Funding sources and disclosures were not available at time of publication.