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This Kind of Fat Can Protect You from Life-Threatening Diseases, Study Says

Here’s what you need to know about your body’s secret ally.
FACT CHECKED BY Cheyenne Buckingham

You may have heard that there are three main types of fat cells (white, brown, and beige), each of which are stored differently in your body. However, what you may not have known is that one of these types of fat may aid you in fending off chronic disease later down the road.

White fat, for example, is responsible for storing excess energy you received in the form of calories but didn't burn off through exercise that day. This is likely the type of fat you're most familiar with. In fact, it's probably the type you associate with the term body fat. Having some white fat is essential for good health, but too much of the stuff can ultimately wreak havoc on your body. (Related: 15 Underrated Weight Loss Tips That Actually Work.)

On the contrary, brown and (the newly researched) beige fat cells can help burn off some of this excess energy. These are sometimes referred to as the "good" fats (although that's oversimplified). Now, a new study published in the journal, Nature, has discovered that brown adipose tissue, more commonly known as brown fat, can dramatically lower your risk of developing several different life-threatening diseases.

The study looked at more than 130,000 PET scans from over 50,000 patients, separating the scans from those that showed brown fat and those that didn't. Those whose scans showed the presence of brown fat were about half as likely to have type 2 diabetes as those who didn't have any detectable brown fat. Not only that—the patients with brown fat were also significantly less likely to have high cholesterol, hypertension, coronary artery disease, and other chronic ailments.

Does this mean that brown fat actively fights off these diseases? Simply put, we don't know yet.

"It is important to keep in mind that this study demonstrates an association but not causation," senior author Paul Cohen, M.D., Ph.D., senior attending physician at The Rockefeller University Hospital tells Eat This, Not That! "Further work will be needed to determine whether activating brown fat can actually prevent or improve the health conditions we studied."

At the very least, the discovery is promising. So, you may now be wondering how can you increase the amount of brown fat in your body, right? According to the study's press release, scientists (for now) don't have a clear understanding, largely because a lot about brown fat still remains unknown—the scans that detect it are expensive and they also expose the body to radiation.

For now, you can take comfort in knowing there's a chance that some of the fat in your body may be helping you ward off chronic disease. And, if you want to fight the good fight alongside your brown fat, try adding some of The 100 Healthiest Foods of 2020 to your diet.

Clara Olshansky
Clara Olshansky (they/she) is a Brooklyn-based writer and comic whose web content has appeared in Food & Wine, Harper’s Magazine, Men's Health, and Reductress. Read more
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