07/25/2014 10:53 EDT | Updated 07/25/2014 10:59 EDT

Study Says Brown Fat Cells Help Regulate Blood Sugar, Prevent Diabetes

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Studies building the case for brown fat by focusing on its role in metabolism and healthy weight maintenance are rolling in. The most recent indicates it could help regulate blood sugar, making it a possible combatant against diabetes.

Researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston have produced the first evidence that, in addition to a faster metabolism, people with high brown fat levels have better blood sugar control and higher insulin sensitivity.

"We showed that exposure to mild cold raised whole body energy expenditure, increased glucose removal from the circulation

and improved insulin sensitivity in men who have significant amounts of brown adipose tissue depots," says UTMB's Labros Sidossis, professor of Internal Medicine, Division of Geriatric Medicine.

Building on research that says white fat cells can be converted to brown by means of exposure to mild cold, Sidossis's team worked with a group of 12 healthy men of which seven had high brown fat quotients and five had low levels.

After collecting data on their glucose levels and insulin sensitivity, each man underwent prolonged exposure of between five and eight hours to mildly cold 19C (66.2F) temperatures.

Each man was later exposed to comfortable room temperature conditions for a period of between five and eight hours for comparative purposes.

After testing, researchers collected data and observed that for those with high brown fat levels, resting metabolism was increased, as was insulin sensitivity and glucose processing.

"This is good news for overweight and obese people," stated Sidossis in the hopes that more research could lead to faster, simpler natural conversions of white fat to brown.

"Of even greater clinical significance may be the finding that brown fat can help the body regulate blood sugar more effectively," he says. "This is great news for people with insulin resistance and diabetes and suggests that brown fat may prove to be an important anti-diabetic tissue."

The study was published in the journal Diabetes.

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