When it comes to body fat, there are two main kinds of fat in the human body, white fat and brown fat. White fat stores energy, brown fat burns it. Therefore, it it simply better to have more brown fat than white fat. It is known that adults who have more brown fat are slimmer than those who have less. Glucose levels are also known to be lower in humans with more brown fat.

But how can you turn white fat into brown fat? Well, some are lucky in the sense that they are “brown fat efficient.” (Yes, genetics again, play another important role in your health).Others, not so lucky, but new research suggests that you can shiver to burn fat, which can change your ratio of brown fat to white fat.

The Study

In a study by the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, Dr. Paul Lee and colleagues demonstrated that cold weather and shivering, may help turn white fat cells into brown fat cells through hormone-mediated mechanisms.

Specifically, he measured the levels of irisin, which is a hormone that muscle cells produce that turns white fat cells into brown ones. Interestingly, he found that you can literally shiver to burn fat!

I personally wouldn’t have volunteered for this study, but here is how it worked. Researchers exposed volunteers to cold temperates as low as 12 degrees Celsius. During the exposure, they monitored levels of irisin.

They found that shivering caused levels of irisin to increase. White fat cells began to emit heat, which is a hallmark of brown fat cell production. The volunteers were literally shivering to burn fat. 

These same subjects were later asked to exercise, and Dr. Lee found that it took about one hour of moderate exercise to raise irisin to the same blood levels of 10-15 minutes of shivering! 

Take Home Point

It always amazes me how complex the human body is. The fact that a new cold-initiated hormonal system was only discovered a few years ago just suggests that we still have a lot to learn.

Obesity is a serious problem throughout the world. While eating a proper diet and exercising are important, it is still useful to find other methods of burning fat. As far as shivering in the cold is concerned, I’m still not sure which is more challenging – standing and shivering in cold weather for 15 minutes or exercising for an hour…

Of course, an irisin medication is soon to come, but this does not address the other benefits of exercise other than fat burn. Exercise is great for the cardiorespiratory system and can prevent and help to treat diabetes, amongst other amazing benefits (AKA stress relief). 

So the point – if you are cold and shivering, be glad that you are turning white fat cells into brown. You are burning fat! But please, never put yourself at risk for hypothermia to burn fat. And finally, exercising, specifically with frequent high-intensity exercise is important to incorporate into your regular workout routine. Not only will you reap the benefits of exercise, but you will also be able to knock out a workout in as little as 15 minutes! Beats shivering to me…