Exposure to cold temperatures can help boost weight loss

January 22, 2014, Cell Press

Regular exposure to mild cold may be a healthy and sustainable way to help people lose weight, according to researchers writing in the Cell Press publication Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism on January 22nd. On the flip side, that means our warm and cozy homes and offices might be partly responsible for our expanding waistlines.

"Since most of us are exposed to indoor conditions 90 percent of the time, it is worth exploring health aspects of ambient temperatures," said first author of the article Wouter van Marken Lichtenbelt of Maastricht University Medical Center in The Netherlands. "What would it mean if we let our bodies work again to control body temperature? We hypothesize that the thermal environment affects human health and more specifically that frequent mild cold exposure can significantly affect our energy expenditure over sustained time periods."

Marken Lichtenbelt and his colleagues started studying the effects of mild cold about 10 years ago, mostly because it had received so little attention. Earlier studies of temperature primarily focused on the extreme for application to the military, firefighters, and others. But studies began to show big differences amongst people in their response to mild cold conditions. That led researchers to an important discovery: heat-generating, calorie-burning brown fat isn't just for babies. Adults have it too and some more than others.

Marken Lichtenbelt says they now have evidence to suggest that a more variable indoor temperature – one that is allowed to drift along with temperatures outside – might be beneficial, although long-term effects still await further investigation. A research group from Japan found a decrease in body fat after people spent 2 hours per day at 17 degrees Celsius (62.6 degrees F) for six weeks. The Netherlands team also found that people get used to the cold over time. After six hours a day in the cold for a period of 10 days, people in their study increased brown fat, felt more comfortable and shivered less at 15 degree Celsius (59 degrees F).

In young and middle-aged people at least, non-shivering heat production can account for a few percent up to 30 percent of the body's energy budget, they say. That means lower temperatures can significantly affect the amount of energy a person expends overall.

So perhaps, in addition to our exercise training, we need to train ourselves to spend more time in the cold. Managing that in practice might take some convincing, however.

"Indoor temperature in most buildings is regulated to minimize the percentage of people dissatisfied," the researchers write. "This results in relatively high in wintertime. This is evident in offices, in dwellings and is most pronounced in care centers and hospitals. By lack of exposure to a varied , whole populations may be prone to develop diseases like obesity. In addition, people become vulnerable to sudden changes in ambient temperature."

Explore further: Hypothermia and older adults

More information: Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism, van Marken Lichtenbelt et al.: "Cold exposure – an approach to increasing energy expenditure in humans."

Related Stories

Hypothermia and older adults

January 7, 2014
Frigid weather can pose special risks to older adults. The National Institute on Aging (NIA), part of the National Institutes of Health, has some advice for helping older people avoid hypothermia—when the body gets too ...

Study finds link between warm homes and low body fat

November 19, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—Recent rises in energy prices may lead to an increase in obesity, according to new research by behavioural scientists from the University of Stirling.

Some fat cells can feel the cold

July 2, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—To survive in cold environments, mammals burn fat to produce heat. The breakdown of fat helps prevent obesity and related metabolic diseases, such as diabetes. Bruce Spiegelman and his colleagues at Harvard ...

Cell nucleus protein in brown fat cells governs daily control of body temperature

October 27, 2013
For nearly 300 years, investigators have known that body temperature follows a circadian, or 24-hour, rhythm, with a peak during the day and a low at night. The benefit of this control during evolution may have been to allow ...

Less 'brown fat' could help explain why a fifth of the world's population is highly susceptible to type 2 diabetes

November 11, 2013
Lower amounts of brown adipose tissue (BAT, or 'brown fat') could help explain why south Asians—who make up a fifth of the world's population—have an exceptionally high susceptibility to developing metabolic problems ...

Recommended for you

Young children's oral bacteria may predict obesity

September 19, 2018
Weight gain trajectories in early childhood are related to the composition of oral bacteria of two-year-old children, suggesting that this understudied aspect of a child's microbiota—the collection of microorganisms, including ...

Rethinking an inflammatory receptor's obesity connection

September 12, 2018
Toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4) is a protein that plays a vital role in the body's immune response by sensing the presence of infection. It has long been thought to also sense particular types of fats, which suggested a mechanism ...

Rising European life expectancy undermined by obesity: WHO

September 12, 2018
Life expectancy in Europe continues to increase but obesity and the growing proportion of people who are overweight risks reversing this trend, the World Health Organization warned Wednesday.

Brief sleep intervention works long-term to prevent child obesity

September 6, 2018
When it comes to obesity prevention, sleep is not usually something that springs to mind, but a University of Otago research team has found we should not underestimate its importance.

Researchers develop more accurate measure of body fat

August 27, 2018
Cedars-Sinai investigators have developed a simpler and more accurate method of estimating body fat than the widely used body mass index, or BMI, with the goal of better understanding obesity.

Study suggests need to include overweight subjects in metabolic research

August 23, 2018
Children's Hospital Los Angeles investigators have demonstrated the need to include a growing constituency of obese and overweight children and adults in clinical research, with their study of a key marker for metabolism ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

ckid
not rated yet Jan 22, 2014
I can see the headlines now: "Global Warming linked to Obesity Crisis"

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.