People around the world have been looking for ways to burn fat, preferably quickly, for a very long time. It seems these days the need to lose weight is becoming even more critical than in the past.
Obesity is an ever-increasing health problem in many countries, and diseases associated with overweight are becoming a significant problem across the globe. Hundreds of supposedly fat-burning products have been produced, most of them having little to no effect. However, new research shows that something we commonly consume could help us shed that excess fat: coffee!
There’s More Than One Type of Fat.
All of us have two types of fat cells, or adipocytes: brown cells and white cells. Most brown fat cells are located in the front and back of the neck and the upper back. Brown fat cells are made from many fat droplets. This type of fat contains iron and lots of tiny blood vessels, which are what creates their brownish color.
Sometimes referred to as “good” fat, brown fat burns calories to increase body temperature. This increase in temperature helps us burn calories. Brown fat decreases with age. White fat, on the other hand, is made up of one fat droplet, and far less iron and blood vessels, leading to its whitish or yellowish appearance.
White fat is the most common type of fat in the body, and serves many purposes! These white fat cells provide energy; they cushion both the outside of the body as well as the internal organs. They also produce estrogen and leptin (an appetite and hunger regulator) and insulate us from the cold.
Furthermore, white fat has hormone receptors for adrenaline, cortisol (the stress hormone), growth hormone, and insulin. In women, white fat is found mostly around the hips and thighs, buttocks, and breasts until perimenopause, when fat tends to accumulate in the abdomen too. In men, the belly is the largest site of white fat.
Excess visceral (inside the abdomen) fat is associated with heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, among other problems. Excess fat throughout the body is often related to cancer of the esophagus, gall bladder, pancreas, colon, and breast, as well as sleep apnea and physical disabilities.
Two recent studies looked at the possibility that stimulating brown fat cells to burn more fat to produce more heat might lead to weight loss. Caffeine affects only brown fat cells, and we know that caffeine increases your metabolism. So, is it possible that caffeine could increase brown fat cell activity?
Caffeine Affects Body Heat.
One of the studies involved people drinking either coffee or water, and then measuring how much heat was produced in the area above the clavicle. Researchers used thermal imaging to measure each participant’s heat generation in the neck and shoulder area. Then, after drinking their assigned beverage, their heat production in the same region was measured. Those who drank coffee were found to have increased heat generation in the identified area, while those who drank water did not.
However, does this increase in temperature necessarily mean a loss of fat and weight loss? This study does suggest that coffee can activate brown fat cells, improve blood sugar and blood fat levels, as well as burning excess calories. The findings seem to support that drinking coffee might indeed help with weight loss!
Is Coffee the Answer to Burn Fat?
A recent edition of the Scientific Reports journal reviewed two different studies that could answer this question. These studies were conducted by a team from The University of Nottingham, and a researcher from The UCLA School of Medicine. One study involved mouse stem cells that were cultured and exposed to caffeine. The cells showed increased metabolism and other activities. The mouse stem cell-derived fat cells appeared to be burning more fat.
The second study, where participants drank either coffee or water, found an increase in heat generation in the area above the clavicle — the area where most brown fat is typically located.
However, there’s a downside to both of these studies. Firstly, mice and their cells are very different from humans and their cells. What happens in a mouse stem cell-derived fat cell might not be anything like what happens in a human fat cell when exposed to caffeine. Secondly, a study with only nine participants could be considered a pilot study or exploratory research. The sample is far too small to allow for generalization of the findings to the general population.
A great deal more of research needs to be done to determine whether caffeine really can burn fat. The research needs to include human participants and not only mouse cells. It should also include a significant enough sample of participants to be representative of the broader population.
Further studies, with the proper research criteria, are necessary. Once similar conclusions are gathered, we might then be able to say that caffeine causes brown fat cells to increase heat generation in humans! Which leads to increased burning of excess white fat!
Let’s Not Forget!
Of course, let’s not forget that the link between burning fat and caffeine is not new. There are plenty of caffeine pills and supplements on the market that promise weight loss. Still, it remains unknown if the increase in metabolic rate caused by caffeine could be big enough to lead to significant, long-term weight loss that is sustainable.
In the meantime, it might be tempting to up your coffee intake in the hopes that the extra dose of caffeine will help you shed unwanted pounds. Luring idea, yes, but before you do that, consider the implications of consuming more substantial amounts of caffeine. The most obvious side effect that could arise is sleeplessness. However, for many staying awake is what is needed and a strong cup of coffee with caffeine will do the trick. What is a problem for some might be a solution for others? Oh, the contradictions!
One thing we know for sure is that weight loss solutions are always going to be looked for and caffeine is always going to be consumed. Hopefully, one day, we will find out that caffeine has great benefits for weight loss and is healthy too.