(HealthDay News) — Cold temperatures may prompt unhealthy white adipose tissue in the thighs and abdomen to turn into brown adipose tissue (BAT) that burns calories for body heat, according to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

For the study, a team of researchers led by Philip Kern, MD, of the University of Kentucky School of Medicine in Lexington, compared abdominal subcutaneous adipose tissue taken from 55 people during the summer and the winter. They also examined thigh adipose tissue collected from 16 people after they held an ice pack on their skin for 30 minutes.

Abdominal subcutaneous adipose tissue taken from people in the winter had higher levels of two genetic markers for BAT than tissue collected in the summer, according to the data. The thigh adipose tissue taken after people placed an ice pack on their skin also had higher levels of three genetic markers linked with BAT. However, these BAT-producing effects were blunted in obese people.

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“We wanted to investigate whether human adults had the ability to transform some white fat deposits into beige fat when they were exposed to cold,” Kern said in a journal news release. “Browning fat tissue would be an excellent defense against obesity. It would result in the body burning extra calories rather than converting them into additional fat tissue.” Kern added that the findings “indicate inflammation can hinder the conversion of white to beige fat.”


  1. Kern PA et al. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2014;doi:10.1210/jc.2014-2440.