Drinking coffee can stimulate the body’s fat-fighting defenses, new research demonstrates.
Coffee helps to activate so-called ‘brown fat’, technically known as brown adipose tissue.
Unlike white fat, which simply stores excess calories, brown fat burns calories when activated (usually by low temperature).
In fact, small amounts of brown fat can burn several hundred calories per day — the same as 30-minutes of exercise.
Brown fat is typically located in the neck and the region above the collarbone.
The body usually only has a couple of ounces of brown fat, which are not visible as it lies deep below the skin.
Professor Michael Symonds, study co-author, explained:
“Brown fat works in a different way to other fat in your body and produces heat by burning sugar and fat, often in response to cold.
Increasing its activity improves blood sugar control as well as improving blood lipid levels and the extra calories burnt help with weight loss.
However, until now, no one has found an acceptable way to stimulate its activity in humans.
This is the first study in humans to show that something like a cup of coffee can have a direct effect on our brown fat functions.”
For the study, researchers examined the effect of caffeine on brown fat.
Thermal imaging showed that caffeine activates the brown fat and starts burning calories more quickly.
Professor Symonds said:
“From our previous work, we knew that brown fat is mainly located in the neck region, so we were able to image someone straight after they had a drink to see if the brown fat got hotter.
The results were positive and we now need to ascertain that caffeine as one of the ingredients in the coffee is acting as the stimulus or if there’s another component helping with the activation of brown fat.
We are currently looking at caffeine supplements to test whether the effect is similar.
Once we have confirmed which component is responsible for this, it could potentially be used as part of a weight management regime or as part of glucose regulation programme to help prevent diabetes.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the journal Scientific Reports (Velickovic et al., 2019).