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Question Your World: Is There Such a Thing as Good Fat?

As we understand more about health and nutrition the more we strive to make our bodies as healthy as possible. This means practicing proper dietary standards, exercising, and keeping health risks at bay. One of the largest aspects of this is dealing with the fat on our bodies, but is there such a thing as good fat? Check out this Question Your World radio report produced by the Science Museum of Virginia to learn more.

This is a tale of two fats. It's about the best of fat and it's about the worst of fat.

Our bodies are home to both white and brown fat. White fat is the stuff we're familiar with, stored calories that cause all kinds of stress during beach season for example. Brown fat however is a pretty different type of fat that scientists have recently been studying.

Brown fat is different because it contains mitochondria, the power house of cellular structures. This mitochondrial advantage gives brown fat the ability to use energy to do work. While studying this subject some pretty amazing information was observed regarding how brown fat works in our bodies.

When our bodies work, doing exercise for example, we need fuel. Any energy the body may have is depleted eventually and then the body must resort to stored energy to continue to fuel the body's power needs. This is when our muscle tissues release a hormone called Irisin. The primary function of this hormone is to activate and stimulate brown fat.

This is where the story gets really interesting. Once the brown fat (its mitochondria specifically) are activated, the brown fat can actually burn the white fat as a means of consuming stored energy to meet the body's hungry fuel  needs. This is the process of one type of fat being activated and using up the other type of fat to allow the body to continue to do the work that it needs to be doing.

A better understanding of this brown fat process is key to helping address issues such as obesity and has tangential impacts on issues ranging from general physical health, organ vitality, and even mental happiness. If scientists are able to create a means by which the body could convert white fat into brown fat more easily we could start to see a dramatic difference in the global health of the human species.

Keep in mind this is early research and the quantities identified are very lop sided. For example, in an average 150 lbs. human about 25 lbs. would be white fat while only 2 to 3 ounces would be brown fat. Regardless this information helps explain how and why exercise impacts the body's fat content.

The team working on this research did make it a point to say that dealing with the white and brown fats alone would not lead to a healthier body and that nutrition and exercise are still vital to a healthy functioning living system.

Article by: Prabir Mehta, Science Museum of Virginia

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