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Converting White Fat into Brown Fat | Global Integrative Medicine Academy

by Dr. Jamesh Meschino on

December 13, 2023 in

Source: American Journal of Physiology: Endocrinology and Metabolism, August, 2016
Nutrition / Natural Medicine Update (October 21, 2016)

It seems every way we look at it, your body is more than willing to work with you if you will work with it. Another example of this was published in August, 2016, in the American Journal of Physiology: Endocrinology and Metabolism.

It has recently been discovered that during exercise, muscle cells release a chemical messenger, called “irisin”, from their outer membrane into the bloodstream. In turn, irisin travels to the body’s fat tissues and triggers the conversion of white fat cells into brown fat cells.

What is the function of white fat and brown fat?

White fat cells are in the business of storing fat, whereas brown fat cells actually burn fat, even when you’re sleeping.

The more brown fat cells you have in your body, the more calories your body burns, even when you are rest. With more brown fat your body simply releases the extra calories burned as heat into the environment – an effect we call thermogenesis.

This helps you burn calories even when you are at rest, thereby speeding up your metabolism.

The net result is that it becomes much easier to attain your ideal weight – and to maintain your ideal weight – if you have more brown fat – and less white fat.

How to get more brown fats in the body?

Simply by exercising regularly. It’s much easier to get lean and stay lean if you have more brown fat in your body, as it burns some of the excess calories we consume, rather than storing them in your white fat cells.

You often see charts that show the number of calories you burn during say a 30-minute aerobic exercise period (depending on the exercise it might be somewhere between 200 – 400 calories, which can sound a bit discouraging, considering every pound of fat in your body is comprised of 3,500 calories).

What is “afterburn effect”?

But what’s missing from that conversation is the “afterburn effect” from the exercise. We now know that exercise increases your brown fat, which in turn speeds up your resting metabolism, so you burn more calories through day even when you’re at rest and through the night when you’re sleeping.

As well, exercise reduces the amount of carbohydrate calories you convert into fat through the day which also helps to shrink your fat tissue. And exercise increases your lean mass which also speeds up your resting metabolism, so you burn more calories through the day and night even when you’re at rest.

So don’t be discouraged by those misleading calorie burning charts. If you can get in your 30 minutes of aerobic exercise each day, the long-term payoff will be much greater than just the calories you burned that day.

Why to involve in physical activity and update our fitness level?

The new finding that exercise also helps to convert white fat into brown fat is further evidence that if you will give your body the healthy priming it needs, your body will work with you to help get you back to your ideal weight – and help you maintain it – by speeding up your metabolism.

One last note: The irisin released from muscle cells during exercise also stimulates the pancreas to secrete more insulin after meals which helps to lower blood sugar, and thus, is also helpful in combating diabetes and prediabetes and preventing the onset of type 2 diabetes.

So try and find those 30 minutes of aerobic exercise per day – and I’ll see you next time.

I’ve included a link to the irisin research below for your review.


1. Zhang, Y., Xie, C., Wang, H., Foss, R.M., Clare, M. et al. Irisin exerts dual effects on browning and adipogenesis of human white adipocytes, American Journal of Physiology: Endocrinology and Metabolism, 2016. 311;2.

2. From white to brown fat through the PGC-1α-dependent myokine irisin: implications for diabetes and obesity.

Eat Smart, Live Well, Look Great!

Dr. James Meschino

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