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Changing With the Season: How Our Bodies React to Colder Temperatures

A lot of creatures adapt to the cooling weather. Squirrels scurry around burying acorns, bears gorge on food to get ready for hibernation, and people—well, we put on thicker coats! For a long time, we have thought that we just adapt to our environment by taking care of ourselves, but it turns out that Mother Nature may have installed a built-in response to the changing of the season for people, too.

Researchers have discovered that as the weather gets colder, our bodies turn on genes that help us generate heat. Specifically, this is accomplished by converting “white fat to beige fat, the first step towards the ‘browning’ of adipose tissue,” according to the report. Why is this important? As scientists recently realized, brown fat, which was previously thought to be exclusively found in infants, is found in some adults, particularly those who are not obese. The potential to “turn on” or convert white fat into brown fat by exposure to temperature may prove another avenue for research.

The study looked at the difference between abdominal fat tissue in the summer and then their thigh after holding an ice pack on the subjects’ skin for 30 minutes. Researchers found that the genetic markers that showed the “browning” of fat by ten-fold. The study concludes that the data, while limited, does indicate that white fat may have the ability to transition to brown fat depending on the temperature. Furthermore, researchers observed that this “browning” process in obese people did not happen as well.

This research into brown vs white fat and how our bodies adapt to external temperatures is just beginning. While the results are promising, the sample size of test subjects was still relatively small. However, discovering new information about how the human body works is always a positive development and may help shed new insights into how our bodies react and change over time.