[FoRK] [FoSDW] Hot Trend: Tapping the Power of Cold to Lose Weight, Brown Fat and Thermal Dieting

Greg Bolcer greg at bolcer.org
Sat Mar 2 12:19:34 PST 2013


Ocean swimming...fastest way to lean up..especially in the winter, says a proud former polar bear.

Sent from my iPhone

On Mar 2, 2013, at 11:24 AM, Stephen Williams <sdw at lig.net> wrote:

> As I think I have mentioned on FoRK long ago, I'd read back in the early 80's about brown fat: Fat, usually on the back, that was said to grow in adults that were frequently exposed to the cold when growing up.  I was reading it, I think, in Runner's World, and they were talking about running outside, which I did a lot of in NW Ohio.  It was suspected by the writer and scientists involved that brown fat was something that had to be activated & grown in youth as it didn't seem to able to be acquired later.  Specifically, it seemed that people who grew up in warm climates who were seldom even chilly seemed unable to acquire brown fat, while many of those in persistently cold climates (and probably those that didn't always stay warm) seemed to gain strong thermogensis ability.  As the articles below point out, babies are born with a lot of brown fat to keep them warm, but generally lose it as they grow into children and adults.
> 
> Additionally, over the years, when people essentially complained about me not having a jacket or wearing shorts when they were cold, I would quip that I was on my "thermal diet".  I'm pretty sure that I coined it first, probably over 15 years ago, and it occurred to me that it would be a good diet fad, but, as with many things, I didn't pursue it.  I'm not the type to do that anyway, so no big loss, but still, I claim priority.  Having been out in the cold a lot, I can distinctly feel when my thermogenesis kicks in, and when it isn't when I'm too depleted.  On one occasion, after snorkeling in the Pacific in Monterey with nothing but a swimsuit in about 50F water for 20 minutes (when my head and other leading edges were prickly numb), I had my thermogenesis locked on maximum for at least 4 hours, overheated and sweating profusely even with the air conditioning blasting me.  Not much fun in meetings that day, but an interesting effect.
> 
> Fast forward to the last several years when brown fat was essentially rediscovered in adults, where it was believed not to exist except in rare reported instances that were suspected of being wrong. People have finally noticed the, obvious to me, fact that your body has to burn a lot of calories to stay warm in the cold.
> 
> The following articles show what is being rediscovered and learned about this and the near term (thermal dieting) and long term (drugs to induce & activate) attempts to make this widespread and monetize this.  There are still a couple observations they don't seem to have reached that seem verging on obvious:
> Many of the differences they find are probably related to whether people have spent a lot of time in the cold or not.  They seem to treat incidence of brown fat as a random occurrence, as if it were purely genetic or some other accident.  There's no mention in the Wired article, for instance, of asking about childhood and adult persistent exposure to cold.
> An obvious conclusion is that we make our children fat by overdressing them.  If they are comfortable running around outside in the "cold" with what seems to be too little on, it is fine as long as they don't get frostbite.  Everyone has known that cold doesn't cause infections on its own, even though this is still repeated endlessly.  And pneumonia isn't going to occur, with or without infection, because of cold exposure in a healthy person used to exercise and cold.
> Warm areas tend to have skinnier people probably because they can more easily and comfortably be outside and exercise more.  Cold areas could actually have the advantage though if the cold were used right.  It is relatively easy to exercise to warm up while there's little you can do except air conditioning to cool off.  Although running at night helps.  Luckily, the SF Bay Area has just the right climate to support a lot of chilly running, easily moderated by where, when, how high, and how much you wear.  And there's always the chilly bay to kayak in.
> 
> Many in cold climates, or those snow skiiing, are seldom really cold: Wearing high-tech parkas, boots, and scurrying between warm buildings and warm vehicles, never exercising outside, they never have much of a dip in core body temperature or any stress on their bodies.
> I stayed thin until I moved to Virginia in the DC area; been holding ever since.
> 
> http://www.livestrong.com/article/336483-thermal-diet/
> http://www.ourvanity.com/health/diet-nutrition/revolutionary-weight-loss-secret-thermo-diet/
> Beware, brown fat can look like a tumor if it isn't noticed that it is symmetric.  Wonder how many misdiagnosis and surgeries have been done because of former ignorance of this?
> http://forums.runnersworld.com/forums/runner-communities/beginners/brown-fat
> http://sweatscience.com/two-ways-to-trigger-brown-fat/
> http://www.vancouversun.com/health/Ottawa+scientists+turn+muscle+cells+into+calorie+burning+brown/7921443/story.html
> http://articles.cnn.com/2009-04-10/health/brown.fat.obesity_1_calories-adipose-tissue-nejm?_s=PM:HEALTH
> 
> Twitter: @StevenLeckart @wired http://is.gd/aeL7zA
> http://www.wired.com/video/wired-magazine/wired-magazine/1127106135001/hot-trend-tapping-the-power-of-cold-to-lose-weight/2157918892001
> http://www.wired.com/playbook/2013/02/ff-cold-weight-loss/
> Hot Trend: Tapping the Power of Cold to Lose Weight
> 
>     By Steven Leckart    02.12.13    6:30 AM
> 
> Photo: Adam Voorhes; Illustration: Christoph Neimann
> 
> I’m in the fetal position at the bottom of a swimming pool. Water temperature: 60 degrees Fahrenheit. In my lap there’s a 20-pound weight anchoring me in place. All I’m wearing is a Speedo, a nose plug, goggles, and a snorkel resembling an oversize asthma inhaler. The mouthpiece connects to two 4-foot hoses feeding out of the water and into a PC-sized box next to a laptop.
> 
> After 20 minutes in the water, I’m shivering intensely. But that doesn’t bother me so much as the headache. It feels like a set of pliers is clamping the back of my neck while someone pricks my temples with icy-hot needles.
> 
> My suffering is natural, I tell myself. It could even be good for me.
> 
> Now a hand from above reaches into the water and slaps the side of the pool. It’s my torturer, Ray Cronise, signaling that time is up. A former NASA material scientist who spent 15 years overseeing experiments aboard shuttles at Marshall Space Flight Center, Cronise is putting me through a battery of tests at his home in Huntsville, Alabama. That snorkel contraption—a $30,000 piece of lab equipment—is analyzing my breathing to chart how the cold water affects my metabolism. (It tracks inhaled and exhaled carbon dioxide and oxygen, a proxy for the amount of fuel I’m burning.) Cronise believes exposing the body to cold can be a radically effective spur for losing weight. He’s doing this home-brewed research in hopes of formulating a Weight Watchers-style algorithm, app, or wearable device that can help people safely harness what he’s convinced is     the transformative power of cold.
> 
> Cronise got the idea back in 2008 while watching a TV program about Michael Phelps. The coverage claimed that, while training, the Olympic swimmer ate 12,000 calories a day. At the time, Cronise was on a diet of 12,000 calories per week. (He was carrying 209 pounds on his 5’9″ frame and wanted to get back down to 180.) Something didn’t add up. Even if Phelps had an exceptionally high metabolism and swam three hours a day, he still should have turned into a blob. Then it hit Cronise: Phelps was spending hours every day in water, which was sucking heat from his body. He was burning extra calories just to maintain his core temperature of 98.6.
> 
> That fall, Cronise grew obsessed. He avoided warmth altogether: He took cool showers, wore light clothing, slept without sheets, and took 3-mile “shiver walks” in 30-degree weather wearing a T-shirt, shorts, gloves, and earmuffs. In six weeks he shed 27 pounds, nearly tripling his weight-loss rate without changing his calorie-restricted diet.
> 
> Cronise set off a full-blown weight-loss fad. In 2010, he talked about his self-experimentation in a presentation, and then the Pied Piper of body-hacking, Tim Ferriss, name-checked Cronise and prescribed 20-minute ice baths in The 4-Hour Body. When the book came out, ABC’s Nightline aired a segment on Ferriss and “thermal dieting.” Right on cue, bloggers began documenting their own cold-exposure experiences. On websites and forums like Fatburningman.com, diehards started sharing tips on making DIY ice     packs. “My body,” one guy confessed after sleeping with ice-filled Ziplocs on his abs, “felt like it had been beaten with heavy sticks.” Today the trend has gone truly mass: Best-selling diet     books like Six Weeks to OMG: Get Skinnier Than All Your Friends urge readers to take cold baths. On Today, Kathie Lee Gifford praised a company called FreezeAwayFat, which sells Lycra bike shorts with pockets for frozen gel packs. Her personal review: “My belt is now one notch smaller.”
> 
> Just one problem: There’s not much rigorous science behind any of this. It’s exceedingly difficult to quantify how environmental temperature affects an individual’s metabolism. Studies have shown cold exposure can boost the metabolism anywhere from 8 to 80 percent, depending on a slew of variables including the degree and duration of the exposure, whether you’re shivering, your diet, and physiological factors like age, gender, and fat mass.
> 
> Scientists are racing to separate the real science from the pseudo. They’re investigating the precise mechanisms by which the body adjusts to cold temperatures and reaching new insights into the ways our bodies burn fat. They’re even trying to come up with a new kind of weight-loss pill—a longtime ambition of the pharmaceutical industry—that can mimic those processes and make us thinner faster, with less effort.
> 
> But Cronise doesn’t have plans for a pill or institutional backing or VC funding. He’s not waiting around for peer review. He wants to see results—now. That’s why he’s got me submerged in his cold plunge pool. He’s conducting his own experiments, trying to figure out how much cold affects metabolism, how best to administer the cold, and for how long.
> 
> After 20 minutes in the pool, I emerge from the water, but I’m still breathing through the snorkel. Cronise wants to monitor me for any sustained acceleration of my metabolism for at least 30 minutes. I’m watching a firefly flicker through a lush maple tree as I sit on the deck in sticky 87-degree Southern air. I can’t stop shivering.
> 
> Seven hundred miles away, at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, Kong Chen is conducting his own (it must be said, more rigorous) experiments to understand the effect of cold on human metabolism. Chen, director of a team of researchers at the institute, studies something called thermal neutral zone. It’s a range where the body requires very little energy to maintain its core temperature. It’s a state of biological equilibrium with the     environment.
> 
> Researchers want to understand the physiological mechanisms at work when mammals live in a thermal neutral zone and what changes in colder conditions. Surprisingly little is known about the zone in humans. “We’re only in the infancy of getting to know the body better,” Chen says. To fix that problem, he’s charting metabolic variability among lean and obese people exposed for up to five hours a day to air temperatures between 60.8 and 87.8 degrees. That way he can map the variables that lead to different thermal neutral zones     and learn why some people burn more calories at lower temperatures.
> 
> One of the crucial variables Chen has been studying is brown adipose tissue, known as BAT. Unlike white fat, which merely stores calories, brown adipose cells burn them to produce heat. When your body gets cold, this metabolically active tissue kicks into gear to warm you up. BAT tends to be scattered in little deposits throughout the upper back and neck. Rodents and hibernating mammals have a lot of brown fat. Human infants are born with a healthy supply to warm them once they’re outside the womb. But for decades it was widely believed that the tissue vanished before adulthood.
> 
> In the 1970s, autopsies occasionally turned up unusual tissue samples suggesting some adults might maintain reserves of BAT. But the instances were rare enough to be discounted. Then in 2004, Jan Nedergaard and his wife, Barbara Cannon, both physiologists at Stockholm University, noted an anomaly that would change BAT
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