Do you ever find yourself at war with someone in your office or maybe your bedroom over the temperature in the room? If so, you might be interested in a research study published recently that implies that the person wanting it colder should win the war, because colder is better for your body.
The research, presented June 2014 at the International Society of Endocrinology, and published in the journal Diabetes, studied 5 healthy young men age 19 to 23 over a four-month period of time. The researchers wanted to see what effect room temperature had on their fat and sugar metabolism.
Before we describe the results, it is good to know that we have two different types of fat in our bodies: the more common white fat, and the much less common but healthier brown fat. In the past, scientists thought brown fat only occurred in animals and children, but have discovered in the past few years that some adults have it too, but in small quantities.
This brown fat can be found in the sides of the neck, upper back, and along the spine, but only in teaspoon sized amounts. Unlike white fat, brown fat is full of mitochondria, which are like little power factories in our cells. The brown fat sucks up glucose from our blood, and then the mitochondria get to work to make heat to help keep us warm.
So, the more brown fat we have the better, and one activity is already known to make more brown fat, even convert white fat to the brown variety: exercise. And now this reserach, and some earlier studies this year, show that something else can cause this transformation: being in cold environments.
Back to the research. The five men were allowed to have their normal activities during each day, but every night starting at 20:00 they were housed in climate controlled rooms at the National Institute of Health (USA). For the first month, the rooms were kept at 24º, felt to be a normal comfortable temperature.
The second month the temperature was lowered to a slightly chilly 19º, as the scientists wanted to see how this colder environment would change the mens’ metabolism. The third month the temperature was returned back to 24º, and the final month, the temperature was raised to a slightly toasty 27º.
At the beginning of the study and at the end of each month, the men had body scans and fat biopsies. Throughout the study, their glucose and insulin metabolism was measured, along with the amounts of white and brown fat in their bodies.
The results showed that temperature changes influenced the fat content remarkably. At the end of the month in the colder 19º environment, the amount of brown fat in their bodies had almost doubled. Apparently the body recognized that to keep warm, more brown fat was needed to act like little furnaces. Beyond that, the mens’ insulin sensitivity improved, meaning their cells were more sensitive to the action of insulin, to keep glucose levels in check.
And after a month in the hotter 27º environment, all the good effects were undone. In fact, the amount of brown fat the men had at the end of this period was less than when they started the study.
What does this mean for you? The researchers can’t say for sure yet, but the principal researcher, Francesco S. Celi says “just by sleeping in a colder room, they gained metabolic advantages…that could, over time, reduce their risk for diabetes and other metabolic problems.”
You might run your own experiment, and let your bedroom be a little cooler at night and see what happens after a month or so. And as more research is published on this subject, we will keep you informed.
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