Can coffee help you lose weight?
Yes. However, what else can it do?
Ksenija Velickovic from the University of Belgrade's Department of Biology of Cells and Tissues and her research team looked specifically at coffee's ability to activate brown adipose tissue (or brown fat if you prefer).
Brown adipose tissue can rapidly generate heat and metabolize sugars and fats through activation of uncoupling protein 1 (UCP1).
It is known that cold exposure and diet can increase UCP1 activity, but the abiliity of individual ingredients to do so are not established.
Caffeine (in the lab) and coffee (in humans) stimulates activity of brown adipose tissue according to Velickovic's research.
Her human trial consisted of 9 healthy adults with normal body mass index instructed not to exercise and abstain from both caffeine and alcohol for 9 hours before baseline measurements. Thermal imaging showed increased heat signatures in the neck region where brown adipose tissue usually occurs in adults.
In the lab she examined the effect of caffeine on stem cell-derived fat cells. Caffeine changed their structure in a described process 'browning' demonstrating traits associated with brown adipose tissue. Caffeine as opposed to coffee was used in the lab-grown fat cells don't drink coffee.
Further research will look at whether caffeine or other components of coffee produce the most beneficial activity in brown adipose tissue for metabolic health.
Brown adipose tissue burns calories to generate heat gobbling up macronutrients in the process like sugars and fats. Brown adipose tissue is the major fat tissue of newborns and diminishes with age. The loss of brown adipose tissue correlates to an increased body mass index. Adults with brown adipose tissue are typically younger and slimmer.
Slowing the rate at which brown adipose tissue is lost has potential to improve metabolic homeostasis in adults that could improve metabolic health such as onset of diabetes.
Want more brown fat?
- Get high-quality sleep (melatonin helps produce brown fat)
- Being exposed to cold regularly can help produce brown fat (cold showers and exercising in winter)
White adipose tissue appears yellow to white due to having far fewer mitochondria and blood vessels. White fat serves multiple biological purposes. It is the body's primary store of energy, provides a soft layer of protection to the organs, insulates from the cold, and cushions the occasional bump and fall. It is also an endocrine organ producing estrogen and a hormone that helps regulates hunger and satiety.
Excess white fat is associated with increased risk of breast, colon, esophageal, gall bladder and pancreatic cancer. On average men have about 18%-24% fat and women 25%-31%. Each pound of fat contains 4000 calories. Therefore the average man has an estimated 80,000 calories in reserve. Good enough to fast for a day.
Velickovic K, Wayne D, Leija H et al. Caffeine exposure induces browning features in adipose tissue in vitro and in vivo. Sci Rep. 2019;9(1). doi:10.1038/s41598-019-45540-1