‘Beige Fat’ Could Help Fight Obesity

By Amir Khan on July 13, 2012 9:42 AM EDT

Research has already shown that targeting "brown" fat is a good way to lose weight, but according to a new study, published in the journal Cell on Thursday, beige may be a better color for you if you're trying to slim down.

"We've identified a third type of fat cell," Bruce Spiegelman, study author and researcher at Harvard Medical School, said, according to HealthDay. "There's white [and] brown, and now there is this third type that is present in most or all human beings."

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This third type, beige fat, is scattered throughout the body in pea-sized deposits beneath the skin and collarbone. However, unlike white fat, which stores excess calories, beige fat burns calories, making it a prime target for those looking to lose weight.

"During exercise, muscles release the hormone irisin, which then converts ordinary white fat cells into beige ones - and those beige cells burn up extra calories," Spiegelman told ABC News.

During exercise, you burn more calories than you should from the actual activity, researchers said, and beige fat could explain the discrepancy. This could be why there is more brown fat in people who are active compared to the amount on couch potatoes.

"This simply characterizes the intermediate state. The functional significance of this 'beige fat' appears to be what we already knew: exercise, and cold, can raise energy expenditure in part through the activation of brown fat." Spiegelman told ABC News.

While research into this type of fat is still in its infancy, Keith Ayoob, associate clinical professor of pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, who was not involved in the study, said beige fat could be a prime target to help curb the spread of obesity and diabetes.

"We need to know more about how much is there, why some people may have a greater or lesser proportion of it, and to see if it can be of use in helping people lose weight," Ayoob told ABC News. "There may be a way -- probably via a drug -- to stimulate either the production of beige or brown fat over white fat, or to increase fat breakdown."

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