Whatever issues we’re dealing with, it’s nice to know that science never stops. A team of scientists led by Florian Kiefer from the MedUni Vienna’s Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism discovered that cold ambient temperatures increase the vitamin A levels in both mice and humans. This helps the body activate a very important fat-burning process in our bodies called “browning”.
The process is called that way because there are two main types of “fatty depots” in the human body – brown adipose tissue and white adipose tissue. You may not know them by name but you definitely know at least one of them personally – white adipose tissue is what’s commonly known as body fat (it’s where unused excess calories are stored).
The “good” brown adipose tissue, on the other hand, is the tissue that generates heat by burning fat. In other words, that’s the tissue that helps us get thinner.
The bad news is that more than 90% of our bodies’ fat deposits are stored in white adipose fat tissue as they are generated.
The study published in the leading journal Molecular Metabolism has determined that exposure to cold ambient temperature can help convert white into brown fat, through an increase of vitamin A in the body.
What’s the connection between Vitamin A and fat-burning?
Vitamin A is usually stored in our livers. From there, it can use its “blood transporter”, a retinol-binding protein to get to our adipose tissue and help with the “browning”. The catalyst for this whole process seems to be the exposure to a cold ambient temperature.
Curiously enough, in their testing, Kiefer and their team tried to block that vitamin A transporting retinol-binding protein in mice via genetic manipulation. When they did that, they noticed that the cold-mediated increase of natural vitamin A in our bodies as well as the expected “browning” were stunted.
This led the team to conclude that the connection between vitamin A and cold ambient temperatures are key to burning fat.
“As a consequence, fat oxidation and heat production were perturbed so that the mice were no longer able to protect themselves against the cold,” said Kiefer.
Simply said, the proper transition of vitamin A from our livers to our fat tissues and the consecutive “browning” of our white adipose tissue into brown adipose tissue are key to losing weight. Our bodies use said “browning” to generate heat in cold conditions and we can benefit from this process to get thinner when we’re overweight.
“Our results show that vitamin A plays an important role in the function of adipose tissue and affects global energy metabolism. However, this is not an argument for consuming large amounts of vitamin A supplements if not prescribed, because it is critical that vitamin A is transported to the right cells at the right time,” explains the MedUni Vienna researcher. “We have discovered a new mechanism by which vitamin A regulates lipid combustion and heat generation in cold conditions. This could help us to develop new therapeutic interventions that exploit this specific mechanism.”
Does this mean that we should just stuff ourselves with vitamin A to lose weight?
No, it doesn’t, not unless a medical practitioner has determined that we have insufficient levels of vitamin A. This research does mean, however, that alternating physical exercises with exposure to cold temperatures (such as cold baths, showers, etc.) can lead to even faster and healthier weight loss.
More importantly, this research may lead to new treatments, medications, and other novel obesity therapeutics.