Researchers discovered experiencing extreme stress was key to the conversion

Scientists have discovered how to turn harmful “white” fat into a form of energy burning “brown” fat in humans for the first time.

White fat in humans has been linked to obesity, while brown fat is able to reduce blood glucose levels and increase the metabolic rate, burning excess calories when it is activated by adrenaline, though adults have small amounts of this fat in the body.

In a study published by Molecular Cell, led by Labros Sidossis, professor of internal medicine at the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB), researchers discovered it is possible for white fat to be converted into a form of brown fat, using a “stress model” based on findings from burns victims.


People who have suffered severe burns injuries undergo severe and prolonged levels of stress, where “adrenaline release is massively increased for several weeks following the injury,” UTMB stated in its report.

Researchers studied 72 patients with severe burns covering around 50 per cent of their bodies, and 19 healthy people, taking samples of fat at different stages of recovery.

By studying the fat samples researchers found the molecular make-up of the patients’ white fat gradually changed to show higher levels of mitochondria – the “power plants” of cells which help to burn energy and generate heat when activated – resembling brown fat cells.

Professor Sidossis said the study provides “proof of concept that browning of white fat is possible in humans”.

“The next step is to identify the mechanisms underpinning this effect and then to develop drugs that mimic the burn-induced effect,” he said.