Green Tea Can Help Your Body Shed Excess Fat

By: Byron J. Richards, Board Certified Clinical Nutritionist
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Imagine that your body has a system for tossing away fat. Now imagine that you can find a safe way to turn this system on. Scientists have recently proven that your brown adipose tissue is such a system and it is up to you, as an intelligent manager of your health, to turn it on. One easy way to do this is through using green tea dietary supplements.

Science has long recognized the importance of brown adipose tissue to help keep infants warm. These special fat cells take a calorie and turn it into heat. Normally a calorie is turned into 65 percent energy and 35 percent heat; then a person must use up the energy (by exercise and activity), otherwise weight gain readily occurs.  If your body is converting the calorie into heat then no exercise or activity is needed. While the importance of this mechanism in the shiver response of infants has never been in question, the contribution of brown adipose tissue to adult fat metabolism and weight loss strategies has been a matter of controversy.

Three years ago I reported on the changing scientific tide in my article, The New View on Brown Adipose Calorie-Burning. Using advanced scanning technology several ounces of brown adipose tissue were identified in adults in the upper back, on the sides of the neck, between the collarbone and shoulder, and along the spine. The researchers showed the tissue was metabolically active, lighting up scans when people were exposed to cold.

The new study is a continuation of the earlier research.  It shows for the first time that brown adipose tissue burns fat, not glucose. Brown adipose tissue contains within it some regular triglyceride fat. Upon stimulation of brown adipose tissue it is this fat that is used to produce heat.  Interestingly, as soon as this small amount of fat is used then the brown adipose tissue starts drawing in other fat to be used to make heat, which means it is literally throwing away fat.  The researchers showed that the metabolic influence of these few ounces of fat tissue could have a significant impact on adults when exposed to cold, increasing overall metabolic rate by 80 percent for three hours, resulting in the disposal of 250 calories of fat.

Activating brown adipose tissue as a weight loss strategy is one angle on the issue and should be done in perspective, as part of an overall healthy approach.

Exposure to cold activates brown adipose tissue because it stimulates your sympathetic nerves, which then activate your brown fat. Short bursts of strenuous exercise, push ups, pull ups, deep knee bends – done to a point of significant exertion –  will likewise stimulate sympathetic nerves to turn on brown adipose tissue.

Stimulant weight loss drugs activate sympathetic nerves and thus brown adipose tissue. However, these often have adverse side effects to the heart and cardiovascular system due to the inappropriate over-activation of nerves. This is why I say that activating brown adipose tissue must be done in the perspective of a person’s health. Someone with irregular heart beats may not benefit from exercise that is too strenuous. The more physically unfit people are or the more difficult their cardiovascular situations, the more they have to go slowly and steadily in the right direction.

In this picture green tea is a very interesting weight loss supplement. I pointed out last November in my article, Green Tea as a Potent Weight Loss Nutrient, that green tea acts in multiple ways to help facilitate more efficient metabolism. In fact, similar to the brown adipose tissue study above, green tea reduces weight gain from a high fat diet, which has been demonstrated in both animals and humans.

Of particular relevance is that one of the ways green tea operates is by directly activating brown adipose tissue. This was demonstrated in a 2003 study wherein rats were fed a high fat diet; those given green tea did not gain weight. The scientists showed that the reason was activation of brown adipose tissue by green tea.  When the sympathetic nerves were blocked with drugs then green tea no longer prevented weight gain. 

It has also been demonstrated that the catechin of green tea, epigallocatechin gallate, EGCG, inhibits an enzyme called catechol-O-methyltransferase. This enzyme reduces the sympathetic nerve neurotransmitter, norepinephrine.  In other words, the net effect of green tea intake is to have more sympathetic nerve stimulation of brown adipose tissue. Unlike dangerous drug stimulants, green tea is well documented to have cardiovascular benefits.

It is clear that normal weight adults have more brown adipose tissue than overweight adults, a distinct advantage that contributes to a healthier metabolism. Green tea is a tool that can be used to help overweight people get back on track. It is not a one-shot miracle weight loss remedy; rather it helps restore one aspect of healthy metabolism that is typically lost in overweight people.

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