Uncoupling Protein Keeps Your Warm

September 04, 2022

Uncoupling Protein Keeps Your Warm

Did you know that we start life as babies with a lot of brown fat? About 5% of newborns' weight is brown fat, mostly around their shoulder blades and upper back. Newborns can't shiver and they have a lot of surface area relative to volume, so they have a very high need to generate heat. That's what brown fat does. It is brown because the fat cells are chock full of mitochondria, generating lots of heat. That's what uncoupling protein does: turns on heat production in mitochondria.   The fat cells becomes brown because of all the mitochondria in it, busily making heat instead of ATP.  Guess what hibernating animals have? Lots of brown fat! Same metabolic need: heat.

The finding of brown fat in hibernating animals and infants led scientists to explore whether human adults have it too. They do! It was found, somewhat by serendipity, on doing PET scans for cancer metastases. Adults have it around their clavicles, and like infants, in back between their shoulder blades, in the center of the chest cavity, and along the spine. These are all ideal places to generate core heat.

Hmmm. Think for a couple of seconds. Do you want more brown fat? The answer is the same as to the question, "Do you want to lose some weight?". Of course you do. You want to burn off those calories as heat instead of being stored as fat. Brown fat is full of mitochondria, and they have uncoupling protein going full blast.

How can you turn on the production of brown fat. The concept is easy. White fat (very few mitochondria) can be turned into "tan fat", (a few mitochondria), can be turned into "brown fat", lots of mitochondria. Cold exposure, for one. If you haven't heard of Wim Hof, you need to bone up a little and learn about his ability to swim in ice water and not get cold. He has broken many records for cold exposure and now teaches others how to do it. If he had his fat tissue biopsied, it would be dark brown, because he exposes himself to cold water with incredible diligence.

You can do that too! NIH Research shows that if you expose young men to 66 degrees for one month for 10 hours a night, with just a bed sheet and standard hospital pajamas to sleep, after one month of 75 degrees (that's right, just a 9 degree drop in night temperature), you will turn on brown fat and have a 42% increase in brown fat in just one month. That's cool! (So to speak). Modest cold exposure will do it. Cold bathing will do it. Probably any regular cold exposure will do it. The more you do it, the browner the fat - the more mitochondria in the fat with uncoupling protein activated. That explains why the indigenous peoples of Tierra del Fuego could live in a cold environment with no clothes!

What else will turn on uncoupling protein, hence brown fat? First on the list in the Frontiers article is capsaicin, chilis! Resveretrol, curcumin, omega-3 oils, menthol all activate UCP too.

Ketones! This makes sense. A hunter-gatherer, gets to October and its cold, and carbs are now frozen off, needs to generate heat to survive. Living without carbs means transitioning to burning fat for calories, and that makes ketones. Some of the energy gets diverted into heat! Foods that naturally give you ketones include MCT oil, coconut oil, fiber (that gets fermented in your gut to ketones), goat cheese (has much higher ketone content than cow cheese, vinegar and all fermented foods.

www.What will Work for me. There you have it. Spooky synergy in biochemical processes. Uncoupling protein is good for you in that it protects the mitochondria from too much energy production by letting off the extra energy as heat. That I experience every Thanksgiving night after consuming half a turkey. I'm hot and can't sleep at 2 am. My mitochondria are uncoupled, just to protect me from the calorie excess. But now I get this new idea. I can turn on uncoupling protein, generate a little extra heat on the side by just adding some ketones to my coffee. One T of coconut oil in my morning coffee will do it. And make sure I keep getting fiber in my diet. Goat cheese? Now, that's unique. I like goat cheese.

References: Wikipedia, Hdb Exp Pharma, J Exp Biology, Am J Phys Endo Metab, Wim Hof Method, NIH Research Matters, Frontiers Phys, Quora,

Pop Quiz

1. What does uncoupling protein (UCP) do?                             Answer: Like an old fashioned steam engine, it lets off excess energy as heat instead of forcing it into the ATP production line.

2. When do I experience that excess heat capacity?                      Answer: When you eat too much, like a big holiday dinner. Or any night you have a snack before bed and then wake up at 2 am feeling too hot.

3. What's the upside of UCP?                       Answer: It generates heat to protect you and keep you warm.

4. Where do we see that in nature?                           Answer: Right before our eyes. Newborns, incredibly vulnerable to heat loss, have loads of brown fat. And in anyone who is regularly exposed to cool temperatures. You can do it for yourself by turning the shower to cool / cold for the last 30 seconds.

5. What makes brown fat brown?                               Answer: Loads of mitochondria that have activated UCP, all generating heat instead of making ATP fuel.