Thyroid Hormones, Brown Fat, and PCOS: A Comprehensive Study

Understanding Brown Fat and PCOS

Introduction to Fat Types

There are two main types of fat: brown and white. Brown fat, unlike its white counterpart, is considered metabolically active, behaving more like muscle. In fact, when activated, brown fat burns white fat for energy[1].

The Unique Properties of Brown Fat

Brown fat cells contain a higher number of mitochondria compared to white fat cells. These mitochondria, equipped with Uncoupling Protein 1 (UCP-1), are responsible for producing heat by uncoupling aerobic respiration[2]. This metabolic activity is influenced by several factors such as environmental temperature, the sympathetic nervous system, inflammation, thyroid hormones, age, nutritional status, and overall activity.

Delving into Recent Brown Fat and PCOS Research

Brown fat around collarbones

Key Insights from Rat Model Studies

Recent studies using rat models have unveiled a significant reduction in brown adipose activity in comparison to normal fats. Interestingly, transplanting brown adipose tissue from healthy animals showed potential in reversing many reproductive and metabolic challenges associated with PCOS[3].

A Detailed Look at the Recent Study on Women

Study Design and Participants

The research centered around 44 women diagnosed with PCOS and 11 without the condition. Using wireless monitors, researchers diligently measured the skin temperature above the women’s collarbones—a region validated as a measure of brown adipose activity[4]. For comparison, they also took readings from the upper arm skin, indicative of white fat, over four consecutive days with intervals of 15-30 minutes.

Significant Findings from the Study

  • Both groups displayed higher temperatures above the collarbone than the arm, underscoring the heat-generating nature of brown fat[5].
  • Higher collarbone temperatures were observed during sleep in both groups, hinting at a circadian rhythm of fat burning.
  • Women with PCOS consistently recorded lower temperatures above their collarbones, suggesting diminished brown adipose tissue function, both during active and rest periods[6].
  • White adipose tissue function remained similar across groups as evidenced by the arm temperatures.
  • Higher testosterone levels were found in women exhibiting reduced brown fat activity.

Implications of Brown Fat in Metabolic Health

Given the prevalence of metabolic issues in PCOS, optimizing brown fat function can be paramount. It holds particular significance for those grappling with insulin resistance, challenges in abdominal fat management, and resistance to weight loss[7].

Effective Approaches to Boost Brown Fat Function

Weight training to activate brown fat

Natural Techniques to Enhance Brown Fat

  • Exposing the body to cooler temperatures can encourage the development of more brown fat cells. Research suggests even two hours daily at around 66˚F (19˚C) can be effective. For the daring, cold showers or dips in cold pools can also be beneficial. This method, known as cold thermogenesis, has shown promise in elevating insulin sensitivity.
  • Physical exercise, especially weight training and HIIT, can be instrumental. The muscle-produced hormone, irisin, facilitates the transformation of white fat into brown. Notably, women with PCOS often have diminished irisin levels[8].
  • Polyphenols with antioxidant properties, such as quercetin, grapeseed, green tea, and pine bark, have been identified as enhancers of brown fat function[9].
  • Time-restricted feeding strategies, like consuming food within a 12- or 10-hour window, can improve insulin sensitivity—an essential factor since insulin resistance hinders brown fat cell activity.

Article References:

  1. Yilmaz B, Vellanki P, Ata B, Yildiz BOMetabolic syndrome, hypertension, and hyperlipidemia in mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers of women with polycystic ovary syndrome: a systematic review and ,meta-analysisFertility and sterility2018;109(2):356-364.e332.
  2. Cypess AM, Kahn CRThe role and importance of brown adipose tissue in energyhomeostasisCurrent opinion in pediatrics2010;22(4):478-484.
  3. Yuan X, Hu T, Zhao H, et alBrown adipose tissue transplantation ameliorates polycystic ovary syndromeProc Natl Acad Sci U S A2016;113(10):2708-2713.
  4. van der Lans AA, Vosselman MJ, Hanssen MJ, Brans B, van Marken Lichtenbelt WDSupraclavicular skin temperature and BAT activity in lean healthy adultsThe journal of physiological sciences : JPS2016;66(1):77-83.
  5. Boon MR, Bakker LE, van der Linden RA, et alSupraclavicular skin temperature as a measure of 18F-FDG uptake by BAT in human subjectsPLoS ONE2014;9(6):e98822.
  6. Smith AD, Crabtree DR, Bilzon JL, Walsh NPThe validity of wireless iButtons and thermistors for human skin temperature measurementPhysiological measurement2010;31(1):95-114.
  7. van Marken Lichtenbelt WD, Daanen HA, Wouters L, et alEvaluation of wireless determination of skin temperature using iButtonsPhysiology behavior2006;88(4-5):489- 497.
  8. Teede HJ, Misso ML, Deeks AA, et alAssessment and management of polycystic ovary syndrome: summary of an evidence-based guidelineThe Medical journal of Australia2011;195(6):S65-112.
  9. Teede H, Deeks A, Moran LPolycystic ovary syndrome: a complex condition with psychological, reproductive and metabolic manifestations that impacts on health across the lifespanBMC medicine2010;8:41.