Research: Cold exposure may help burn calories

Research wordResearch word

Cold exposure and brown fat may assist weight loss and increase caloric expenditure.

Pound of Fat
Pound of Fat

Cold and freezing of body fat is all of the rage to induce weight loss. There are any number of devices and treatments being pushed to help you cut the body fat without a knife or liposuction. Over the years, it has been reported that there is a difference between types of fats and their metabolic effect. New research is accumulating and shows evidence that links brown adipose tissue and cold exposure to an increased energy expenditure and used of fat for energy.

Cold exposure has also been proposed as a novel treatment for weight loss with limited to no evidence to pack it. There are a number of studies on brown fat and cold induce increased metabolism and little is known about cold metabolism and weight loss.

Unfortunately, most of our body fat is white fat, which stores extra energy, but has very limited to no metabolic activity to induce weight loss. Buildup of white fat or fat in general is what leads to obesity. Unlike white fat, brown fat can break down blood sugar and fat molecules to create heat and help maintain body temperature. Cold temperatures appear to activate brown fat, resulting in metabolic changes in the body.

The good news is that there is lots of research to back up this concept and new research is coming every day. One new piece came out in May 2020​[1]​. The research investigated individuals and their brown fat levels and entered expenditure after cold exposure. In fact, a single bout of moderate cold exposure resulted in the dissipation of an additional 20 kcal excess energy used in those patients with a higher level of brown fat. Also, cold exposure raised circulating levels of various lipids which would mark fat mobilization from fat cells to be utilized for energy.

The good news is that this should cause weight loss over time. It would take a long time, but this is positive. The bad news is this is that sitting in a cold room or freezing you belly with some new fangled fad is not what this study is about. More research is need to determine if this might work. This is specifically shown to work in those with specific markers for brown fat.

The bottom line: Brown fat burns calories and cold exposure appears to increase that. Cold should help with weight loss in those with active brown fat. More research is needed, but this is one more piece to the puzzle..


  1. [1]
    O. C. Kulterer et al., “The Presence of Active Brown Adipose Tissue Determines Cold-Induced Energy Expenditure and Oxylipin Profiles in Humans,” The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, Apr. 2020, doi: 10.1210/clinem/dgaa183. [Online]. Available:
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About the Author

I am a family physician who has served in the US Army. In 2016, I found myself overweight, out of shape, and unhealthy, so I made a change to improve my health. This blog is the chronology of my path to better health and what I have learned along the way.

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