Brown Fat Activation, Ketosis & Cold Thermogenesis: A Review of the Practical Science

by Mike Mutzel


In this video, you’ll learn more about:

– How insulin resistance (and our constant, cozy 70 degree temps) seems to be linked with our “unactive” brown fat
– How exercise stimulates a myokine called irisin that sparks brown fat into high gear
– The links and metabolic overlap between brown fat and ketosis

For those of us who have active brown fat, the tissue alone can metabolize ten pounds of body fat each year!

Canadian scientists have shown that a little cold daily stress can increase brown adipose tissue volume and activity by 45%!

So, as crazy as the 6:00 am plunge into a cold tub or cold shower sounds, it can help you stay lean.

Here is a review of the science (if you're interested)


Expert Snippet: Carrie Jones, ND, MPH discusses the links between hormones and brown fat

Learn more about the Adrenal Intensive Home Study Course

Tools That May Help You Get Started Making Your Own Cold Plunge

Rain Reserve Rain Water Diverter Plastic

Good Ideas RW40-OAK Rain Wizard Rain Barrel 40-Gallon, Oak

Related Podcast: Episode #200: Ben Bikman, PhD: Brown Fat Tissue Activation, Insulin & the Ketogenic Diet



Video Transcript

Hello, and welcome back to another video. I wanted to share with you some research about brown adipose tissue, also known as brown fat, or BAT. I think it's important for you as a fat-adapted insider, as someone that's interested in becoming more keto adapted, more metabolically flexible, it's important to understand the research on brown adipose tissue, and it's all interrelated and connected, and I don't want to get too complex in the biology, but, a main signaling switch, or signaling factor, we call these transcription factor, known as PPAR alpha. It's a main node involved in the synthesis of ketones within the liver. Certain conditions under which, like high glucagon, low insulin, low glucose, and so forth will trigger PPAR alpha to stimulate a network of genes that will help you to make ketones and better utilize energy and burn more fat for fuel.

Well, it turns out that while that's an activator of ketogenesis, PPAR alpha is also an activator of brown adipose tissue. So, by activating PPAR through cold stress you can also not only enhance your ability to make more and activated brown fat, which has a lot of benefits for your health, blood glucose regulation, fatty acid oxidation, and all that, but it's synergistic with ketogenesis. So, there's been a few papers that have come out as of late.

I just want to share with you kind of the key takeaways that I think you should understand and know about should you be interested in doing this, and embarking on this as a lifestyle behavior or strategy, which I think you should, and that's inducing some sort of cold-induced shiver every single day. It's important to do this. Now, there's a few clinical studies that I'll put in the link below this video to help you better understand the science and the mechanisms of brown adipose tissue activation.

But a Denis Blondin at University of Sherbrooke, in conjunction with researchers at University of Ottawa, had figured out that having subjects go in this cold suit, so it was like a suit that had water running on the outside, there was like a barrier there with cold water at 10 degrees Celsius which is roughly 50 degrees Fahrenheit, and they did some, this was five days on, two days off, I believe, for two hours for four weeks. They did muscle biopsies and brown adipose tissue kind of PET scans so they could look at like the glucose uptake and the concentration and the activity of the brown fat, and there was a 45% increase in brown adipose tissue volume in those nine different subjects.

Also, there was an increase and a change in the uncoupling protein in the muscle tissue. So, I think this is important. Point number one, cold thermogenesis causes a dramatic increase in the number, and the quantity, and the metabolic activity of your brown adipose tissue. Number two, cold thermogenesis also affects the skeletal muscle, particularly the type 1 muscle fibers, which, as we've talked about in other videos, in the Spring in the Keto MasterClass and other Masterclasses, the type 1 muscle fibers tend to be the muscle fibers that are more susceptible to becoming insulin resistant. These are the muscle fibers, the slow twitch muscle fibers mostly in the legs.

I think this is really important, friends, important to consider that by getting a little uncomfortable, by doing a little cold thermogenesis you can stimulate and change the metabolic activity of a key muscle fiber, muscle fiber type, muscle type that will affect your metabolic activity and ability to burn fat for fuel. Keep that in mind. What does this look like? What are the practical like how do you do this? Well, you need to get sufficiently cold so that you start shivering. I think that's the take home after having read a lot of these different research studies, which I'll put below this video. That's the take-home key, is you need to actually start shivering.

You're not gonna get that from just turning the water on cold at the end of a hot shower. While that's a great first step in the right direction, I liken that to going to Wendy's and taking the bun off the burger. That's a step in the right direction, but eventually we don't want to be going to Wendy's, or McDonald's, we want to be having real food made the home. We want to know our farmers, where our food's coming from, prepare our food properly, right? So, having the cold shower at the end is like taking the bun off, okay. Eventually that grass-fed, free range, pasture-raised burger is going to be like doing a cold plunge in your back yard, the analogy there. Hope you're with me.

Hopefully you're following that. I think this is an important element, because I get a lot of questions, and a lot of the KetoLean MasterClass members, people that are interested in becoming more fat adapted have told me they've tried keto before, they've been doing this for six or eight months, they lost some weight, and then things have kind of slowed down, so I think this is an important adjunctive therapy, or tool, that you can use in your toolbox.

What does it look like. How do you get really cold? Well, the first thing you could do is just 100% cold shower, no heat at all. This is a little extreme. Some people just can't do this. During the winter use common sense. By doing this you can be cold all day, so you may not always want to be doing this in the winter, just turning down your house temperature might be a good step in the right direction to be a little chilly and that's gonna cause your body to upregulate and cause these adaptations. That would be number one.

Number two, if you can do it, I'll put it in another video, how to do this, is make your own cold plunge in your backyard. It's very easy to do. Basically you just go get a horse trough from like a feed supply store, about 110 gallons, or 100 gallons or so is like the minimum I would suggest, so you can totally immerse yourself in there. You can connect rain water, or use your garden hose, and fill it up and try to do this in the morning. I think it's great. Even better is finding a natural stream, or a lake near where you live, hopefully it's cold enough, and dive into it. I remember when I was in Ireland I had some friends … Haley, thanks for recommending that. This is a common thing they do. I can't remember, Sea of Man, I think, I could be wrong here, but folks in Dublin would go and do cold plunges all year round. I think that's a brilliant way to activate your brown adipose tissue.

A lot of research has emerged on this. I'm gonna put a summary below this video. I hope you consider it as an adjunctive therapy to all the different things that you're doing to become a better fat burner, and consider this just one more step in the right direction. There's a lot of research that's emerging about this, and all humans have brown adipose tissue, but obese and insulin-resistant individuals tend to have more dysfunctional brown adipose tissue and un-active brown adipose tissue.

In closing, spark that brown adipose tissue. Get out there and get your cold shiver on. It will serve you down the road. It will help you become more fat-adapted and help just improve your mental grit and fortitude. Hope you enjoyed this video, hope you like some of the science below, and we'll catch you on the next one.

  1. How long do you need the cold shower to last for it to be beneficial? Is it OK to take more than one a day? Is it ok to take one before bed?

    • Hi Monika!

      I would say at least 30 seconds, preferably more.

      You need to get a deep chill.

      Have heard anecdotes about people having improved sleep with cold showers before bed–don’t know until you try!



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