For most people, fat bulges are something they don’t want. It makes our thighs jiggle, our clothes fit tight and look bad, and typically lingers despite our torturous attempts to eliminate it. Too much of it increases our risk for certain illnesses like heart disease and type 2 diabetes, so for decades researchers have looked for ways to reduce it. Humans have two types of fat: white fat & brown fat, and understanding the differences between the two, can help people lose weight. “White fat” is the thin layer of blubber we see on the human belly. backs of arms and on the thighs. This particular fat acts as a thermal insulator, that keeps body temperatures stable.
Where Do We Have Brown Fat?
Research has shown that certain groups of people tend to have more brown fat than others. For example:
- Younger people have more brown fat than elderly people
- Slender people have more brown fat than obese people
- People with normal blood sugar levels have more brown fat than those with high blood sugar
Studies Show Exposure to Cold Causes Fat Cell Death
Increased exposure to the cold helps turn on our brown fat, helping people keep weight off and lessen obesity issues. Researchers have suggested more people turn down their thermostats for a few hours each day during the winter months, and published the study in the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.
When taking biopsies of patients’ fat deposits, scientists found that in the winter, belly and thigh fat showed greater signs of “browning” than did fat samples taken in the summer. This suggests that cold temperatures facilitate the transformation of white fat into beige. Most homes in winter are heated to around 69F (21C), but Maastricht University Medical Centre advises turning the thermostat down to between 62F (17C) and 59F (15) for a few hours per day. Experts say that because we spend so much of our time indoors in overheated homes and offices, it can cause our bodies to not naturally burn calories to keep warm.
An article in The New York Times highlights a study where a group of men slept in a metabolic chamber that was kept at a mildly chilly 66 degrees. After four weeks of sleeping at this temperature, the men had almost doubled their volume of brown fat, experienced an increase in insulin sensitivity, and even burned a few more calories throughout the next day.
This practice is known as “cold thermogenesis,” and can lead to doubling of the volume of metabolically active brown fat, an increase in insulin sensitivity, and the burning of more calories.
- Moderate intensity cold thermogenesis would be sitting in a 50-60 degree room while only wearing shorts, which is significant for brown fat formation.
- Hardcore intensity cold thermogenesis can be achieved from wearing an ice vest and a pair of compression shorts filled with ice packs. This practice causes the body to start shivering, which then burns massive amounts of calories.
Ice Therapy To Burn More Body Fat
Tim Ferriss is the author of a book called The Four-Hour Body, which includes the concept of activating your brown fat, to boost fat burning by exposing yourself to frigid temperatures. He states you can increase your fat burning potential by as much as 300% by adding ice therapy to your healthy eating and workout routine. A Livestrong article backs up Ferriss’ claim stating:
A NASA scientist told ABC News that’s no hyperbole. In studying the effects of temperature on astronauts, he saw people’s metabolism boost by 20 percent in environments as mild as 60 degrees. A Joslin researcher told National Public Radio that 3 oz. of brown fat could burn 400 to 500 calories daily.
Scientists Find Popsicles Kill Fat, Causing Dimples In Children
The theory of fat cells can be frozen and killed has also been proven through another strange way called the “Popsicle Panniculitis,” that shows excessive exposure to cold from popsicles can result in the dimpling of the cheeks. The parents of a 9-month-old boy were concerned about the enlarging areas of reddish discoloration on his cheeks.The infant was born healthy, had no significant medical or family health history, had no bug bites, trauma, or illnesses, and hadn’t been around anyone who was sick. His growth and development were normal and immunizations were up-to-date.
However, the playful infant had symmetrical non-tender lesions on his cheeks, close to the edges of the mouth. His oral cavity was normal, and nothing more was found. Further questioning revealed that 2 days before the lesions appeared, his mother had given the infant a popsicles for teething, which led to a clinical diagnosis of popsicle panniculitis. Popsicles, icepacks, and exposure to cold have all been shown to cause “popsicle” or “cold panniculitis” in children.
It predominantly occurs during infancy after a “cold injury” and generally affects the cheeks and chin. These are the areas that are rich in subcutaneous fat and more often exposed to cold. Popsicle panniculitis usually looks like areas of reddish discoloration or as red-purple, hardened, non-tender, swellings of the cheeks 24 to 48 hours after contact with a popsicle or ice cube. The subcutaneous fat in adults has predominantly unsaturated fats, which may explain why popsicle panniculitis occurs almost exclusively in children.
Dr. Amy Brodsky, a Chicago board certified dermatologist, was also not born with a dimple, but at the age of six, she injured her left cheek in an accident that was then treated with ice compresses for several hours. Within days, her cheek turned into a solid firm mass, and six to eight weeks later, the injury resulted in a pronounced dimple. For years she thought this was a result of her injury, until she studied Dermatology and found it to be the result of Cold Panniculitis.
Freezing Fat For Spot Reduction On Trouble Areas
For the reasons listed above, researchers are saying that something as simple as applying ice packs to areas of white fat deposits for 30 minutes to an hour, could encourage this browning process and help boost weight/fat loss,if you also follow a healthy diet and regular exercise routine. This works by chilling the skin, then causing the underlying fat cells to naturally die off, then be metabolized by the body.
This reduces the thickness of fat in the area that’s treated. There is a commercial treatment called CoolSculpting, which requires expensive equipment, yet it is very effective! With a session lasting one hour per spot treated, this machine produces a reduction in the fat thickness of the treated area. Once fat cells are frozen, they drain naturally from the body. It can take six to 12 weeks to see the results, but a patient can lose half an inch from their waistline after just one one-hour treatment. An area can be treated multiple times, but it is said the first treatment is usually the most effective.
The device sucks the skin and underlying fat into a cup, then cooling it. The current theory is that chilling fat tissues to just below freezing triggers inflammation of the fat cells (Panniculitis) and then triggers natural cell death in the fat cells (apoptosis). The inflammation starts 3 days after treatment, peaking at 30 days, with the number of fat cells continuing to decline over the 90 day period. Temporary side effects include occasional bruising and a little bit of redness. While the fat cells that are treated drain from the body, there are still other surrounding fat cells that can expand, so a patient has to maintain a healthy diet.
A common concern is frostbite, or other damage to the skin, however this is not a problem, as you need far colder temperatures (-10c/14f) to cause that type of damage. CoolSculpting uses temperatures that do not immediately kill off the fat cells, but rather it triggers the natural process of cell death (apoptosis). That’s why the end result takes a couple weeks, and up to 3 months for the full effect to be seen. I will be doing a follow up story about this in the near future. However, it has been found that a similar effect can be produced at home for almost no cost.
Using Ice Pack Therapy At Home To Shed Excess Fat
Ice-packs have been known to bring down inflammation and prevent swelling in sports injuries for decades, and due to all the evidence for the CoolSculpting treatment, researchers say it’s possible to replicate the effects at home by simply applying ice packs to the skin.
An early study of CoolSculpting showed a reduction in the fat levels by doing this, (though not as great of a loss as colder temperatures through the commercial procedure.) The studies showed that levels of fat on areas of the body where ice packs were applied, were noticeably lower than other parts of the body. So by simply strapping on ice-packs to a fatty area like the thighs, stomach or flanks for just 30 minutes to an hour, 3 to 4 times per week, you can help shed that hard-to-lose stubborn fat.
For those wanting to spot reduce fat on certain areas on their bodies, cold thermogenesis makes this possible, and can cause a significant difference in body shape and appearance.
What To Watch Out For
Using ice packs incorrectly can cause skin burns which may vary from mild such as first degree burns or more severe such as second and third degree burns. One of the most common ways this can occur is through the application of the ice pack directly to the skin without a barrier in between, especially of an injured area.
Use a thin layer such as a tee shirt between the skin and ice. You can also try a thin folded hand towel or a couple layers of paper towels for a few minutes until the skin adjusts and then remove the layer. Using thick towels or material will keep the ice from affecting the area decreasing its benefit.
There are certain factors that increase cold induced burn injuries through icing, and these may include:
- People who use medications that decrease the blood flow to the skin such as beta-blockers.
- People with peripheral vascular disease which decrease the blood flow to the affected tissue.
- People with peripheral neuropathy which decreases the ability to feel injuries.
- Smoking and diabetes.
Symptoms of Cold Induced Burn Injuries:
- Pins and needles sensation followed by tingling and numbness
- Redness and pain in the affected skin area
- Firm or waxy skin which is white and completely numb
- Skin blisters
Treatment of Ice Pack Burn:
You may notice having an ice pack burn if you start developing the signs and symptoms of cold induced injury such as developing blisters, feel burning, numb, itchiness and/or pain sensation in the affected area. The color of the affected skin may turn yellowish-gray. The affected area need to be re-warmed to stop the burn from becoming severe.
- Warming process should be GRADUAL to avoid burning yourself and causing more damage to the skin.
- Soak the burned skin in warm water. The National Institute of Health suggests the temperature of water to be between 104 and 108 degree Fahrenheit for 20 minutes (never use hot water).
- You can use warm compresses or wrap the area with a blanket.
- Avoid massaging or moving the damaged area as this can cause more damage.
- Avoid using direct dry heat to warm the affected area such as radiator or hair dryer as these areas are numb and can burn easily.