People have been drinking coffee for centuries, however, its popularity continues to rise in the United States. Approximately 64 percent of Americans reported regularly drinking coffee in 2018 ( up 2 percent from 2017).
On top of that, specialty coffee sales are increasing by about 20 percent every year. Specialty coffee sales account for about 8 percent of the $18 billion coffee industry in the U.S. On average, the American coffee drinker has 3.1 cups of coffee every single day.
Because of its rise in popularity, there’s no wonder more researchers are looking at what effects coffee may have on the human body. In the past, coffee has been shown to help lower your risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia, as well as reduce your risk of heart disease, among other benefits.
In this latest study, researchers found coffee may actually help burn fat. “This is the first study in humans to show that something like a cup of coffee can have a direct effect on our brown fat functions,” said the study’s co-director Professor Michael Symonds.
Brown fat (brown adipose tissue) helps generate body heat by burning calories. This tissue is typically found in babies and hibernating mammals, such as bears. More recently, brown fat has also been identified in adult humans. Brown fat is associated with a low body mass index (BMI) and general good health. White fat, which most of us are familiar with, stores excess calories and typically leads to weight gain.
Stimulating brown fat assists the body in burning off the white fat. As it turns out, coffee does just that. Prior to researchers discovering this, there was no way to stimulate brown fat in adults. To their surprise, thermal imaging revealed that after a drink of coffee, brown fat warmed up and began burning calories.
It isn’t certain whether it is the caffeine within a coffee or the coffee itself that is causing this reaction. Symonds said the team of researchers will begin checking to see if caffeine supplements have a similar reaction.
Whatever it may be helping to increase brown fat will likely be isolated and used in concentrated doses. Symonds stated, “Once we have confirmed which component is responsible for this, it could potentially be used as part of a weight management regime or as part of glucose regulation program to help prevent diabetes.”
Symonds points out there is still much left to be researched. This study only took a look at the impact of a cup of coffee on brown fat. There is no information on how much will have a beneficial impact. The next step, according to the co-director, is to see if caffeine by itself can warm up brown fat the way coffee does.
“But potentially, with longer term study looking at the effect of taking caffeine pills once or twice of day for a two week period increase in brown fat itself and an increase in activity,” Symonds theorized.