Does Coffee Fight Fat?

Scientists say caffeine fuels the burn.

Posted Jun 27, 2019

 S.McQuillan
Coffee may boost your metabolism.
Source: Photo: S.McQuillan

If you drink at least one cup of coffee to kick-start your day or help you feel more energized or alert throughout the day, there may be an added benefit.  In a small study published June 24, 2019, in Nature’s Scientific Reports, researchers at the University of Nottingham, UK, found that coffee stimulates the activity of brown fat in both laboratory and human studies. Brown fat—one of two types of fat found in the body—plays an important role in the rate at which we “burn” or convert calories to produce energy by increasing body temperature. 

The other type of fat—white fat—is what we carry on our bodies when we consume excess calories from sugar and fat, or when we don’t get enough exercise to balance our calorie intake. Brown fat is found mostly in the neck area. Generally, the higher your body mass index, the more white fat you have, and the lower your body mass index, the more brown fat you have.

In the laboratory, the researchers first tested the effect of caffeine on stem cells. They then followed up with human studies, locating stores of brown fat in the necks of study participants and using specialized instruments to measure heat levels in the fat before and after drinking a single cup of coffee. The heat levels rose after coffee consumption and further resting showed that fat cells were more metabolically active. Follow-up studies using caffeine supplements will help clearly confirm that caffeine is the active ingredient and not some other component of coffee.

While a cup of coffee in and of itself may not be a significant weight loss tool, the researchers propose that caffeine-induced activation of brown fatty tissue might make a contribution to weight control in overweight or obese people or those who have diabetes. And since caffeine makes some people jittery and can cause dehydration, sleep issues, and elevated heart rate or blood pressure, in addition to its potential addictive qualities, researchers also need to determine the minimal effective dose with the least side effects.

One last caveat: If you want to give your metabolism a boost and perhaps reap some additional health benefits by drinking a cup of coffee, stick to a classic cup of joe. Skip the cream, the sugar, the chocolate or hazelnut syrup, and other added ingredients used to flavor coffeehouse brews. They can raise the calorie level of your coffeehouse brew up to that of a milkshake, and interfere with any potential health benefits.

References

Velickovic K, Wayne D, Leija H, et al. Caffeine exposure induces browning features in adipose tissue in vitro and in vivo. Nature: Scientific Reports. 9(9104) Published online: June 24, 2019.