Cooler Room Temperatures May Improve Insulin Sensitivity

It sounds crazy, but your home thermostat might have some significant influence over the manner in which your body stores and even burns fat.

That's what researchers from the Garvan Institute of Medical Research are saying.

They say that cooler temperatures appear to boost the production of brown or "good" fat, which contributes to the burning of energy and heat generation, which also offers protective benefits against diabetes and obesity.

Their results are derived from a very small study featuring just five healthy men. The men were exposed to four 30-day periods of temperatures:

  • First month: 75.2 degrees Fahrenheit (24 degrees Celsius)
  • Second month: 66.2 degrees Fahrenheit (19 degrees Celsius)
  • Third month: 75.2 degrees Fahrenheit (24 degrees Celsius)
  • Fourth month: 80.6 degrees Fahrenheit (27 degrees Celsius)

After each month, the men underwent PET/CT scans to measure for brown fat levels, muscle mass, and metabolic tissue changes.

After analyzing the data, researchers concluded that brown fat increased with cooler temperatures and decreased in warmer temperatures. The cooler temps also appeared to improve insulin sensitivity.

"The improvement in insulin sensitivity accompanying brown fat gain may open new avenues in the treatment of impaired glucose metabolism in the future," said endocrinologist and lead researcher Dr. Paul Lee. "On the other hand, the reduction in mild cold exposure from widespread central heating in contemporary society may impair brown fat function and may be a hidden contributor to both obesity and metabolic disorders.

"The big unknown until this study was whether or not we could actually manipulate brown fat to grow and shrink in a human being."

Lee and colleagues reported their findings in the journal Diabetes.

Photo: Honeywell, Columbia University

The study found that cooler temperatures helped improve insulin sensitivity.