Could coffee, America's favorite morning drink, also help fight one of its biggest health issues--obesity? (Ulysses Muñoz, Thalia Juarez / Baltimore Sun video)
Could America's favorite morning drink also help fight one of its biggest health issues, obesity?
That's the suggestion from a British study that finds coffee stimulates the human body's "brown fat," a heat-generating form of fat that literally burns calories in a process called thermogenesis.
“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 study leader Michael Symonds, of the University of Nottingham.
But one U.S. obesity and nutrition expert said it's just too early to label coffee a dieter's best friend.
“Usually thermogenic properties are too minimal and insignificant” to help someone go from overweight to normal weight, explained registered dietitian Sharon Zarabi. She directs the bariatrics program at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
“Brown fat works in a different way to other fat in your body and produces heat by burning sugar and fat, often in response to cold,” Symonds explained. So, “increasing its activity improves blood sugar control as well as improving blood lipid (cholesterol) levels, and the extra calories burnt help with weight loss.”
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But can brown fat be stimulated into calorie-burning activity by something you eat or drink? To find out, the British team used stem cell-based studies to first see if caffeine might do the trick. It did, at a certain dose.
The team is also “looking at caffeine supplements to test whether the effect is similar,” Symonds said.
But Zarabi said dieters shouldn't view coffee as any magic potion for weight loss.
“I’d still recommend a cup o’ joe at some point in the morning for a mental boost and pep in the day, but definitely not to help you lose weight — unless you’re using that caffeine for stimulation of a heart-pounding workout,” she said.
That’s because exercise remains the best and most efficient way to burn calories, Zarabi said.