While 2016 is on track to be the hottest year on record, the temperatures in most of the U.S. now seem to be rather chilly. And while many people are not so fond of the cold, wintery weather can actually be good for people with diabetes.
But we have to know how to take advantage of the chill. Doing so can be easy and yet challenging.
All we have to do is turn down the thermostat. Researchers have discovered that when we get mildly cold, which they define as being cool without shivering, our bodies burn more calories. As a result, managing our weight can be easier.
This is the conclusion of a recent review that two researchers at Maastricht University Medical Center in the Netherlands published in the November 2016 issue of the professional journal Diabetologia. The title of their article, “Combatting type 2 diabetes by turning up the heat,” puzzled me at first.
The title confused me because the study is about turning down the heat in the room we’re in. But then our bodies compensate by turning up their internal heat production.
When our body does this, its energy expenditure increases, ratcheting up our metabolism. Being mildly cold revs up our bodies’ brown fat, which unlike white fat, burns calories instead of storing them.
Until 2009, however, scientists thought that only babies and children had any of this valuable fat. But then, researchers at the Joslin Diabetes Center based in Boston demonstrated that adults still have brown fat.
Literally hundreds of studies of brown fat have been published since this 2009 research breakthrough. I have seen many of them, but this technique for taking advantage of our brown fat to manage our weight is the most promising application that has come to my attention.
‘Just right’ isn’t
When the temperature is what we would consider being “just right” — what the researchers call “thermoneutral conditions” — our brown fat isn’t activated. Nor is it activated by fasting, the researchers write in this new study. However, when we literally “chill out” a bit, this helps us to manage our weight better.
The researchers emphasize that we don’t have to get cold. Earlier research by this Dutch team showed that we can gradually acclimatize to cooler room temperatures. When people in their research spent six hours a day at about 60 degrees Fahrenheit, they became comfortable within 10 days.
I am going to give it a try. I have been able to lose a lot of weight, and stay within 2 pounds one way or the other of my goal weight. But keeping it off hasn’t been easy.
Maybe it’s so hard because I always keep my apartment at 72 degrees Fahrenheit, which is a comfortable temperature for me. But I am gradually reducing the thermostat in my apartment now.
Easy weight management?
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if getting mildly cool made our weight management easy? This can be a way that can help almost everyone who has diabetes.
An unintended consequence when we heat our homes less is, we will burn less fossil fuel, doing a bit to stop contributing to climate change. And these cool days of a hot year are the natural times for each of us to test how well getting mildly cold works to lose weight.
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David Mendosa is a journalist who learned in 1994 that he has Type 2 diabetes, which he now writes about exclusively. He has written thousands of diabetes articles, two books about it, created one of the first diabetes websites, and publishes the monthly newsletter, “Diabetes Update.” His very low-carbohydrate diet, current A1C level of 5.1, and BMI of 19.8 keep his diabetes in remission without any drugs.