What do low and chili peppers have in common? They both could help burn fat, a new study shows.
Exposure to cold and consumption of chemicals found in chili peppers both appear to increase the number and activity of so-called brown fat cells, which burn energy, rather than store it as typical "white" fat cells do, said Takeshi Yoneshiro, a researcher at Hokkaido University Graduate School of Medicine in Japan.
The study is the first to show that brown fat activity can be induced in people who appeared to have very few or no brown fat cells, said Dr. Clifford Rosen, a professor of medicine at Tufts University who wasn't involved in the study.
Participants in the study who were exposed to cold also had less "bad" white fat at the end of the experiments, Rosen told LiveScience.
Cold burns fat
Brown fat cells are currently a subject of intense research as a target for anti-obesity drugs, said Dr. Soren Snitker, a medical researcher at the University of Maryland School of Medicine who wasn't involved in the study. (9 Myths That Can Make You Fat)
In the new study, researchers exposed eight people with little or no brown fat cells to moderately low temperatures of 63 degrees Fahrenheit (17 degrees Celsius) for two hours daily, over the course of six weeks. Compared with the control subjects, who went about their normal lives, the cold-exposed people had about 5 percent less body fat at the end of the study, and also burned more energy when exposed to cold, according to the study, which was published in August in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.
The researchers also looked at people who ate capsinoids, which are normally found in chili peppers, for six weeks, and found they also burned more energy than the control group when exposed to cold, but didn't lose any more white fat than the control group.