Image by sarahisaghost from Pixabay

Weight loss plateaus can be particularly frustrating, especially if you feel like you’re doing everything right, and it’s still not budging. 

While I understand why this might make some turn to trendy drugs like semaglutide/Ozempic/Wegovy, I’m decidedly not a fan of this approach. (Topping the alarming side effect list for these drugs are thyroid cancer, kidney injury and chronic renal failure exacerbation, pancreatitis, and gallbladder attacks!)

But what else can you do, when you’re already eating right, exercising, getting enough sleep, managing your stress, and balancing your hormones?

One common, well-known herb might help to convert “bad” fat, or white adipose tissue, into the more metabolically active brown fat.

Brown Fat vs White Fat

When we talk about fat loss, we mean subcutaneous (beneath the skin) white fat, or adipocytes. Fat cells are metabolically active and produce a variety of hormones, but its essential function is that of energy storage. It’s profoundly efficient, too: when one glucose molecule enters the mitochondria for energy production, it yields 38 ATP molecules (the body’s energy currency). When one fatty acid enters the mitochondria for energy production, the yield is 129 ATP.

However, this conversion of fat into energy only occurs when needed. If you consume enough calories to satisfy your daily metabolic needs, you won’t touch your extra stores of white fat. If you consume calories in excess of your daily metabolic needs, you’ll add to it.

Brown fat, by contrast, produces a different result. The density of mitochondria in brown fat is higher than in other cells, and those mitochondria have also adapted to include a higher than usual amount of uncoupling proteins (UCPs) at the very end of the electron transport chain. Uncoupling proteins are so named because rather than combining protons to turn chemical energy into ATP, they “uncouple,” or separate them, letting the same chemical energy instead dissipate as heat.

All of us have some brown fat: uncoupling proteins and subsequent heat production is what makes us “warm blooded.” Animals that live in cold regions have adapted to have a higher amount of brown fat than animals that live in warmer climates, for obvious reasons: it helps them to stay warm.

Tumeric Turns White Fat Brown

Turmeric, the herb that contains the bioactive compound curcumin, is probably best known for its antioxidant and liver supportive properties. 

It can also contribute to “browning” of white fat, according to this study. It does this by up-regulating the expression of brown fat genes.

Curcumin also increases the production of new, healthy mitochondria. I don’t know of too many other things that do this, besides PQQ and fasting.  

Curcumin also increases levels of the fat-burning enzyme lipase, while suppressing production of new fat cells.

Finally, curcumin increases the activity of AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK), one of the current darlings of the longevity world. AMPK breaks down stored energy sources and turns them into new ATP sources.

The Upshot

The browning of white fat is a novel approach for stubborn weight loss, and curcumin is a beneficial compound to add to your diet (or your supplement regimen) anyway. 

Ice therapy can accomplish the same thing, but it’s a lot harder to stick to.

Here is my favorite, most bioavailable curcumin source.