The role of Brown adipose with Wim Hof

An investigation at the university of Maastricht (NUTRIM) in cooperation with the Nuclear medicine department (MUMC)

Brown adipose is being more and more in the news and there are indications that it plays a role in the prevention as well as treatment toward obesity.

But what is Brown adipose? Brown adipose is a sort of fat tissue that, instead of depositing energy like white fat, is capable of energy combustion. In this way heat is produced, instead of obese development.

The heat generated by Brown adipose plays an  important role to maintain body temperature in little mammals (par example rodents) and with human babies.

Common belief and thought was that Brown adipose was no longer present in adults, however in 2009 at the university of Maastricht it was showed that Brown fat can be activated by cold exposure (Marken Lichtenbelt 2009 among others). Moreover was showed that people with overweight had no or very little Brown adipose left. this shows the important role of Brown adipose fighting obesity.

We have now measured the Brown adipose of Wim Hof

He has accomplished incredible feat in cold endurance and therefore we think Brown adipose could play an important role in maintaining his body temperature. Besides of that there are indications in scientific literature that the amount of Brown adipose decreases with age. Could Brown adipose play a role in the achievements of Wim when exposing his body in extreme cold conditions?

The experiment
To test the role of Brown adipose Wim has been thoroughly measured at the university of Maastricht for two days. The First day we measured his Brown adipose at room temperature (neutral) and the next day in a cold environment (11 degrees Celsius) for two and a half hours . We have measured the following:
 - Brown fat adipose
 - Heatproduction while exposed in the cold
 - Bodytemperatures
 - Heartbeat and bloodpressure
 - Skinbloodflow
 - Heatproductive capacity oif the muscle
 - Bodycomponements (fat, fatfree and bonemass)

While the experiment was ongoing the body can do two things, generate heat and closing the skinbloodflow, or decreasing it.

The way Wim did it was comparable with Young adults (Wim is 52 years). Remarkable was that Wim produces the same amount of Brown adipose and in some cases even more than young adults. An average of 35 %  in comparison to the 0 to 20% of youg adults, and at peaks Wim even raised over the 50 % above the normal.

Has Brown adipose been the reason of this enormous heat production while exposed in the cold?
In the PET Scan in thermo neutral conditions we have seen no Brown fat, however in the cold it showed that he had as much as Young adults. Interesting therefore is that Brown adipose partially contributed to effectively generate heat thus we can conclude that cold exposure takes care of maintaining Brown fat.

We can conclude that Wim in cold exposure feat is able to generate heat enormously and that Brown adipose is partially causing this. The other conclusion of that muscle tension and or contraction is responable for the heat production we still do not know as we still could not measure this adequately. Wim’s conviction is that concentration (will and control) are absolutely part of the process to maintain body temperature in extreme cold conditions. Another interesting fact is that people at middle age and older are capable to activate Brown adipose after training in the cold.

van Marken Lichtenbelt WD, Vanhommerig JW, Smulders NM, Drossaerts JM, Kemerink GJ, Bouvy ND, Schrauwen P, Teule GJ 2009. Cold activated brown adipose tissue in healthy men. N Engl J Med 360:1500-1508.

The research team:
Wouter van Marken Lichtenbelt
Maarten Vosselman
Boris Kingma
Guy Vijgen
Team Nuclear Medicine

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