Global warming, brown fat and diabetes

In 2009 three influential back-to-back papers appeared in the renowned New England Journal of Medicine which conclusively demonstrated that even mild cold exposure could activate brown adipose tissue, thereby dramatically increasing resting energy expenditure in humans:

  1. Cypess AM, Lehman S, Williams G, Tal I, Rodman D, Goldfine AB et al. Identification and importance of brown adipose tissue in adult humans. N Engl J Med 2009; 360(15):1509-1517.
  2. Marken Lichtenbelt WD, Vanhommerig JW, Smulders NM, Drossaerts JM, Kemerink GJ, Bouvy ND et al. Cold-activated brown adipose tissue in healthy men. N Engl J Med 2009; 360(15):1500-1508.
  3. Virtanen KA, Lidell ME, Orava J, Heglind M, Westergren R, Niemi T et al. Functional brown adipose tissue in healthy adults. N Engl J Med 2009; 360(15):1518-1525.

This fascinating finding immediately prompted me to write a letter, together with my colleague Hanno Pijl, in response in which I postulated that based on these findings global warming might actually worsen the obesity pandemic (bearing in mind Newton’s law of cooling). However, our letter was unfortunately rejected without peer-review. Seven years later (!) another study was published by Hanssen et al. which prompted me again to contact Hanno Pijl, who brought me into contact with Patrick Rensen and Lisanne Blauw, and together we finally managed to conduct a more thorough examination of the relation between rising global temperatures and the incidence of diabetes in the United States, as well as the prevalence of glucose intolerance worldwide. And the results were fascinating indeed as you can read here.  The article was widely covered in the international media and has already been downloaded more than 13500 times!  So a happy end after all you might think, but unfortunately I don’t think so as long as some lunatic ‘world leaders’ are just flatly denying the very concept of global warming (very, very, very sad…)


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