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Our fat cells aren’t all the same. White fat’s role is mostly to hang around the body, storing caloric fuel that can be converted into energy if needed. But brown fat—so named for the red-brown color imparted by its mitochondria—is active, using those cellular powerhouses to translate fuel from the body into heat.

New research out today suggests that in the process of making heat, brown fat also acts as a “metabolic filter,” using up excess essential amino acids that might otherwise increase risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes. It’s a game-changing discovery for a kind of body tissue we’re barely beginning to understand.

We already knew that the mitochondria of brown fat use glucose and fatty acids to produce heat and warm up your body—that’s why exposing people to cold or otherwise activating brown fat to burn calories is something that weight loss research has been poking at for a while.

But brown fat has long been regarded as “just a heater organ,” says study author Shingo Kajimura, a University of California, San Francisco biologist. “It makes your body warm. But that’s not the whole story.”

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