Individual thermogenic responses to mild cold and overfeeding are closely related

J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2007 Nov;92(11):4299-305. doi: 10.1210/jc.2007-1065. Epub 2007 Sep 4.


Context: Adaptive thermogenesis is defined as the increase in energy expenditure in response to overfeeding or cold. Large interindividual differences in adaptive thermogenesis have been described.

Objective: Because there are indications for a common underlying mechanism, we studied in humans whether the increase in thermogenesis during short-term overfeeding (3 d) is related to mild cold-induced thermogenesis.

Interventions: Thirteen lean male subjects have been exposed to three experimental conditions in respiration chambers: baseline (36 h in energy balance at thermoneutrality, 22 C), overfeeding (84 h at 160% of energy balance, 22 C), and mild cold (84 h in energy balance, 16 C).

Main outcome measures: During the interventions, total daily energy expenditure (TDEE), physical activity, skin temperatures, and core temperature were measured. After each condition, fasting plasma norepinephrine concentration was measured.

Results: Overfeeding caused significant increases in TDEE (0.77 MJ/d, P < 0.001). During cold exposure TDEE increased significantly (0.59 MJ/d, P < 0.005), whereas physical activity decreased. The changes in TDEE during both overfeeding and mild cold exposure showed considerable interindividual variation (respectively, -0.11 to 1.61 MJ/d and -0.19 to 1.58 MJ/d). The individual changes in energy expenditure during mild cold exposure and overfeeding were highly correlated (P < 0.005). Fasting norepinephrine plasma concentrations correlated significantly to energy expenditure in both situations (P < 0.05).

Conclusions: These results suggest that both overfeeding-induced and mild cold-induced adaptive thermogenesis share common regulating mechanisms. This indicates that cold exposure could be used as a biomarker for the individual thermogenic response to excess energy intake.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Body Composition / physiology
  • Body Temperature Regulation / physiology*
  • Cold Temperature*
  • Energy Metabolism / drug effects
  • Energy Metabolism / physiology
  • Hormones / blood
  • Humans
  • Hyperphagia / physiopathology*
  • Male
  • Skin Temperature / physiology


  • Hormones