Quantification of the Capacity for Cold-Induced Thermogenesis in Young Men With and Without Obesity

J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2019 Oct 1;104(10):4865-4878. doi: 10.1210/jc.2019-00728.


Objective: Cold exposure increases energy expenditure (EE) and could have a role in combating obesity. To understand this potential, we determined the capacity for cold-induced thermogenesis (CIT), the EE increase above the basal metabolic rate at the individualized coldest tolerable temperature before overt shivering.

Design: During a 13-day inpatient protocol, we quantitated the EE of 12 lean men and 9 men with obesity at various randomly ordered ambient temperatures in a room calorimeter. Subjects underwent brown fat imaging after exposure to their coldest tolerable temperature.

Results: CIT capacity was 300 ± 218 kcal/d (mean ± SD) or 17 ± 11% in lean men and 125 ± 146 kcal/d or 6 ± 7% in men with obesity (P = 0.01). The temperature below which EE increased, lower critical temperature (Tlc), was warmer in lean men than men with obesity (22.9 ± 1.2 vs 21.1 ± 1.7°C, P = 0.03), but both had similar skin temperature (Tskin) changes and coldest tolerable temperatures. Whereas lean subjects had higher brown fat activity, skeletal muscle activity increased synchronously with CIT beginning at the Tlc in both groups, indicating that muscle is recruited for CIT in parallel with brown fat, not sequentially after nonshivering thermogenesis is maximal.

Conclusions: Despite greater insulation from fat, men with obesity had a narrower range of tolerable cool temperatures available for increasing EE and less capacity for CIT than lean men, likely as a result of greater basal heat production and similar perception to Tskin cooling. Further study of the reduced CIT capacity in men with obesity may inform treatment opportunities for obesity.

Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT01568671.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue, Brown / metabolism
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Basal Metabolism
  • Body Composition / physiology
  • Body Mass Index
  • Cold Temperature*
  • Energy Metabolism / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Obesity / metabolism
  • Obesity / physiopathology*
  • Thermogenesis / physiology*
  • Young Adult

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT01568671