As human beings age, their ability to regulate body temperature decreases. As recent events in Florida demonstrated, that can have drastic consequences during hot weather. But cold weather is just as dangerous to the elderly, if not more so. As we age, our average body temperature decreases, leaving us more susceptible to developing hypothermia. Recent research on mice has found that a common dietary supplement could help older people to better generate body heat to keep themselves warm in cold weather.
One way that we keep ourselves warm is through the activation of brown fat. There are two types of fat in the body: white fat and brown fat. White fat is the unhealthy fat that builds up due to dietary issues such as overconsumption of food. Brown fat is different and is used by the body to generate body heat. Adult human beings don’t have very much brown fat, it normally is found mostly in babies. Still, the little bit that adults do have is activated during cold weather to help keep the body warm. Mice have large stores of brown fat, which makes them an ideal subject for the study of brown fat and its effects on body temperature.
Researchers found that older mice had lower levels of a fatty ester known as acylcarnitines in their blood. Acylcarnitine levels in the blood rose rapidly in younger mice in response to lower temperature but remained low in older mice. Providing older mice with the dietary supplement L-carnitine raised acylcarnitine levels in their blood.
While researchers normally associate higher levels of acylcarnitines with problems such as muscle stress or disease, they traced the trail of acylcarnitines within the mice and found them emanating from the liver, from which they traveled through the blood into brown fat, which broke down the acylcarnitines to generate body heat. Researchers then decided to lower the acylcarnitine levels in the blood of younger mice, leading to their inability to stay warm in lower temperatures. The conclusion therefore is that higher acylcarnitine levels at lower temperatures help the body generate body heat to stay warm.
Studies in mice don’t always correlate to effects in human beings, but further research in humans could indicate similar effects of L-carnitine within the human body. If L-carnitine supplementation can be shown to help activate brown fat in the human body and keep the body warm in cold temperatures, it could end up being a relatively simple way to stave off cold-related ailments in older adults.