The stress experienced during anticipating a math test can help one lose weight. The study, published in the journal Experimental Physiology, states that the actual math test did not trigger the stress but the anticipation did, raising the cortisol levels and encouraging the brown fat to produce heat.

According to the researchers, the findings have implications on solving obesity. They handed out a short math test to five healthy women and measured their stress responses by looking at the cortisol levels in their saliva.

The brown fat activity was quantified with an infrared thermography to determine the temperature changes on the participant’s skin over the area where brown fat activity happens.

Flickr/Tony Alter

Flickr/Tony Alter

Expecting the math test increased the participants’ cortisol levels and the brown fat heat. The high cortisol level was associated with increased fat activity, which indicates more heat production. The researchers believe the individual differences stemmed from each person’s response to psychological stress.

The team notes that severe and long-term stress leads to poor health. However, this study shows that inducing mild stress might be helpful to solve obesity if used with other treatments.

The researchers suggest that more studies about how diet and activity impacts brown fat activity must be done. This way, improved management strategies would be created to prevent obesity and diseases associated with weight gain, such as diabetes.

Other studies have shown that cold temperatures or environments can increase brown fat activity. The activity increased up to 30 to 40 percent when exposed to low temperatures.

Brown fat was believed to only occur in babies. Previous research has proved that adults have 50 to 100 grammes of brown fat, mainly found in the neck or the supraclavicular region.

The brown fat burns energy and produces heat, 300 times more than any other tissues. Those who have lower body mass index were said to have more brown fat but the association remains to be poorly understood.