Shivering during repeated exposure to cold improves glucose tolerance, decreases fasting blood sugar and blood fat levels, scientists say.
It also markedly reduces blood pressure in overweight and obese adults – and may help beat diabetes, research has found.
The research presented yesterday at this year’s European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD) annual meeting in Stockholm highlighted the potential for repeated cold exposure that activates shivering as an alternative strategy to treat and prevent type 2 diabetes.
The preliminary study, by Adam Sellers, Sten van Beek, and colleagues from Maastricht University in the Netherlands points out previous research has shown that when humans are cold, glucose is cleared from the blood faster.
Brown fat was thought to play a major role in lowering blood glucose and improving insulin sensitivity, in humans, thereby helping to reduce insulin resistance and the risk of diseases, including diabetes.
“Brown fat is a metabolic heating system inside our bodies, burning calories”, Mr Sellers said.
“This generates heat and prevents calories from being deposited as normal white fat. Brown fat is activated during cold and when we eat, but its activity is less in older adults and in individuals with obesity and diabetes.”
A previous study found that 10 days of mild cold acclimation – 14C to 15C, six hours a day – markedly improved insulin sensitivity in patients with type 2 diabetes.
But the change in brown fat after cold acclimation was minor and could not explain the large improvement in insulin sensitivity.
However, after cold acclimation, changes in the body mean glucose is cleared from the blood and into the muscle. This could help beat diabetes, which is caused by sugar levels in the blood becoming too high. This can be life-threatening if not treated or controlled.
When we are cold, we can activate our brown fat because it burns energy and releases heat to protect us. In addition, muscle can contract mechanically, or shivers, thereby generating heat.