Journal of Endocrinology

 Diet-induced thermogenesis: fake friend or foe?

Diet-induced thermogenesis (DIT) is energy dissipated as heat after a meal, contributing 5–15% to total daily energy expenditure (EE). There has been a long interest in the intriguing possibility that a defect in DIT predisposes to obesity. However, the evidence is conflicting; DIT is usually quantified by indirect calorimetry, which does not measure heat. Using gas exchange, indirect calorimetry measures total post-prandial EE, which comprises heat energy produced from brown adipose tissue (BAT) and energy required for processing and storing nutrients. We questioned whether DIT is reliably quantified by indirect calorimetry by employing infrared thermography to independently assess thermogenesis. Thermogenic activity of BAT was stimulated by cold and by a meal that induced a parallel increase in energy production. These stimulatory effects on BAT thermogenesis were inhibited by glucocorticoids. However, glucocorticoids enhanced postprandial EE in the face of reduced BAT thermogenesis and stimulated lipid synthesis. The increase in EE correlated significantly with the increase in lipogenesis. As energy cannot be destroyed (first law of thermodynamics), the energy that would have been dissipated as heat after a meal is channeled into storage. Post-prandial EE is the sum of heat energy that is lost (true DIT) and chemical energy that is stored. Indirect calorimetry does not reliably quantify DIT. When estimated by indirect calorimetry, assumed DIT can be a friend or foe of energy balance. That gas exchange-derived DIT reflects solely energy dissipation as heat is a false assumption likely to explain the conflicting results on the role of DIT in obesity.