UMass Amherst Anthropologist Receives $230,000 NSF Grant to Study if Brown Adipose Tissue Affects Menopause

Lynnette Leidy Sievert to examine if the fatty tissue impacts hot flashes
Lynnette Leidy Sievert
Lynnette Leidy Sievert

AMHERST, Mass. – University of Massachusetts anthropologist Lynnette Leidy Sievert has received a three-year, $230,678 National Science Foundation grant to study whether brown adipose tissue – a type of fat that generates heat – may be a factor associated with hot flashes in women. The project will focus on peri-menopausal and early postmenopausal women aged 45-55, during the cold months – late October to early April – in western Massachusetts.

When brown adipose tissue is activated by cool or cold conditions, it creates heat in an effort to keep the body warm. This project will investigate if women with more brown adipose tissue activity will be more likely to demonstrate and report hot flashes, if brown adipose tissue activity is more likely to be associated with hot flashes in heavier women, and if adaptation to heat and exposure to lower temperatures amplifies the association between brown adipose tissue activity and hot flashes.

The study will involve face-to-face interviews, body measurements, body composition analysis and an estimation of brown adipose tissue activity. For 24 hours, participants will wear an ambulatory hot flash monitor to record both objective and subjective hot flashes, and an Actigraph GT9X watch to measure activity and sleep patterns.

“I’ve been studying menopause for over thirty years,” Sievert says, “and I’ve been measuring hot flashes for twenty years in various projects in the U.S., Mexico, and Bangladesh. I’m interested in why women living in Massachusetts describe feeling hot and cold at the same time. I think the activation of brown adipose tissue might provide a clue.”

Sievert, a professor of anthropology at UMass Amherst, will serve as principal investigator in the study. She will be joined by co-PI Daniel Brown, professor emeritus of anthropology at the University of Hawai‘i Hilo.

The researchers hope that the study will address human variation in the ability to generate and dissipate heat, and that the findings will help shed light on modern human biological adaptations. They also hope that the outcomes of their research may also inform clinical understanding and treatments of conditions that affect many women in the U.S., including hot flashes and obesity.

The complete abstract for the project, “Brown Adipose Tissue, Biological Variation and Senescence in Humans,” is available to view on the NSF’s website now.