Although coffee consumption does potentially pose some health risks, studies have also suggested that it may lower incidences of maladies such as prostate cancer, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and heart disease. Now, scientists believe that it could also help fight obesity.

Our bodies have two types of fat: white fat, which stores excess calories, and brown fat, which produces body heat by burning calories. An overabundance of the former causes people to become obese, while a plentitude of the latter allows them to stay slim.

Additionally, artificially stimulating someone's existing brown fat to burn calories – instead of allowing those calories to be stored – should also assist in keeping that person from packing on the pounds. According to Britain's University of Nottingham, though, so far no groups have developed an acceptable method of stimulating such activity in humans.

In order to change that, researchers at the university started by conducting lab tests utilizing stem cells, to find out if caffeine could be used to stimulate brown fat. After determining that a certain dosage did do the trick, they then proceeded to see if the same effect could be produced in humans.

Doing so involved using a unique thermal imaging technique to locate and observe the activity of brown fat in the neck, which is where most of that fat is located. Thirty minutes after nine test subjects drank coffee, their brown fat had indeed gotten warmer, indicating that it was burning calories. Further studies are now required in order to ascertain if the caffeine in the coffee was solely responsible, or if there are also other ingredients in the beverage that helped produce the reaction.

"This is the first study in humans to show that something like a cup of coffee can have a direct effect on our brown fat functions," says Prof. Michael Symonds, co-director of the study. "The potential implications of our results are pretty big, as obesity is a major health concern for society and we also have a growing diabetes epidemic."

A paper on the research was recently published in the journal Scientific Reports.