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Harvard Team Hacks Fat Cells to Burn Baby, Burn

This one’s for you exercise haters out there: Scientists have found a technique to trick fat cells into burning fat, instead of storing it.

Fact: Not all fat is the same, nor is it all terrible.


Your body has both white and brown fat cells. Functionally, white fat cells store excess energy, which can lead to weight gain and obesity, while brown fat cells actually burn excess energy, contributing to weight loss. Brown, good. White, bad. Physical activity causes fat to burn energy, or become more metabolically active. Kicking back on your couch for a Netflix binge, quite unfortunately, does not have the same effect. Still with me? Great.

So, a research team at Harvard Stem Cell Institute has published a paper in Nature detailing their successes in utilizing two molecular compounds for permanent “white-to-brown metabolic conversion.” You are deciphering that correctly: Some Harvard brains have figured out a technique to make white fat cells act like brown fat cells.

“What our study shows is that it’s possible to find a drug that would make your bad fat cells get up off the couch and do something good for you,” said co-author of the study Chad Cowan to NYMag.com’s Science of Us.

But don’t rush to gleefully cancel your hot-yogilates-power-pole-dancing-aerial-meditation classes just yet. There are no pills that offer these exercise replacement results, not yet at least, and the study doesn’t prove that a pill with one of the effective compounds would have this effect. Cowan and the Harvard team are hopeful that it would though, but say a commercial product is still about 10 years away.

The downside to this scientific advancement though is that the two effective compounds are both immunosuppressive, so the research team is on the hunt for other molecules that won’t enfeeble the immune system. Also, you’d still have to break a sweat to enjoy the other myriad benefits of working out, like improved mental health, sleep, and memory.

Hey, Harvard can’t do it all for you.

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