The Truth About: Harvard’s New “Magic” Weight Loss Pill

Google is alight with news of Harvard’s new fat-burning miracle pill–promises that this pill can replace treadmills abound. But how could that be? (Hint: media sensationalism)

Want the summary? There is no pill, just proof of concept. Harvard scientists have two leads on chemicals that turn white fat (the icky type we try to burn) into brown fat (babies have lots of it and it increases your metabolic rate–it’s packed with mitochondria), which could turn obesity statistics around.

Obesity is of course at the center of this story. There are two faces of malnutrition–under-nutrition and over-nutrition–and now is the time of the over-nutrition epidemic. And it is pressing: obesity can shave 8 healthy years off of your life. But loosing weight is difficult–we are efficiently designed after all–and pharmaceutical researchers are all over a chemical means of staying slim.

So, these researchers from the Harvard Stem Cell Institute used stem cells to screen compounds that turn white fat into white-fat-burning, heat-making brown fat from a library of about a thousand compounds, and they actually found two. These compounds are particularly interesting because the cells seem to turn into brown-fat-like cells for good, meaning they don’t revert back to white fat when the medication goes away.

This study just shows that there is something out there–not that it is safe. One of these compounds is actually on the market being sold to treat arthritis and affects the body’s inflammatory response. Long-term treatment could compromise immune function. This means that we have a long time before proof of concept turns into a pill for the public market.

So, until then, eat your vegetables and go for a hike–it’s good for your waistline and your soul.

What do you think? Sensational news or sensationalized story?

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