The newest fat-burning tool

Calories are always blamed for making our clothes tighter and our fast food decisions weightier; they have become our enemies at the gym. However, science may be able to recover the reputation of calories in the future. Researchers at both the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the University of California, Berkeley, have taken note of cells that can burn calories and expel them as heat instead of storing them as fat for later use.  


An enzyme in the cells of mice, PM20D1, eventually accumulates enough to prompt an amino acid, N-acyl, to be made within the body. N-acyl, when present in metabolic processes, requires glucose to be taken in, but does not produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP is normally stored as a source for the organism to access energy.


In the case of these new cells, the absence of ATP leads to cells needing to find energy quickly from a different source. Brown cells, or cells with dark coloring due to plenty of mitochondria, are the specific types of cells that caught the attention of the Dana-Farber and UC, Berkeley, scientists. Since these brown cells lack ATP, they were recognized for their ability to burn calories from fat first, in order to quickly access energy for metabolic processes. While the fat is being burned, heat is released as a waste product and isn’t stored in the body for later use. As the brown cells constantly need to access energy, but do not manufacture ATP, the cells must instead rely on fat as the primary means to obtain energy rapidly. When fat is utilized sooner, the body does not have the chance to retain it for later on.  


That took a lot of energy to explain. The good news is we can relate it back to our daily lives. When we eat and digest pasta, for example, our bodies search for energy to use in our metabolic processes. Since carbohydrates (in the pasta) are the easiest for the body to break down, they become the most convenient and appealing way for our bodies to access energy. Similarly, cells with N-acyl rely on burning calories from fat as the quickest, most efficient way to obtain energy when ATP is absent.  


The mice with N-acyl present in their cells were noted to have lost “significant weight” within a span of a week and one day. Furthermore, this phenomenon has been stimulating future thought – can human cells be altered to burn calories for energy before they access ATP? Bruce Spiegelman, professor of cell biology and medicine at Harvard Medical School, notes that ideas are brewing in relation to how brown cells can help mitigate the effects of "diabetes and fatty liver disease”. Brown cells can potentially aid in balancing the metabolic processes of the body, for example: making it easier for the bodies of obese individuals to burn calories faster and reach healthier weights more efficiently after an injection of brown cells.  


However, the scientists insist that more research must be completed before any official declarations. Further research is also required to discover whether injecting brown cells spike unsafe dieting amongst overweight populations. As dieters might begin to rely on these intricate inner workings in hopes of losing weight faster, they may be less inclined to stick to mindful, well-rounded diets. 

Forecasted start year: 
2020 to 2030
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