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Heart Hormone Linked to Calorie-Burning Brown Fat

Rating

3 Star

Categories

Heart Hormone Linked to Calorie-Burning Brown Fat

Our Review Summary

There’s no denying our collective interest in treatments that will magically burn fat without requiring us to eat less or get off of our couches. And we’ll grant that the “brown fat” discussed in this story is scientifically intriguing in that it seems to burn calories rather than storing them as garden-variety “white fat” does. But we think it’s far too soon to be touting a group of heart hormones as holding “the key to an effective weight loss treatment” merely because they increase brown fat levels in a single study conducted in mice. Although the story did introduce some caveats, they came too late to counterbalance the overoptimistic tone of the coverage.

 

Why This Matters

How long will it be before supplement marketers start touting pills that “activate brown fat” based on this very preliminary research? Oh, wait– they already are.

Criteria

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Applicable

Not applicable. There are no established ways to increase brown fat.

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory

The story suggests that certain heart hormones, if they behave the same way in humans as they do in mice, may hold “the key to an effective weight loss treatment.” We think this is a premature and misleading statement. Even if these hormones do activate brown fat in humans (something yet to be determined), there’s no guarantee this will translate into weight loss or that the weight loss that is produced will be safe or beneficial (see more under the “harms” criterion).

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?

Satisfactory

We’ll give the benefit of the doubt here because the story does mention the possibility of unintended harms from brown fat-activating treatments. However, we thought it was worth noting — as the authors of the study did in their paper — that the hormones that activated brown fat in this study are elevated during heart failure and cancer-related wasting. Thus, any weight loss they produce may be accompanied by important adverse effects.

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Not Satisfactory

Although we’re tempted to award a grudging satisfactory based on the caveats introduced late in the text, we think the story didn’t quite measure up. The studies discussed involved mice and 6 human volunteers. In other words, they represent very preliminary steps toward understanding how brown fat works and how we might be able to manipulate it. We are years away from any drug that might capitalize on this research. The story should have been clearer about this and included its cautions higher up in the text.

 

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Satisfactory

There was no disease mongering in this story.

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?

Satisfactory

The story quotes an independent clinician, who offers useful context. We are not aware of any conflicts that should have been identified.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

The story does not discuss evidence-based strategies for weight loss, such as behavioral weight loss programs. It could also have mentioned other new research which shows, at least in mice, that exercise helps turn white fat brown.

 

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Applicable

Not applicable; there’s no product or treatment that can increase brown fat.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Not Satisfactory

The story quotes Dr. David Katz regarding the clinical importance of this research. It could also have cited his blog post on the topic, which discusses other recent studies on brown fat and notes that brown fat’s role in regulating body temperature is long established. This line of research is not as new as recent media reports suggest.

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?

Satisfactory

Since it includes an independent perspective, we can be sure the story was not based entirely on a press release.

Total Score: 4 of 8 Satisfactory

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