What makes fat cells so stubborn?


A recent study discovered a mechanism that explains why some people seem to be resistant to weight gain while others are resistant to weight loss. The study published in the journal Nature Communication discovered that fat cells produce a protein called sLR11 that prevents them from burning up fat for thermogenesis. It answers some questions that we’ve had for a while and opens up the possibility of counter-acting this stubborn defense in the future.

It’s why cold thermogenesis only works for skinny people

I previously wrote about the concept of using cold thermogenesis to activate your brown fat cells and force your body to rapidly burn off stored fat, even at rest.

To briefly review, there are two types of adipose (fat) cells: brown and white. White cells are the common types of fat cells we’re all aware of. Their job is to store calories for later use. Brown fat cells are basically little furnaces that take the stored energy from white fat cells and burn it to create heat to keep us warm. While scientists have been looking for ways to medically flip on brown fat to safely burn abundant stores of white fat, many other people have being trying to figure out a way to hack this pathway and trick their own bodies into flipping on these little fat-wasters. While some lean people have found that using cold packs and ice baths did in fact increase thermogenesis, it never seemed to work for heavier people. sLR11 may be the reason. This protein binds to receptors on white fat cells and tells them to turn off thermogenesis, effectively making them more efficient energy-storers.

While this is frustrating news to people with weight to lose, it does offer some hope. For one, having a specific protein to target may make it possible to one day create that magical fat-burning pill that everyone has been hoping for. While that is probably quite a ways off, the discovery of the sLR11 protein does open up additional hope because it seems to correlate with body fat stores. People with high amounts of body fat have higher levels of sLR11, but thin people and those that lost a lot of body fat have lower levels. Like I’ve said before, successful diets are all about momentum. It can be hard to get going, but once you start to have some success, your progress keeps building. As you lose fat, your levels of sLR11 drop and your body’s ability to “waste” energy as heat increases. This is just one protein that holds you back at first, but it’s interference diminishes as you get momentum on your side. There are plenty of other metabolic processes that start working properly again as you lose weight.


Some fat is even more stubborn than others

While we’re on the subject of fat’s stubbornness, I wanted to address the idea of stubborn fat. Have you ever noticed during those times that you have lost weight, there were some areas that didn’t seem to respond as quickly as others? Do you have some areas of fat that never seem to go away no matter how lean you get? It’s because the fat in those areas truly is stubborn. It’s a defense mechanism your body uses to ensure that you don’t easily burn through all your stored fat and starve to death. On men, these stubborn areas tend to be around the belly and love handles and on women, they are around the hips and thighs.

What makes a fat cell stubborn? Basically these fat cells have too many break pedals and not enough gas pedals. When you exercise, your body releases adrenaline and noradrenalin to mobilize fat from your fat cells so it can be burned for fuel. These hormones bond to the alpha 1 and beta receptors on the surface of fat cells like a key and “unlocks” the cell, allowing the stored fatty acids to be released. To make sure too much fat isn’t released, that same hormones also bind to the alpha2 receptors which tell the fat cells to not release any stored fat. On normal fat cells, you have more “go” receptors than “stop” receptors so you only release a reasonable amount of stored fat. On stubborn cells, you have far more alpha2 receptors which is why these fat cells hold tight to their fat reserves no matter what you do. The only way to get rid of them is to keep working until you’re so lean that your body is forced to tap into the stubborn cells or take a supplement that blocks those alpha2 receptors.


A supplement that body builders have been using for years to get their stubborn fat cells to behave like regular fat cells is called yohimbine HCL. It acts as an alpha2 antagonist, meaning that it binds to all the break pedals and disables them so that the incoming adrenaline and noradrenalin can only hit the gas. It’s one of those supplements that I recommend to people that are having positive momentum to help push them past any annoying sticking points. It does work if you use it right, but it really only works for those that are successfully losing weight already.

Insulin suppresses adrenalin and noradrenalin, so if you’re eating too many carbs or not working out, it isn’t going to do much for you. It’s also one of those supplements that can make you feel pretty jittery if you’re sensitive to caffeine or similar supplements. Like I said, I don’t recommend it for everyone, but it’s something you could look into if you’re having trouble with those last few trouble areas.

Rodger L


Informative article and well written as usual. I appreciate the useful and fascinating information you share in these articles. You have a knack for explaining sometimes complicated nutrition and workout tips in clear concise language that makes sense. I often forward your articles to friends and family. Please keep up the great info and advice.

R. Lee

Chris K

Thanks so much for that. I try to keep it simple.

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