May 23, 2015 03:32 PM EDT
The search for the natural miracle cure to help us all lose weight despite our late night transgressions with snack foods is ongoing. The quest is global, as researchers try to parse out the hidden power of various naturally occurring plants. Now, scientists claim that an extract from the traditional Chinese medicine known as "thunder god vine" causes a dramatic reduction in food intake and a corresponding drop in weight among obese mice.
Study author Omut Ozcan, a Harvard Medical School and Boston Children's Hospital endocrinologist, explains that the substance works by enhancing leptin, a hormone derived from fat, which signals the feeling of fullness to the body when it has met its energy and fuel needs. Humans who lack leptin eat constantly, becoming morbidly obese.
"During the last two decades, there has been an enormous amount of effort to treat obesity by breaking down leptin resistance, but these efforts have failed. The message from this study is that there is still hope for making leptin work," Ozcan said in a statement.
The team found that the mice reduced their food intake by 80 percent with only one week of treatment with their extract, called Celastrol. In contrast, mice who did not get the extract maintained their weight. After three weeks of treatment, the mice lost almost half of their initial body weight. This beats out even bariatric surgery in terms of results. Other positive health effects including improved liver function and decreased cholesterol levels were also observed.
"During the last two decades, there has been an enormous amount of effort to treat obesity by breaking down leptin resistance, but these efforts have failed," says Ozcan. "The message from this study is that there is still hope for making leptin work, and there is still hope for treating obesity. If Celastrol works in humans as it does in mice, it could be a powerful way to treat obesity and improve the health of many patients suffering from obesity and associated complications, such as heart disease, fatty liver, and type 2 diabetes."
The team did not see any toxic effects in mice who were treated with the extract. However, the researchers urge caution and more study to assess the extract's safety for human use.
"Celastrol is found in the roots of the thunder god vine in small amounts, but the plant's roots and flowers have many other compounds," Ozcan said. "As a result, it could be dangerous for humans."
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