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'Thunder god vine' may hold key to effective obesity drug

An extract from the Chinese plant may help with weight loss after it was found to enhance an appetite-suppressing hormone.

By
Stephen Feller
An extract from the Thunder God Vine was shown to be effective against obesity, according to a study. Photo: Eric Smith/Cell
An extract from the Thunder God Vine was shown to be effective against obesity, according to a study. Photo: Eric Smith/Cell

BOSTON, May 22 (UPI) -- An extract called celastrol from the Chinese "thunder god vine" may help with weight loss, according to a new study, by enhancing an appetite-suppressing hormone called leptin.

Researchers found that mice given high doses of the extract ate as much as 80 percent less and lost 45 percent of their weight after three weeks.

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"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," Umut Ozcan, an endocrinologist at Boston Children's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, said in a statement.

"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."

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Leptin is a hormone that signals the brain that the body is full, which has led researchers to focus on it because humans and mice without it eat voraciously and become obese. After years of research, however, scientists have not been able to find a drug that ended resistance to the hormone.

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In the study, researchers found that Celastrol was the most effective at alleviating resistance to the hormone and tested it on the mice. Ozcan said, however, that the extract is not a magic bullet and requires more research.

"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 to consume thunder god vine extracts to lose weight."

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The study is published in Cell.

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