Health & Wellbeing

Diet pill tricks body into burning fat, by making it think you've eaten

Lead scientist Ronald Evans consuming an "imaginary meal," of the type that fexaramine could cause the body to believe is being consumed (Photo: Salk Institute for Biological Studies)
Lead scientist Ronald Evans consuming an "imaginary meal," of the type that fexaramine could cause the body to believe is being consumed (Photo: Salk Institute for Biological Studies)
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Lead scientist Ronald Evans consuming an "imaginary meal," of the type that fexaramine could cause the body to believe is being consumed (Photo: Salk Institute for Biological Studies)
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Lead scientist Ronald Evans consuming an "imaginary meal," of the type that fexaramine could cause the body to believe is being consumed (Photo: Salk Institute for Biological Studies)
Prof. Evans with a vial of fexaramine (Photo: Salk Institute for Biological Studies)
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Prof. Evans with a vial of fexaramine (Photo: Salk Institute for Biological Studies)
From left: Salk researchers Ruth Yu, Sungsoon Fang, Annette Atkins, Ronald Evans, Michael Downes and Sandra Jacinto (Photo: Salk Institute for Biological Studies)
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From left: Salk researchers Ruth Yu, Sungsoon Fang, Annette Atkins, Ronald Evans, Michael Downes and Sandra Jacinto (Photo: Salk Institute for Biological Studies)

When we eat a meal, our body detects that we've consumed calories and responds by burning fat in order to make room for them. The catch for the weight-conscious is that if we don't burn off those newly-arrived calories, they just end up being stored as more fat. For people with metabolic disorders or other conditions, exercise just isn't enough to keep that from happening. Soon, however, a newly-developed drug could help. It triggers the body's "burning fat to make space for calories" response, even when the patient hasn't eaten anything.

Known as fexaramine, the drug was developed by a team at California's Salk Institute for Biological Studies, led by Prof. Ronald Evans. It activates a protein called the farensoid X receptor (FXR) that is ordinarily "turned on" at the beginning of a meal, and which causes the body to burn fat in preparation for the incoming calories.

While other drugs have previously been developed to artificially trigger FXR, they end up entering the patient's bloodstream. From there, they affect multiple parts of the body, causing side effects such as heart disease, high blood pressure and insomnia.

By contrast, when administered orally, fexaramine is absorbed only into the gut. This should not only drastically decrease side effects, but it reportedly also allows the drug to work better than others at causing fat to be burned. This is because it mimics the natural process by beginning the reaction from within the intestines, instead of from multiple locations in the body.

"The body’s response to a meal is like a relay race, and if you tell all the runners to go at the same time, you’ll never pass the baton," said Evans. "We’ve learned how to trigger the first runner so that the rest of the events happen in a natural order."

Prof. Evans with a vial of fexaramine (Photo: Salk Institute for Biological Studies)
Prof. Evans with a vial of fexaramine (Photo: Salk Institute for Biological Studies)

In lab tests, one group of obese mice were given fexaramine pills every day, while a control group received none. After five weeks of taking the pills, the treated mice ceased gaining weight and lost body fat, plus their blood sugar and cholesterol levels were lower than those of the control group. Additionally, some of their remaining white fat deposits changed into easier-to-burn beige fat.

The scientists are now looking towards human clinical trials. It is hoped that fexaramine could ultimately be used to treat not only obesity, but also diseases such as diabetes – although patients would still be advised to also make diet and lifestyle changes.

Along somewhat similar lines, a food additive being developed in the UK is designed to stimulate the gut to produce appetite-regulating hormones, thus causing the patient to "feel full" after eating less food.

A paper on the Salk research was recently published in the journal Nature Medicine.

Source: Salk Institute via Popular Science

11 comments
Derek Howe
It seems like all these magical pills are just on the horizon...an horizon that we seem to never be able to reach.
christopher
This does not sound real. I'm skinny, and no matter how much I eat, my weight never changes. Personally, I think I'm defective, same as every other skinny person. It simply makes no sense to discard food energy, like my body seems to do. Surely "fat" people are the normal non-defective humans who's bodies properly store their food? The mere concept that a body might "burn fat" (whatever that's supposed to mean, and it seems, without you even doing anything) in order to prepare to on-board more fat a patently absurd statement.
xs400
And does it help keep the weight off permanently? What about the body adapting to and requiring increasing amounts of the drug? I doubt the body's key mechanism to survive can be fooled easily.
Kim Patrick
Sign me up for the trial!
mvp
Really?? Just another hocus-pocus, scam product trying to be the next miracle cure for weight/fat loss. If this gets to market, the only thing that will lose weight is one's wallet. Getting tired of all these diet du jours...
genefowler1
Doesn't your stomack secrete acid when it senses your eating ? The acid will start eating your stomach if it can't attack food.
ezeflyer
Diet pill shmiet pill. What I need is a pill to make me young again. It could happen.
pwndecaf
Right! Read the titles and dates of the related articles. Soon!
Mac McDougal
Call me gullible, but I love this idea. I think Ben Coxworth has written a clear account of a difficult metabolic process, whose benefits are pretty straightforward: encouraging the body to burn fat => even when a person has not eaten. This is the foundation of all credible weight-loss programs: Eat less than you metabolize. The mental aspect--I feel hungry--is the great hurdle. This treatment addresses that directly, yes?
oldguy
If you cut down on the amount of food you eat, and do a little excercise, you lose weight. Okay, right now its just a theory....