In a recent study, researchers found that a drug that targets the appetite control system in the brain could bring about significant weight loss in people with clinical obesity.
The study shows that on average, people lost 5kg (11lbs) over a 12-week period after receiving weekly doses of semaglutide.
Semaglutide is a compound currently being developed as a treatment for Diabetes.
Most of the weight loss came from a reduction in body fat.
The drug reduced food cravings, with people choosing to eat smaller meals and decreasing their preferences for foods with higher fat content.
The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Leeds.
It also added to the scientific understanding of how drug therapy can be used to tackle obesity.
For the first time, scientists saw the benefit of very specific targeting of receptors or sensors that could affect multiple components of the brain’s appetite control system.
Semaglutide is a new drug being developed by the Danish pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk as a treatment for diabetes.
Its chemical structure is very similar to the naturally-occurring hormone GLP-1 which is believed to act on the appetite control center in the hypothalamus in the brain to reduce feelings of hunger.
Given the close similarity between semaglutide and the body’s own appetite-control chemical, the study set out to examine whether the drug could also be used to tackle obesity by acting on the brain’s appetite control receptors.
In the study, the drug was given to 28 people with a body mass index (BMI) range of 30 to 45 kg/m2 — meaning they were very overweight with a lot of body fat.
The participants were split into two groups — half got semaglutide and the other half a placebo (dummy) substance for 12 weeks. They did not know what they were getting.
At the end of the 12 weeks, they were invited into a testing center and offered a lunch and evening meal and told to consume as much as they needed to feel ‘pleasantly full’.
What they were eating was recorded, along with food preferences and their sensations of liking and wanting food. Body weight and body composition — the percentage of body fat — were also recorded.
They then repeated the process, with participants who got semaglutide this time getting the placebo and vice versa.
The results were then compared. The research team found that on average the daily energy intake, a measure of the amount of food consumed, was 24 percent lower with semaglutide.
A further feature of the study was that measured energy expenditure from metabolic processes (the Resting Metabolic Rate) remained roughly the same throughout the experiment.
This suggests the weight loss could not be due to metabolism becoming more active.
Consequently, the fat loss produced by the drug could be attributed to better control over appetite.
Semaglutide is in the advanced stages of development but is not yet on the market.
John Blundell, Professor of Psycho-Biology at the University of Leeds, is the lead researcher.
The study is published in the journal Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism.
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