Thunder god vine: The answer to obesity?

New research suggests an extract from the thunder god vine may hold promise in fighting obesity.

Intervention from the gods to beat fat may be more easily available than previously imagined. An extract from the roots of thunder god vine (Tripterygium wilfordi) caused obese mice to lose nearly half their body weight, suggests a new study. The compound in the vine, long used in Chinese medicine, is called celastrol.

Researchers believe the compound works by boosting the power of leptin, a hormone that suppresses appetite. It’s one of the things that tells the brain when the body has enough fuel and energy, according to a release about the celastrol study, from the publishers of the journal Cell, who published the results. People and animals who lack leptin signaling eat voraciously and become 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 senior study author Umut Ozcan, an endocrinologist at Boston Children's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, said in the release. "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."

During the study, Ozcan and his colleagues found that within a week of celastrol supplementation, obese mice reduced their food intake by about 80 percent compared to the control group. By the end of the third week of supplementation, the mice lost 45 percent of their initial body weight almost entirely by burning fat stores. It also decreased cholesterol levels and improved liver function and glucose metabolism.

Sound too good to be true? There is a caveat: Some parts of the thunder god vine can be fatal. Ozcan strongly urges caution and further in-depth toxicology studies and controlled clinical trials to demonstrate the compound's safety in humans. He hopes, however, the plant may someday yield a treatment for obesity.

Sales of weight-loss supplements will reach $3.4 billion by 2020, reports Engredea.

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