Published on 3 January 2019

Researchers target chemical signals that affect the amount people want to eat.

The amount of food a person wants to consume could be reduced to help people lose weight.

Researchers at the Gastrointestinal Disease Research Unit at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada have carried out a study that showed how it could be possible to disrupt chemical signals that affect how much someone eats, which they hope could lead to a method for helping manage obesity.

According to latest figures around one in four adults and around one in every five children aged 10 to 11 is obese, which can lead to a number of additional health complications, including heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

The findings of the report, recently published in The Journal of Physiology, could provide an alternative to weight loss surgery, which while effective in weight loss, is not widely available due to invasiveness and frequent complications of the procedure.

Michael Beyak, one of the study authors, said: “Obesity is one of the most prevalent public health concerns. It is associated with the chemical signals sent between the brain and gut being disrupted. Blocking the mechanism causing this disruption increases the sensitivity of the nerves involved and might help in the management of obesity.”

There is not currently much known about the how molecular mechanisms work around obesity and the authors of the study wanted to target the nerve cells involved in sending signals between the brain and gut in the search for possible alternative treatments to prevent obesity.

How much food someone eats and how their metabolism responds is in part affected by the vagus nerve – which communicates between the gut and the brain.

During the study researchers found that nitric oxide is responsible for decreasing the sensitivity of nerves that send messages from the gut to the brain about how full someone is after a meal.

The researchers showed that when a specific enzyme (inducible nitric oxide synthase) was increased in obesity, it caused higher levels of nitric oxide.

By blocking the enzyme that produces nitric oxide with specific drugs the sensitivity of the nerves was increased and normal chemical signals between the brain and gut was resumed.

Researchers concluded: “The significance of the results will help us to better understand how obesity impairs the normal controls on eating, which in turn perpetuates the cycle of overeating and weight gain.”

They added: “The study is limited in that the findings were in animals and not in humans. Furthermore observations made in the lab may not always translate to human subjects. Given that food intake was short lived there may be other mechanisms that take over in obesity that may continue to impair controls on food intake.”

In follow-up studies the researchers plan to look at what cell types are responsible for releasing excess nitric oxide and what causes the increase in the obesity to see if the process can be affected before it begins.

Read the report in The Journal of Physiology
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