New Drug to Help Maintain Weight Loss

By Chelsea Whyte on July 27, 2012 3:13 PM EDT

waist measuring tape
A new drug has been shown to help mice lose weight and keep slim. (Photo: Creative Commons: Helga Weber)

A new drug that combats the munchies could help shed pounds and keep them off, according to a study published in Cell Metabolism.

The drug, called JD5037, increases sensitivity to the hormone leptin, a natural appetite suppressant found in the body. Obese people become desensitized to leptin, a process that is thought to involved cannabinoid receptors - the same receptors that are stimulated by marijuana use.

When the body becomes desensitized to a hormone, studies have shown that simple supplements aren't effective. So this new drugs works around that limitation, blocking cannabinoid receptors around the body.

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A previous drug called rimonabant also blocked cannabinoid receptors, but did so in the brain, causing psychiatric side effects. Rimonabant arrived on the European market in 2006, but was pulled a few years later because it caused anxiety and depression, reports Fox News.

To alleviate those side effects, this new drug targets cannabinoid receptors in the muscle and liver, which can eliminate the hunger pangs stimulated by those receptors and reintroduce the body to leptin.

"By sensitizing the body to naturally occurring leptin, the new drug could not only promote weight loss, but also help maintain it," says senior study author George Kunos of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. "This finding bodes well for the development of a new class of compounds for the treatment of obesity and its metabolic consequences."

Kunos and his team used overfed, obese mice to test JD5037. Given the drug daily for about a month, the mice lost 28 percent of their body weight, returning to normal mouse weight. The mice lost the weight while still eating the high-fat diets that plumped them up in the first place.

The drug suppressed their appetite and even improved metabolic health, in part by resensitizing mice to the appetite-suppressing hormone leptin, researchers asid. Importantly, the mice did not show signs of anxiety or other behavioral side effects.

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