Lab Mouse - © jax.org

FLASH: Old Drug A New Treatment For Obesity?

An international team of researchers working under the auspices of the US National Institute on Aging (NIA) say they’ve discovered a possible ‘magic bullet’ cure for obesity. They experimented on mice, but lab test results on mice often translate to treatments for humans…

Fat Woman Eating - © Daily MailIf disulfiram works as well for weight loss in humans as it does in mice, it
might be a ticket to a whole new, longer, healthier life for the obese…

Doctors Michel Bernier and Rafael de Cabo wanted to see what effects the well-known drug disulfiram, used for more than 50 years to treat alcohol abuse disorder, would have on mice. They twigged to the possibility that the drug might help fight obesity when they learned of other studies that claimed to show positive results when the drug was used to treat diabetes, which is often found in company with overweight and obesity.

What they did

They first induced obesity in a group of 9-month old (middle aged) mice by feeding them a high-Fat diet. As expected, the mice started to show signs of pre-diabetes-like metabolic problems, such as insulin resistance and elevated fasting blood sugar levels. Then they split up the mice into four groups to be fed four different diets for an additional 12 weeks: a standard diet alone, a high-fat diet alone, a high-fat diet with a low amount of disulfiram, or a high-fat diet with a higher amount of disulfiram.

What they found

The mice on the high-Fat diet stayed fat. The mice on the healthy diet gradually lost weight and got healthier. But the mice on the high- and low-disulfiram-augmented diets showed remarkable improvement:

“Mice on the high disulfiram dose lost as much as 40 percent of their body weight in just four weeks, effectively normalizing their weight to that of obese mice who were switched back to [the] standard diet. Mice in [both] disulfiram dose diet group[s] became leaner and showed significant improvement in blood glucose levels on par with the mice who were returned to standard diet.”

Researchers were amazed

“When we first went down this path, we did not know what to expect, but once we started to see data showing dramatic weight loss and leaner body mass in the mice, we turned to each other and couldn’t quite believe our eyes,” Bernier said.

The key to the positive results seem to stem from disulfiram’s anti-inflammatory properties, which helped the treated mice avoid imbalances in fasting glucose and protected them from the damage of a fatty diet and weight gain while improving metabolic efficiency.

The researchers are planning further experiments including controlled clinical trials to see whether disulfiram could help humans suffering from morbid obesity lose weight and get their metabolic houses in order. They also want to know more about the mechanisms by which the drug achieves its beneficial effects.

My take

We are always cautioned by reserchers presenting hopeful experimental results on drugs and dietary amendments that there’s no such thing as a ‘magic bullet’ that will instantly wipe out a given affliction. But it appears that disulfiram may be as close as we could ever hope to get to a ‘magic’ cure for obesity and, by association, the whole host of metabolic ills and co-morbidities that go with it, from diabetes to heart disease and more.

Factor-in the historically low risk that disufiram has presented when treating alcohol abuse disease, and you’ve got an even better bet for the long-sought cure for one of society’s most serious and culturally burdensome conditions. We’ll be watching developments closely…

~ Maggie J.

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