Stuffing Chips - © Michael Moss - Salt Sugar Fat Book

Sunday Musings: The Real, True Basis Of Obesity?

The work is still in it’s earliest stages, but researchers at Yale University may have uncovered the basic, root mechanism behind obesity. And like so many other critical health functions, the key to controlling overweight appears to lie in the brain, not the body…

Fat Woman Eating - © Daily MailCould controlling irresistible hunger be as easy as controlling the
presence of a single, key brain protein in the hypothalamus?

The Yale team says understanding and controlling obesity may all boil down to the action of one protein on the hypothalamus – the tiny but powerful brain structure that mediates many critical human system functions. It’s important to note that the research is currently taking place at mouse level, but mice have been shown, over and over again, react similarly to humans in many ways.

What they did

The team started to study the protein augmentor-alpha because of its connection to cancer. But they changed their focus along the way when they discovered that the substance was expressed within cells called agouti-related peptide (AgRP) neurons, which are known to promote hunger.

“AgRP neurons are so important for feeling hunger that without them, you wouldn’t eat. You’d die,” said Dr.Tamas Horvath, a co-author of the study. “So when it became clear that augmentor-alpha was dominantly expressed in these neurons, it immediately suggested that augmentor-alpha was involved in metabolism.”

What they found

The team found further evidence of a link between augmentor-alpha and metabolism when they observed that fasting increased the expression of augmentor-alpha in these neurons. In simple terms, the protein appears to signal your body to eat.

“Fasting appeared to be a signal to make more of this protein,” said Joseph Schlessinger, senior author of the study.

The takeaway

According to an abstract of the study, “Augmentor-alpha regulates body weight in mice, an insight that could lead to new treatments for [many] metabolic disorders.” And one of the most common and most costly to society among such disorders is obesity. “Drugs that inhibit augmentor-alpha – which certain cancer drugs […] do – could be repurposed for metabolic disorders where excess weight can exacerbate disease. And the enhancement of augmentor-alpha’s effect might offer a treatment option for people experiencing harmful weight loss, such as those with anorexia, cachexia [a serious ‘wasting disorder’], or persistent loss of appetite due to drug side effects or injury.”

My take

Okay. It sounds simple (and I like simple): Suppress augmentor-alpha to suppress hunger pangs. And sideline overeating – a key issue that drives overweight and obesity. But there is lots more incremental research to be done on this critical protein before treatments for appetite- and hypothalamus-related metabolic disorders are rolled out by big pharma.

Based on the journeys of other ‘major medical discoveries’ in the past, from theory to product, it could be 10 years or more before augmentor-alpha therapies become generally available. If, that is, researchers don’t hit some unconquerable snag along the way.

For now, though, this simple, fundamental discovery by the Yale team seems to hold great promise for solving the nagging mysteries of many metabolic disorders that cause millions of people constant suffering and cost the western world’s health care systems hundreds of billions of dollars every year..

Muse on that…

~ Maggie J.