Few things are better for us or more difficult to sustain than losing weight. Whatever the cause–genetics, environment, our own bad choices–human bodies can be easily turned into sugar-craving machines. Turning our bodies from that course is easy enough for a week or three, but sustaining weight loss over many months and years is notoriously difficult.
No one knows this better than scientists and researchers, which is why so much effort over the years has gone into developing weight loss drugs and treatments. After all, if a simple pill could melt the pounds away, we might not have to deal with the excruciating difficulty of changing our habits. But what if that elusive weight-loss pill wasn’t a pill after all, but a spray? And what if the active ingredient of the drug wasn’t something created entirely in a laboratory, but instead a naturally occurring substance?
That’s the exciting promise of a new treatment for obesity being developed by researchers at the University of Florida. Sergei Zolotukhin, an associate professor of cellular and molecular therapy at the university, has been looking into peptide YY. Our bodies release it naturally after eating, providing a feeling of satiety (or fullness).
“When mice were treated with a solution of this peptide using a simple spray, with one puff they will consume less food and they will start losing weight,” Zolotukhin said. “The implications are very simple: If you put peptide YY in a spray or gum and you take it half an hour before dinner, you will feel full faster and consume less food. It could be just a 5 or 10 percent difference, but it is enough to stimulate weight loss.”
Scientists have known about peptide YY’s effects for some time, but earlier studies ran into a substantial roadblock. Injections of the substance into patients’ bloodstreams made them throw up. Apparently, the injections made people’s bodies feel way too full. The natural reaction to that feeling of super overfullness? Throwing up.
The key, those University of Florida researchers discovered, is using the substance in a spray form. It allows a more subtle bodily reaction. And that’s a critical difference that could lead to further development of the drug for use in the general public.
“Comparing systemic peptide YY versus salivary PYY,” Zolotukhin said, “what we have found is that although salivary PYY induces similar neuronal pathways to induce fullness, at the same time, it does not induce the neuronal pathways that cause visceral sickness.”
So what’s next for this promising treatment? The researchers have received funding from the National Institutes of Health for further studies, which will help prepare the treatment for human trials. A company might also be willing to license their work and take development further.
With scientists, public health officials and everyday folk the world over looking for simple ways to reduce obesity, one can only assume that we’ll be hearing more from peptide YY in years to come. The study was published in the Nov. 20 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience.