Most people are well aware of two of the largest threats to human health: Cancer and AIDS are two health conditions that evoke fear and often lead to death. Obesity, the greatest threat to human health according the World Health Organization, has come to evoke that same fear and now is the second leading cause of preventable death.
The other health risks associated with obesity – heart disease, diabetes and stroke – stack the cards against those who desperately want to lose their excess weight and lead long, healthy lives. In the year 2000, over 400,000 deaths in America were associated with obesity.
Scientists quoted in a review of gastrointestinal hormones and regulation of food intake that was published in 2004 by the Department of Metabolic Medicine, Imperial College Faculty of Medicine, Hammersmith Hospital, London, UK agreed that something must be done to suppress these staggering statistics. For the two-thirds of Americans that struggle with weight loss, a ray of hope just might be on the horizon.
What Does the Research Say?
Scientists who participated in Hammersmith Hospital’s research project studied six different hormones to determine which ones encouraged feelings of hunger and which ones decreased food intake. These results will guide pharmaceutical companies as they begin formulating an anti-obesity drug.
Ghrelin, a hormone found in the stomach, stimulates food intake. Too much of this hormone causes hyperphagia (eating too much) and can lead to obesity. Intravenous infusion of this hormone caused an astounding 28% increase in food intake.
Cholecystoknin (CCK) is a hormone found in the gastrointestinal system. Pancreatic secretion and gallbladder contraction are its primary functions. CCK decreases food intake and helps people feel fuller on smaller sized meals. Because the concentration levels of CCK after a meal are quite low, this hormone is unlikely to regulate a reduced appetite.
Glucagon-like-peptide-1 (GLP-1) and oxyntomodulin (OXM), hormones found in the small intestines, are rapidly released after food intake in proportion to calorie intake. These hormones assume the role of a red traffic light, sending satiety messages through the central nervous system. The GPL-1 hormone only showed slight effects on appetite suppression, but it is a likely candidate for diabetes treatment. The OXM hormone shows promise as a treatment for obesity as one experiment reduced cumulative food intake over a 24-hour period by 25%.
Peptide YY (PYY) and pancreatic polypeptide (PP), hormones found in the ileum and colon, decrease food intake and bodyweight. A deficiency in PPY hormone levels may be a factor in obese individuals; therefore, an administration of PPY (3-36) may be an effective anti-obesity therapy.
How Will This Research Help Obese Individuals?
While there isn’t a quick fix to the obesity pandemic, scientists believe the long-term study of hormones could lead to the discovery of a drug that will reduce a person’s food intake and increase their awareness of satiety. While scientists are conducting their experiments and learning which hormones to target, obese individuals can play a significant role in improving their own health by eating healthful foods and participating in a vigorous exercise regimen.
Encouragement instead of ridicule should be on the lips of anyone who interacts with an obese individual. Maybe the talk should be about how soon the anti-obesity drugs will be available – and how those drugs could change the lives of the many who struggle with obesity each day.
W.S. Dillo and S.R. Bloom (2004) Review: Gastrointestinal Hormones and Regulation of Food Intake. Horm Metab Res 2004; 36: 846-851