Diets come and go, even as some of us frantically search for ways to lose that paunch and achieve an ideal weight. Years ago, I remember some of our office workers were captivated by the popular cabbage soup diet. All I remember is that our office suite smelled like an Eastern European restaurant. I won’t reveal if it produced results!
One recent popular diet involves intermittent fasting. This means spending certain times fasting, or not eating anything. Plans vary — in some you fast every other day, some you fast for two days out of the week and some are restricted by time, where you eat only in an 8-hour window every day and fast for the other 16 hours.
Losing weight improves your health, and fasting reduces inflammation and may play a role in reducing diseases like Alzheimer’s, asthma and stroke incidence. Fasting is considered safe for most people, but it is not for everyone. Check with your physician before trying any fasting plan.
Fasting can be challenging. It can leave you hungry and fatigued, and you can experience headaches and nausea. But science may change that. What if you could take a pill that would replicate the beneficial effects of fasting without the fasting? New research is exploring the use of a cancer drug called API-PEG 20 to manage obesity by mimicking fasting metabolism.
Our metabolism is complicated, but one of the substances that our cells depend on is an amino acid called arginine. With arginine, our cells can maintain themselves and grow. When we fast, the cells in our body need to keep running without their usual building blocks, and they need arginine. When that is used up, they turn to a process called autophagy. Autophagy means that the cells recycle parts of themselves to get energy.
Tumor cells also depend on arginine to grow, and API-PEG 20 works because it contains a protein that breaks down arginine. This mimics the “fasting” state in our bodies, causing cells to destroy themselves, which leads to weight loss.
To test the drug, researchers used lab mice that were genetically engineered to become obese. Treatment with API-PEG 20 resulted in weight loss in these mice even though their food contained high amounts of fat and sugar. As a bonus effect, cholesterol levels, insulin resistance and the incidence of fatty livers were reduced. Mice receiving API-PEG 20 showed about a 25 percent weight loss compared to mice who did not receive the drug.
Is the drug safe? We know that metabolic approaches to weight loss have fewer side effects, but we still need rigorous safety testing. Researchers currently believe this is best suited for short-term treatment. Still, this represents an exciting new approach to control obesity. Obesity is a major public health problem in the United States, with almost 42 percent of Americans classified as obese, up from 31 percent in 2000.
In the future, fasting with a pill could help all of us with weight loss. Our health depends on it!
Medical Discovery News is a weekly radio and print broadcast highlighting medical and scientific breakthroughs hosted by professor emeritus, Norbert Herzog, and professor, David Niesel, biomedical scientists at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. Learn more at www.medicaldiscoverynews.com
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