Drug that ‘turns off cravings’ and helps you stick to your diet could be possible after scientists discover the brain circuit that tempts us to indulge
- When circuit was ‘turned off’ in rats, they stopped seeking fattening foods
- Cravings contribute to obesity and binge eating, the researchers said
- Drug could help people ‘set realistic New Year’s resolutions’, they add
Scientists have edged one step closer to creating a drug that turns off our cravings for pizza, burgers and chips.
A brain circuit that tempts rats into indulging in unhealthy food has been spotted by researchers.
Tests showed that when this circuit was ‘turned off’, the rodents stopped seeking the fattening delicacies.
The researchers at the University of Texas, Galveston, hope their study could pave the way for a drug to help combat the temptation to tuck into a chocolate bar.
Scientists edge closer to creating a drug that ‘turns off our cravings’ while on a diet (stock)
Lead researcher Dr Jonathan Hommel acknowledged the results are ‘the first step in a long process from the lab to the doctor’s office’.
But he added: ‘We are planning to develop new drugs to help curb those cravings. Although it may be years before the drug is ready.
‘Our research highlights some important features of food craving that may help you set realistic New Year’s resolutions.’
More than two in three adults in the US are overweight or obese, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
And in the UK, 26 per cent of adults were classified as obese in 2016, NHS Digital statistics show.
Cutting out fatty foods while on a diet has been shown to increase our cravings for these unhealthy treats.
To determine the brain networks that drive these urges, the researchers fed rats a low-fat diet for 30 days.
The rodents were then trained to ‘request’ fatty treats by pressing a lever.
When these treats where denied to the animals, the scientists measured how many times the rats pressed the lever before giving up – which they used to gauge their cravings.
Half of the rats then had an operation that blocked the effects of the chemical neuromedin U receptor 2 (NMUR2) within the hypothalamus – the region of the brain that regulates appetite.
NMUR2 helps control food intake and body weight.
When the scientists repeated the experiment, they found the rodents that went under the knife did not persevere anywhere near as much to get their treats.
‘Craving for foods high in fat – this includes many junk foods – is an important part of obesity and binge eating,’ Dr Hommel said.
‘When trying to lose weight people often strive to avoid fatty foods, which ironically increases motivation and craving for these foods and can lead to overeating.
‘Even worse, the longer someone abstains from fatty foods, the greater the cravings.’
U.S. CHILDHOOD OBESITY RATES ARE ON THE RISE AGAIN
Data from 2015-2016 show that nearly 1 in 5 school age children and young people (6 to 19 years) in the United States has obesity
Childhood obesity is a growing problem in the U.S., according to two new studies that suggest some recent reports of progress may have been incorrect, or that a downturn was fleeting at best.
Just four years ago, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that childhood obesity rates had leveled off and touted a dramatic 43 percent decline in obesity among kids ages 2 to 5 years during a 10-year period ending in 2012.
Now, however, it appears that childhood obesity has been steadily climbing for both boys and girls since 1999, researchers report in Pediatrics.
More recently, there has also been a sharp increase in severe obesity among kids 2 to 5 years old.
‘Obesity is not going away, and all kids are still at risk,’ said lead author Asheley Cockrell Skinner of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.
‘This is not surprising, necessarily, but it is disheartening,’ Skinner said by email.
‘It tells us that our efforts to improve the health of children are not reaching across the country.’
Skinner and colleagues examined data from the CDC’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), looking at data on children’s height and weight collected in two-year cycles starting with 1999-2000 and continuing through 2015-2016.
Overall, roughly 29 percent of kids were overweight and another 20 percent were obese at the start of the study.
By the end, about 35 percent of children were overweight and another 26 percent were obese.
Obesity and severe obesity also increased sharply for kids ages 2 to 5 and for teen girls ages 16 to 19 in 2015-2016, compared to the previous two-year survey cycle.
White and Asian American children had significantly lower rates of obesity than kids of other racial and ethnic groups, including African American and Hispanic children, the study also found.
A separate study in Pediatrics focused only on the 2.1 percent of children ages 2 to 5 with severe obesity and found these kids were more likely to be from racial or ethnic minority groups.
Compared with white children, Hispanic kids this age were more than twice as likely to be obese, and African American kids had 70 percent higher odds, this study found.
Young children also had at least twice the odds of obesity when they were poor or had parents who were single or had limited education. Children who weren’t breastfed were 50 percent more likely to be obese, the study also found.
Kids who were severely obese also had twice the odds of spending four or more hours a day in front of screens, compared to non-obese children.