Celastrol activates specific satiety centres in the brain which play a key role in controlling body weight.
Berlin: A plant-derived substance widely used in traditional Chinese medicine can 'switch on' the feeling of fullness and help people lose weight, scientists have found.
The study, published in the journal Diabetes, showed that the substance called Celastrol could offer a new option for the treatment of obesity.
According to expert guidelines for the prevention and treatment of obesity, patients should aim to lose between five and ten per cent of their body weight per year depending on their body mass index.
However, despite the huge amount of dietary and lifestyle choices available, only few people reach their weight loss goal.
"Yet, breaking through this 'magical barrier' is so important, as it leads to an improvement in metabolism and accompanying metabolic diseases such as type 2 diabetes," said Paul Pfluger, from the Helmholtz Zentrum Munchen (Helmholtz Center Munich) in Germany.
The researchers were able to prove that Celastrol activates specific satiety centres in the brain which play a key role in controlling body weight.
"Celastrol reactivates the body's own mechanisms for controlling weight that would otherwise be switched off in obese individuals," said Katrin Pfuhlmann, PhD student at Helmholtz Zentrum.
"Normally those affected lose that feeling of fullness because the respective hormone -- leptin -- no longer has any effect. Celastrol, the compound we examined, restores leptin sensitivity and thus the sense of satiety," said Pfuhlmann.
The researchers in fact observed a significant change in eating habits among overweight animals.
"The administration of Celastrol resulted in a much lower intake of food. Correspondingly, we observed an average loss of about ten percent in body weight within one week," said Pfluger.
The extent to which the findings will be validated in humans remains unclear, but Pfluger expresses confidence.
"Since the satiety hormone leptin has an almost identical effect in humans and mice, Celastrol has great potential," he said.
While Celastrol will not replace the changes in eating habits and lifestyle that are necessary in order to lose weight, it could support patients in their efforts to achieve permanent weight loss.