Pill to curb obesity a step closer

LONDON (TIP): Scientists have made a significant start towards creating an obesity pill. A team of researchers from Imperial College London have discovered the exact brain mechanism that drives our appetite for foods rich in glucose and could lead to treatments for obesity. Glucose is a component of carbohydrates, and the main energy source used by brain cells.

By studying rats, the team identified a mechanism that appears to sense how much glucose is reaching the brain, and prompts animals to seek more if it detects a shortfall. The researchers believe it may play a role in driving our preference for sweet and starchy foods. Dr James Gardiner from Imperial’s department of medicine who led the study, said: “Our brains rely heavily on glucose for energy. It’s clearly a very important nutrient, but in our evolutionary past it would have been hard to come by.

So we have a deeprooted preference for glucose-rich foods and seek them out.” The researchers hypothesised that an enzyme called glucokinase might play a role in driving our desire for glucose. Glucokinase is involved in sensing glucose in the liver and pancreas. It is present in the hypothalamus, an area of the brain that regulates a variety of essential functions including food intake, but its exact role was unclear. “This is the first time anyone has discovered a system in the brain that responds to a specific nutrient, rather than energy intake in general.

It suggests that when you’re thinking about diet, you have to think about different nutrients, not just count calories,” Dr Gardiner said. Dr Gardiner suggested that in humans it might be possible to reduce cravings for glucose by altering one’s diet and a drug acting on this system could potentially prevent obesity.

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