An extract from the peeled root of the thunder god vine, Tripterygium wilfordii, used in traditional Chinese medicine, lowers food intake and causes up to a 45% decrease in body weight in obese mice. The active weight-loss compound is called Celastrol. Its potent mechanism of action sensitizes cells to an appetite-suppressing hormone called leptin. The research, entitled “Treatment of Obesity with Celastrol” published in “Cell,” is an indicator that a purified Celastrol compound could be developed into a drug for obesity.
Senior researcher Umut Ozcan, an endocrinologist at Boston children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School states, “During the last two decades, there has been an enormous amount of effort to treat obesity by breaking down leptin resistance, but these efforts have failed. The message from this study is that there is still hope for making leptin work, and there is still hope for treating obesity. If Celastrol works in humans as it does in mice, it could be a powerful way to treat obesity and improve the health of many patients suffering from obesity and associated complications, such as heart disease, fatty liver, and type 2 diabetes.”
Leptin, a fat cell derived hormone, tells the brain that the body has enough food. Mice and people that lack leptin signaling eat huge quantities and become morbidly obese. Leptin does not reduce hunger or food intake in the obese regardless of high levels of leptin in the bloodstream.
Ozcan et al. found that Celastrol improved cell sensitivity to leptin in human cells. Obese mice reduced food intake approximately 80% compared to untreated obese mice. After three weeks of treatment, the mice lost 45% of their body weight by burning fat stores.
This impressive weight-loss exceeds the weight-loss produced by bariatric surgery. In addition, Celastrol lowered cholesterol levels and improved liver function and glucose metabolism. This translates into a lower risk for heart disease, fatty liver, and type 2 diabetes.
“Even though Celastrol did not produce toxic effects in mice, Ozcan strongly urges caution for now because in-depth toxicology studies and controlled clinical trials are needed to demonstrate the compound’s safety in humans. “ Celastrol is found in the roots of the thunder god vine in small amounts, but the plant’s roots and flowers have many other compounds,” he says. “As a result, it could be dangerous for humans to consume thunder god vine extracts to lose weight.””
In future research, Ozcan et al. will investigate Celastrol at the molecular level. Moreover, how it improves leptin sensitivity producing weight-loss. “We have been heavily focusing on this line of research in my laboratory and hope that this approach will help us to understand the mechanisms in nature that are leading to the development of obesity,” Ozcan says. “In the end, my main goal is to see this research leading to a novel and powerful treatment for obesity in humans.”
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Cell, Liu et al. “Treatment of Obesity with Celastrol“
Press, C. (2015, May 22). “Thunder god vine used in traditional Chinese medicine is a potential obesity treatment.” Medical News Today. Retrieved from
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