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'Good' Fat is a New Weapon in the Obesity Fight

weight, weight loss, obesity, overweight, fat, drug, acomplia, rimonabant, zimultiA new understanding of brown fat cells -- the "good" kind of fat that burns energy and keeps you warm -- could lead to new treatments for obesity.

Researchers managed to use a single molecular switch to turn immature muscle cells into brown fat cells in the lab, suggesting that brown fat may be more akin to muscle cells than conventional white fat cells. Another team has discovered that a protein important for bone growth helped promote the development of brown fat tissue in mice.

Both teams said their new findings lend understanding about the origins of brown fat, which releases energy, in contrast to conventional white fat, which stores energy.

Researchers believe that if they can coax the body into making more calorie-burning brown fat, this might help obese people lose weight.

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

Obesity is a public health disaster of enormous (pun intended) proportions. The prevalence of obesity in the U.S. has increased from:

  • 12 percent in 1991
  • to 18 percent in 1998
  • to 34 percent in 2006, according to CDC obesity data

A full two-thirds of the U.S. population is now considered overweight. However, in some ethnic groups the rates are even higher, such as African-American women, of whom 78 percent are currently either overweight or obese.

If the trends of the past two decades continue, researchers estimate that 86 percent of American adults will be overweight by 2030, with an obesity rate of 51 percent.

With a market like that, pharmaceutical companies are naturally busy at work trying to create new drugs to cash in on this “health” opportunity that they have created by facilitating the average consumer and physician belief that there is a pill solution for every disease.

What Have Diet Drugs Accomplished So Far?

Unfortunately, history has shown us that this tactic has led to no progress in stopping or reversing obesity, and instead has unleashed a litany of dangerous drugs and surgical procedures on a more or less desperate, unsuspecting, public.

In several cases, this newsletter published some of the first warnings about these drugs, prior to their subsequent removal from the market, including Redux and Fen-phen. Redux was eventually withdrawn due to findings linking it to heart valve abnormalities in about 30 percent of users, and Fen-phen was found to cause irreversible heart damage.

Other dangerous options for losing weight include the recently released drug Alli, and gastric bypass procedures.

I can assure you, with a very high degree of certainty that any drug created from these latest findings on how to coax your body into making more calorie-burning brown fat cells will fail due to unforeseen, and most likely dangerous side effects.

Let’s take a look at another recent “miracle” diet drug that is now turning out to have less than savory side effects.

Happiness is Losing Weight – Or is It?

In March of 2004, I ran a story about Rimonabant, a new miracle diet drug marketed under the name Acomplia. Acomplia induces weight-loss by blocking the CB1 receptors both in your peripheral and central nervous system, which quiets your appetite and suppresses cravings. In addition to that, studies showed that the drug had lots of other health benefits, including:

  • decreased levels of triglycerides
  • decreased levels of dangerous blood fats
  • decreased levels of small dense LDL, the so-called "bad cholesterol,"
  • decreased levels of C-reactive protein, a dangerous sign of inflammation of your arteries
  • improved metabolic syndrome symptoms that signal impending diabetes and heart disease
  • raised HDL levels, which protect your heart
  • prevented fat cells from storing fat

No doubt Sanofi-Synthelabo, the makers of the wonder drug, threw a giant party when scientists and physicians heralded Rimonabant as “a potential lifesaver that can reduce a constellation of risk factors for diabetes and heart disease.”

My comment in the March 24, 2004 issue of this newsletter read as follows:

“I can predict with confidence that it will fail. It will have some kind of fatal flaw, because any drug in any form will not address the underlying cause of the disease. This is just another one of man’s foolish attempts to have his cake and eat it too, literally. This drug won’t work--mark my words.”

Accomplia was approved for marketing in the European Union in June 2006, despite reports in 2005 about possible toxicity. Some were also less than impressed with its weight loss effects. At the end of 2 years, patients who took the drug for one year and placebo for the second year had about the same amount of overall weight loss as patients who took placebo from the very beginning.

Fast-forward yet another couple of years, and by June 2007, the U.S. FDA held a committee meeting with expert witnesses stating that Rimonabant could cause toxicity throughout your body. That same month the FDA rejected the drug due to findings of several serious side effects, including:

  • severe depression and anxiety
  • irritability
  • insomnia
  • panic attacks
  • aggression
  • suicide

Many patients had to take antidepressants or tranquilizers to keep these symptoms under control.

The drug has been intended to be marketed in the U.S. under the name Zimulti, but as of yet has not been able to gain approval by the FDA for use in the United States.

Which brings us up to today. According to Cancer Center researcher M.D. Anderson, Acomplia (Rimonabant) may increase your risk of colorectal cancer by increasing the size of polyps that are precursors of colorectal cancer.

Reporting in the August 1, 2008 issue of the journal Cancer Research, scientists said their preclinical research shows that the cannabinoid cell receptor CB1 -- associated with relieving pain and nausea, elevating mood and stimulating appetite -- also appears to play a tumor-suppressing role.

So blocking CB1 with Rimonabant not only puts a lid on your appetite, it also shuts down your natural capacity to regulate your mood, and can allow tumors to grow more unhindered.

Imagine that.

I sincerely doubt you will ever see any drug that will prove successful for healthy weight loss.  And as far as any drug being developed that involves messing around with PRDM16 as was done in the studies in today’s article, don’t hope for any miracles.

PRDM16 is a kind of genetic switch called a gene transcription factor. Removing it from immature brown fat cells turned them into muscle cells, making the researchers in today’s article deduce that muscle cells are precursors to brown fat cells, and hence potential candidates for a great future obesity-fighting drug.

However, according to another study just published in the August 2008 issue of the journal Leukemia, upregulation of PRDM16 was found to be “sufficient to initiate a leukemogenic cascade with consistent intrinsic dynamics,” i.e. to cause leukemia.  

Are you willing to gamble that they know what they’re doing? 

The Only Sensible, Healthy Way to Lose Weight

If you want to be optimally healthy, you must accept that following the correct eating plan and exercising are the only proven ways to lose excess pounds and maintain your optimal weight.

Remember, weight gain is dependent on your energy intake being greater than energy expenditure.

One pound (0.45 kg) is equal to about 3,500 calories. Therefore, if you consume 500 calories more than you expend daily, you will gain about 1 lb a week. Reversely, cutting 500 excess calories from your diet, or burning it off through exercise, can help you shed about a pound a week.

For more information in an easy-to-understand format on eating the right foods for your nutritional type and how to get started on an exercise plan that will maximize your weight loss results, please review my Nutritional Plan for Beginners, and my Exercise Guidelines.