You shouldn’t be extremely surprised if, in a few years, a doctor prescribes a mouth spray as part of your anti-obesity medication.
This is because a team from the University of Florida has found a simple way to introduce a previously abandoned natural hormone without bringing about the adverse effects that resulted in its abandonment in the first place.
The hormone, abbreviated as PYY, is usually produced by the gut after eating. At a certain concentration, it signals the brain’s satiety center, making the person feel less like eating. The level of PYY produced is directly related to the calorific content of the food, not the amount; a small calorie-rich serving should induce the same amounts of PYY as a large serving of calorie-poor food.
Because of this fullness-inducing property, PYY has been investigated in determining the root causes of obesity. Such studies have consistently shown that overweight and obese people tend to produce less PYY than people within normal weight ranges. Because of this anomaly in PYY production, these people tend to eat more than they need without feeling sated.
On the other end of the weight spectrum, very high levels of PYY have been found in people suffering from anorexia nervosa. These high levels contribute to the suppression of appetite.
However, it is not yet clearly understood whether the low or high levels of PYY are caused by being overweight or underweight respectively, or the cause and effect relationship is the other way. Even without that being clear, PYY has been used in several attempts to reverse weight gain, with differing success.
Gene Therapy and Injections
One of the first attempts to introduce PYY by Dr. Zolotukhin, the lead researcher, involved gene therapy on obese mice. While the genetic intervention was successful in inducing weight loss in these obese mice, they were surprised to find that it did not significantly alter the levels of PYY in the blood. This puzzle was solved when the researchers found that some of it was to be found in saliva.
However, their focus still remained on elevating the hormone’s concentration in blood, and the researchers switched to injecting the hormone directly into the bloodstream. While there was some success in stimulating weight loss in volunteers, injection persistently induced vomiting, leading to the cancellation of clinical trials.
After this cancellation, the hormone was not widely explored, and the researchers were forced back to the drawing board to reevaluate the hormone once again.
While comparing signaling pathways for salivary PYY and gut-produced/bloodstream PYY, the researchers discovered that the mouth cavity also has receptors for PYY, the beginning of an alternative circuit that could signal fullness but without stimulating the urge to vomit.
Backed by these findings, the oral spray containing PYY was developed and tested on mice, where it was found to be effective in triggering weight loss by stymieing consumption.
According to Dr. Zolotukhin, the oral PYY, taken either as a spray or a gum, should cause the person to take 5-10% less than his normal consumption if administered half an hour before a meal.
What of Existing Weight Loss Sprays?
There are actually numerous weight loss sprays and oral drops in the market today, but you will not receive a prescription from any doctor for them.
The path to getting a drug on the shelf is long, and these weight loss sprays and drops are sold as supplements which do not require a greater degree of oversight as drugs. For the most part, they are not backed by any evidence to prove their efficiency and there are several that pose a health risk to consumers.
For instance, there are weight loss sprays/drops that contain Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (HCG), a hormone that is normally produced by the placenta and is used as a prescription for the treatment of female infertility and related conditions. The hormone shouldn’t sold over the counter, but there are several manufacturers that still dupe consumers into buying HCG based formulations as a homeopathic solution to weight loss.
The sad truth is that consuming a HCG-based spray/pill will only increase your probability of developing blood clots, depression and restlessness. It will also make you feel really pregnant-breasts will become tender and water retention will increase. In addition, you could develop ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, a life-threatening condition. And, according to one study, the urge to eat will be unabated.
Given the risks that can come with taking such formulations, it is only reasonable to be a little patient so that the whole raft of testing can be done before the weight loss oral spray is made available.