Medical researchers remain baffled at attempts to treat obesity with appetite suppressing hormones like PYY

Tuesday, August 03, 2004
by Mike Adams, the Health Ranger
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Scientists remain baffled at attempts to treat obesity by administering hormones such as PYY, which reportedly function as appetite suppressants. In 2002, researchers from London reported that they had found a way to turn off the appetite signal by administering the PYY hormone, which appears to tell the brain that the stomach is full. They reported that they were able to reduce the food intake and body weight of rats by administering PYY, and subsequent studies even included humans. However, attempts to replicate this research around the world have failed, leading to some rather heated disputes in the research community about the effectiveness of PYY.

Let's talk about the bigger picture here, though. PPY is indeed a hormone involved in control of appetite. Appetite is a brain chemistry issue. Your body decides it's full when certain conditions are met and certain hormones are released, and some of the ways the human body decides it's full include sensing the level of blood sugar, sensing the physical fullness of your stomach, and perhaps even by sensing the digestive activity in the small intestine. Once these conditions are met, your brain decides it has had enough food, and then it changes the signal from one of hunger to one of satiation, which tells people to stop eating.

Part of the problem with this hunger signal system is that it has a rather delayed effect, so even though you may have consumed plenty of calories for a meal 20 minutes ago, your brain just now got the message that you had enough to eat. This delay causes people to frequently overeat because they are eating until they feel full, and feeling full doesn't necessarily correlate with the number of calories they've eaten.

This is especially true when it comes to processed foods such as breads, crackers, cookies, cereals, or anything made with white flour or added sugars, such as high-fructose corn syrup. The human body did not properly evolve to consume these items, and they are far more calorie-dense than items found in the natural environment. As a result, they can give your body more calories than natural foods would, and yet your stomach may only feel half-full. In other words, you can easily consume 1000 calories worth of pastries and baked goods without feeling full, even though if you tried to consume 1000 calories worth of apples, you probably wouldn't be able to do it because your hunger signals would be turned off long before you reached 1000 calories. So there's a complex interaction between appetite hormones and our modern food supply, which is heavily dominated by processed foods and manufactured foods.

Alongside all of this, medical researchers are working desperately to find a magic pill cure for obesity. This is as much a quest for the holy grail of pharmaceutical profits as anything having to do with human health. I'm sure researchers are somewhat interested in enhancing the health of human beings, but most scientists are a lot more interested in making several billion dollars by finding the pharmaceutical answer for obesity. In fact, there's an excellent book that details this search and the politics that take place in the quest for the holy grail of anti-obesity drugs. That book is called The Hunger Gene, and it's definitely a recommended read for anyone wishing to understand what's really going on behind the scenes in the quest for this magic anti-obesity drug.

Getting back to the news here, these researchers were hoping that PYY was the magic pill that would stop obesity. The idea is that if you simply take this pill, your hunger signals will be turned off, and you will automatically eat less. In theory, it sounds quite good, and if it worked, this would be one pharmaceutical that I would be willing to support, especially if it could be shown to have very few side effects; however, in practice, every attempt at creating a miracle anti-obesity drug has failed. It turns out that the hunger signals in the human body are not only highly complex, but redundant. In other words, you can turn off one hormone, but there are 3 or 4 other hormones that will still drive the hunger signal. The human body is so deeply ingrained with the idea of consuming calories and storing body fat that suppressing this natural drive is going to take more than a single hormone or a single pill. Time and time again, researchers looking for the magical appetite suppressant drug have been confounded by the ability of the human body to find new pathways to stimulate hunger.

Turning off hunger, it turns out, may be one of the most daunting tasks medical researchers have faced yet. And that's why procedures like gastric bypass surgery have proven to be so popular in recent years. It's something that they know will force people to eat less, and there's no surprise here -- if you take out most of a person's stomach or staple it shut, then obviously they can't fit much food in there anymore, and you have a way to force patients to eat less. It's barbaric, yes, but for some patients, it actually works. A much more sane approach would be to have an appetite suppressant pill that altered the appetite hormones in the brain and automatically caused patients to eat less. This, of course, would be a blockbuster drug. It would not only sell to a large number of patients -- remember that 2/3 of Americans are overweight and 1/3 are obese -- it would also be something that patients would have to take for the rest of their lives. The minute they stopped taking these drugs, they would once again start ballooning through overconsumption of foods, and they would eventually need to return to the drugs in order to control their appetite.

Interestingly, there have been some new developments in appetite suppressants from the natural health side of medicine and healing. A couple of somewhat promising plant-based appetite suppressants are emerging on the market, and I have evaluated both of them. The first is called hoodia, and it is a succulent native to South Africa that produces a chemical compound widely believed to suppress human appetite. Another item is called simmondsin, an extract from the jojoba plant, which is native to Peru and Bolivia and Central and South America. And of course, the jojoba plant is better known for its oil, but there's a lot of growing interest in this simmondsin extract ingredient as an appetite suppressant.

I've purchased and investigated these appetite suppressants with a great deal of interest, because I believe that suppressing the human appetite is a very promising strategy for treating obesity and avoiding all of the subsequent health care costs associated with obesity. However, I have been less than impressed with the performance of both hoodia and simmondsin. I've purchased and taken nutritional supplements made from both of these plants, and have not found a significant decrease in appetite from taking them. The only strategies that have worked for me to reduce appetite are engaging in frequent physical exercise, avoiding all processed carbohydrates and refined sugars, getting lots of natural sunlight (which regulates appetite hormones in your endocrine system), eating a high-fiber diet, and supplementing my diet with superfoods and various nutritional supplements that turn off carbohydrate cravings.

In this list, there's one element that turns off human appetite in a very powerful way: getting natural sunlight on your skin. In fact, I think that natural sunlight is the most powerful appetite suppressant yet available. I think it's more powerful than any of the natural appetite suppressant pills, I think it is more powerful than any prescription drug, I think it works better than gastric bypass surgery, and of course, it's absolutely free of charge and available without prescription. Unfortunately, as I've mentioned here before, that is exactly why natural sunlight is almost unknown to the general public. No one talks about the health benefits of sunlight for the simple reason that no one can generate profits from it. You can't bottle it up, regulate it, put it in a pill, and charge patients $100 a pill to take sunlight and get all of the health benefits from it. If they could do that, you can bet this would be front page news.

So, will medical researchers find the holy grail? Will they find a magic pill that will instantly turn off human hunger and automatically cause people to lose weight? While I remain hopeful that such a discovery may be made, I am simultaneously doubtful that conquering hunger is something that can be so easily achieved. The human body is strongly wired to consume foods, and when people consume processed foods and refined carbohydrates, they multiply the hunger effect that's already built into the human body. The idea that most people have about these sort of appetite suppressing pills is that they will be able to eat any foods they want, and just take one or two of these pills a day in order to automatically lose weight, and that's absolutely the wrong approach to being healthy.

Let's say that such a pill actually existed and was found to work. Let's say that the human appetite could be turned off by taking a pill. The average American would use that in the following way: they would continue to eat the same unhealthful, nutrient-depleted foods that they've always eaten, such as soft drinks, snack foods, junk foods, and processed foods. They would just eat smaller quantities of those foods, thanks to the appetite suppressing properties of the PYY hormone or whatever other hormone was found to actually work. The result of all of this would be thin Americans who are suffering from chronic diseases caused by nutritional deficiencies. That's because they would be getting very little nutrition from their foods, and yet they wouldn't have a whole lot of excess body fat, because they weren't overeating those foods. We would see skyrocketing rates of diseases like cancer, neurological disorders, osteoporosis and other diseases, even as people were getting thinner. Obviously, just turning off hunger is not the answer to our nation's health problems. We have to find a way to educate the public about the fundamentals of nutrition. We have to find a way to get superfoods into the hands and into the digestive systems of the American people. People need better nutrition, and that comes from vegetables and fruits and superfoods. It doesn't come from simply eating less of the same junk food that made people fat and diseased in the first place.

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About the author: Mike Adams is a natural health author and award-winning journalist with a strong interest in personal health, the environment and the power of nature to help us all heal He has authored more than 1,800 articles and dozens of reports, guides and interviews on natural health topics, and he is well known as the creator of popular downloadable preparedness programs on financial collapse, emergency food storage, wilderness survival and home defense skills. Adams is an honest, independent journalist and accepts no money or commissions on the third-party products he writes about or the companies he promotes. In 2010, Adams co-founded, a natural health video sharing site that has now grown in popularity. He also founded an environmentally-friendly online retailer called that uses retail profits to help support consumer advocacy programs. He's also a veteran of the software technology industry, having founded a personalized mass email software product used to deliver email newsletters to subscribers. Adams volunteers his time to serve as the executive director of the Consumer Wellness Center, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, and regularly pursues cycling, nature photography, Capoeira and Pilates.

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