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Science shows extract makes you lose weight, but not really

by Denis Faye - The Nutrition Nerd | June 11, 2015

UnknownThe latest chapter in humankind’s never-ending Quest to Lose Weight Without Trying Too Hard showed up on the pages of the journal Cell last month. Harvard researchers used an extract Celastrol from a Chinese plant called Tripterygium Wilfordi, or “thunder god vine,” to induce up to a 45% weight loss in obese mice. 

You’d think a plant nicknamed after Thor, Zeus, and/or one of KISS’s better songs would have more lurid applications, but the science behind how it works is remarkably easy to understand.

Your fat cells create a hormone called leptin which signals your brain when it’s had enough food. Obviously, overweight people produce a ton of leptin. This can be a problem because your brain can get overwhelmed and just start ignoring the hormone, creating leptin resistance–much the same way people who eat too much sugar can become insulin resistant.

So when you’re leptin resistant, your brain doesn’t know you’ve had enough food, so you just keep porking out. Celastrol increases leptin sensitivity, helping people know when it’s time to stop eating.

So that’s pretty neato science and I look forward to hearing more about it, but there’s just one problem. How do people get fat in the first place? Sure, this extract helped mice, but rodents don’t need to deal with emotional eating, reward eating, boredom eating, stress eating, mindless eating, and a billion other belt-buster eatings. They also don’t need have to deal with the never-ending parade of calorically out-of-control junk food that modern society foists upon us every day.

In other words, while this is fascinating science, it’s also just another magic pill that addresses one tiny symptom of a much bigger problem. Until they find an extract that turns off the TV every time a Carl’s Junior ad comes on, slams the freezer shut when I go for that pint of Ben and Jerry’s Peanut Buttah Cookie Core, or slaps my hand when I keep mindlessly shoveling cocktail peanuts into my mouth at my next Meetup mixer, I’m not all that thrilled.

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