The thunder god vine has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine. Now, researchers have found that it contains Celastrol, a compound with weight loss effects.

In a study published in the journal Cell, researchers detailed that the compound is capable of promoting weight loss by reducing food intake, leading up to a decrease in body weight in obese mice by up to 45 percent. As a powerful appetite-suppressant, Celastrol enhances the appetite-suppressing functions of a hormone called leptin. According to the researchers, this action is an early indication that the compound may be developed into a drug that could treat obesity.

Umut Ozcan, an endocrinologist from the Harvard Medical School and the Boston Children's Hospital and senior author for the study, said that researchers have been working over the last 20 years to treat obesity by preventing leptin resistance but most efforts have failed. However, the results of their study clearly indicate that there remains hope for taking advantage of leptin's obesity-fighting properties.

"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 suffering from obesity and associated complications, such as heart disease, fatty liver, and type 2 diabetes," he stated.

Celastrol works by ensuring that leptin is properly utilized. Derived from a fat cell, leptin is a hormone that signals the brain when there is enough energy and fuel in the body. Researchers have found that some obese individuals have high levels of the hormone in their bloodstreams, so the problem with obesity is not merely low levels of leptin but may be an issue with resistance.

After screening a database for gene expression profiles, the researchers found the Celastrol was the most effective in improving leptin sensivity. Within a week of treatment with the compound, obese mice were eating 80 percent less compared to mice not treated with Celastrol. By the third week, the treated mice had already lost 45 percent of their body weight, most of which came from burning fat stores and not losing lean mass.

This kind of result is better than what bariatric surgery is capable of. Moreover, Celastrol also reduced levels of cholesterol in the body and boosted glucose metabolism and liver function, generally cutting back on risks of type 2 diabetes, fatty liver and heart disease.

In the future, Ozcan and his team hope to investigate the specific molecular mechanisms that allow Celastrol to improve sensitivity to leptin and ultimately promote weight loss.

Junli Liu, Ralph Mazitschek, Jaemin Lee and Mario Andres Salazar Hernandez also contributed to the study.

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