Thunder god vine is being hailed as a potential tool for losing weight. This early Chinese herbal medicine is showing great promise in early clinical trials examining its effectiveness, though it won't be an immediate solution for treating obesity in people. 

In a study on celastrol – the active ingredient in the thunder god vine – obese mice provided with the chemical experienced significant weight loss. The extract reduced the appetite of the mice to such a degree that some of the test animals lost 45 percent of their body weight during the course of the study. Even better news for the potential treatment of human obesity — the weight loss came almost entirely from stores of fat.

Leptin, a hormone derived from fat, sends signals to the body that tell the brain when enough nutrition has been obtained from food. People who lack this signaling hormone can eat vast quantities of food, and can become morbidly obese as a result. Researchers believe celastrol acts by enhancing the actions of leptin — producing the feeling of satiation after consuming smaller-than-normal portions of food.

"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 patients suffering from obesity and associated complications, such as heart disease, fatty liver, and type 2 diabetes," said Umut Ozcan from Boston Children's Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

Although a lack of the hormone greatly increases hunger, adding additional leptin to the bloodstream of rats does not appear to reduce the urge to eat. This led the researchers to theorize that leptin resistance may be the root cause behind many cases of extreme obesity.

Leptin was discovered just 20 years ago. Since then, several research teams have worked on developing methods to treat obesity by making the body more responsive to the presence of this hormone.

Celastrol has shown the most impressive results ever seen in reducing the weight of obese mice in clinical studies. It does not appear to have any toxic effects in mice or other lab animals. The findings of this study could assist researchers in starting human trials in the near future.

Researchers stress that although this study shows promising results for celastrol in mice, people should not rush out and consume the plant itself in large quantities, due to the unknown effects of other chemicals in the plant.

This study on the significant effect of celastrol on obesity was profiled in the journal Cell.

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