SciTech

Diabetes treatment helps weight loss

The good news is that the “Freshman 15” is an exaggeration; the average weight gain among first-years is only about 4 1/2 pounds, according to a study by Brown University researcher Elizabeth Lloyd-Richardson.

The bad news is that gradual weight gain throughout college is becoming a problem, according to an article on www.CBS.com.

However, a recent study shows that a form of therapy currently used on diabetes patients may be able to promote weight loss by reducing a person’s food intake. The study was led by Jenny Tong, an assistant professor at the University of Cincinnati, and Darleen Sandoval, Tong’s research assistant. This therapy is used to reduce glucose in the bloodstream of diabetes patients and has been found to be as effective as FDA-approved treatments for obesity.

The secret is in the release of a hormone known as glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) in a person’s body whenever he or she eats. According to Dr. James Norman, parathyroid surgeon and founder of the medical information website EndocrineWeb, GLP-1 is a special type of hormone — an incretin — that increases the amount of insulin in a person’s body. Norman describes insulin as a referee for how the body uses fat: The insulin slows down the burning of fat into energy, thereby prolonging the time a person can last without eating again.

Tong and Sandoval’s study found that by increasing the amount of GLP-1 in the body, a person’s food intake decreases. In a study among males of healthy weight, GLP-1 caused them to reduce their food intake by 12 percent and feel more satiated than a separate group of males who were given a placebo.

When asked about the possibility of GLP-1 therapy being used by Carnegie Mellon students, senior chemical engineering and biomedical engineering double major Jia Jia Zhang said, “I personally wouldn’t do it. Although the idea of eating less is appealing, I don’t think most CMU kids eat for the sake of eating, but rather to de-stress.” Zhang added that Carnegie Mellon students are also smart enough to turn down the guinea pig position of testing out an experimental therapy.

Scientists still have much to learn about the success of GLP-1 in combating obesity before it becomes available to the public. The weight loss effects of GLP-1 have only been observed in a six-week study on patients with Type 2 diabetes. Therefore, the results cannot be generalized across a population of people without diabetes.

The GLP-1 therapy does have some known negative side effects, the most frequently reported being nausea. Furthermore, the results of an internal application of GLP-1 via injection have yet to be thoroughly analyzed.

If the increase of GLP-1 content in the body is actually capable of decreasing food intake in patients without diabetes, then the health and cosmetic industries may have found a gem. With additional research, the discovery of GLP-1 therapy as a weight loss method has the potential to put over-the-counter diet pills out of business. However, the therapy will not be aiding college students any time soon.