Hot chillies could be the next weapon in the battle of the bulge caused by a fatty diet.
A new drug based on capsaicin, the compound that gives chilli peppers their spicy burn, caused long term weight loss and improved metabolic health in mice eating a high fat diet.
Scientists at the University of Wyoming School of Pharmacy found the new novel drug Metabocin was safe and also reverses many damaging effects of the high fat diet.
The spice triggered the body to burn “unhealthy” white fat cells rather than them being stored and piling on the pounds.
But people should not rush out and eat a vindaloo to lose weight because most of the capsaicin in spicy food is not well absorbed into the body so it would not produce these effects.
The drug is designed to slowly release capsaicin throughout the day so it can exert its anti-obesity effect without producing inflammation or adverse side effects.
The researchers specifically modified the capsaicin in Metabocin for proper absorption and sustained release.
Associate Professor of Pharmaceutics and Neuroscience Dr Baskaran Thyagarajan said: “We observed marked improvements in blood sugar and cholesterol levels, insulin response, and symptoms of fatty liver disease.
“It proved safe and was well tolerated by the mice.
“Developing Metabocin as a potent anti-obesity treatment shows promise as part of a robust strategy for helping people struggling with obesity.”
The research team developed Metabocin, which can be taken orally, to target receptors called TRPV1 (transient receptor potential vanilloid subfamily 1) that are found in high numbers in fat cells.
Stimulating the TRPV1 receptors causes white fat cells to start burning energy instead of storing it, which, in theory, should cause weight loss.
However they wanted to know if the drug remained effective when used long term, and whether adverse effects would outweigh its benefits.
So the mice in the experiments remained on the drug for eight months, maintaining the weight loss with no evidence of safety problems.
The next step is to see whether the weight loss effects continue past the eight months experiments will see how long that can be maintained.
A quarter of British adults, a fifth of ten to 11 year olds with a third of children aged two to 15 are overweight or obese.
The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior in Bonita Springs, Florida.