How does the Chinese thunder god plant combat obesity? This is the question circling many people’s minds after early studies show the traditional Chinese medicine, known as thunder god vine, reduces food intake and has led to a dramatic 45 percent decrease in body weight in obese mice.
For decades scientists have been searching the world for all types of miracle plants that can help people shed pounds. As the market for weight-loss products and supplements has grown into a multi-billion dollar industry, they’ve turned to dandelions, coffee and nuts, among other things. They’ve even cultivated an edible succulent called the caralluma fimbriata, chewed by tribesmen in rural India to control their hunger during a day of hunting. They’ve also extracted and isolated whatever it is in an African plant called hoodia, that looks like a spikey pickle that tricks you into feeling full even if you haven’t eaten anything.
In the paper published in the journal Cell Thursday, scientists said an extract made from the plant reduces food intake drastically.
Study author Omut Ozcan, an endocrinologist at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, said the substance appears to work by enhancing a fat-derived hormone called leptin that signals to the body when it has enough fuel and energy to run. Humans who lack leptin, can eat voraciously and therefore become severely overweight.
“During the last two decades, there has been an enormous amount of effort to treat obesity by breaking down leptin resistance, but these efforts have failed. The message from this study is that there is still hope for making leptin work,” Ozcan said in a statement.
In the study, Ozcan found that with only one week of treatment with an extract made from the Chinese thunder god plant – which they called Celastrol – the mice reduced their food intake by 80 percent as compared with those who did not get the extract. Three weeks later, those mice had lost nearly half their initial body weight, according to the Washington Post.
While the research team did not find any toxic effects of the extract in mice, the researchers warned that more studies need to be completed before determining it is safe for humans.