The ingredient that gives hot sauce its heat could play a role in the future of weight loss, say scientists. Unfortunately it’s not as simple as simply eating more chillies at dinner. Instead the ingredient capsaicin – which gives peppers their burning sensation – has been used to improve a slimming surgery technique. Scientists at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston were studying whether they could find an alternative to vagatomy – where the vagus nerve that connects the gut and the brain is cut.
The surgery, which is used to treat ulcers, has the added benefit of reducing the risk of obesity-related diseases. However, it has never been used specifically for weight-loss due to the number of possible side-effects such as delayed gastric emptying. A team, led by Dr Ali Tavakkoli, analysed an alternative technique called vagal de-afferentation using obese rats. Rather than remove the vagal nerve completely, surgeons use capsaicin to destroy only certain nerve fibres. They found this type of surgery reduced the amount of ‘beer belly’ fat – which pads out the space between abdominal organs – by seven per cent over 11 months compared to the control rats. Although a vagatomy achieved a 19 per cent reduction in fat in rats it was associated with far more side-effects.
Dr Tavakkoli said: ‘High visceral fat volume is a marker of obesity and obesity-related diseases, such as diabetes. Preferentially lost visceral fat after vagal de-afferentation highlights the potential for this procedure.’ The researchers note that more work needs to be done on whether these surgeries can be used on humans, and whether capsaicin could be applied directly to human vagal fibres. The study results, however, provide promise of what the future can hold.
Dr Tavakkoli said: ‘As demand for surgeries that reduce weight and obesity-related diseases increases, procedures that can achieve success in a less invasive fashion will become increasingly important. ‘This is an important and developing surgical discipline, especially as diabetes rates soar worldwide, and people try to find effective therapies to fight this epidemic.’ The study is published in the May issue of Digestive Diseases and Sciences.