A drug made from the saliva of a giant U.S lizard could be a surprising new addition to the weight-loss market.Scientists found that a compound found naturally in the venomous Gila monsters was effective in reducing food cravings.It is a surprising but potentially hugely beneficial side effect of exendin-4, which is used in a drug to treat diabetes. Scientists made the discovery when testing lab rats with the substance.
Further experiments by researchers at the University of Gothenburg found it controlled the same brain regions which lead to cravings for alcohol too, suggesting it could also aid those with drinking problems.The Gila monster is the largest lizard in North America. Although it is venomous it is slow-moving and represents little threat to humans.
Unlike snakes, it does not inject poison through fangs but in its saliva as it chews on its prey.Its properties are used in a drug called Exenatide which can help control the blood sugar levels in sufferers of type 2 diabetes.But while experimenting on lab rats with exendin-4, it was found to reduce the animals’ cravings for food, the researchers told the Journal of Neuroscience.
Study author Professor Karolina Skibicka said: ‘This is both an unknown and quite unexpected effect.’Our decision to eat is linked to the same mechanisms in the brain which control addictive behaviours.’We have shown that exendin-4 affects the reward and motivation regions of the brain.’The discovery could pave the way for a treatment for compulsive over-eaters.
Co-researcher Suzanne Dickson said: ‘The implications of the findings are significant.’Most dieting fails because we are obsessed with the desire to eat, especially tempting foods like sweets.’As exendin-4 suppresses the cravings for food, it can help obese people to take control of their weight.’They said further research was needed on the impact of the compound on alcohol cravings.