How Botox Might Fight Obesity
There is a new wrinkle, so to speak, in the world of Botox. Although this injectable substance is now best known for temporarily eliminating facial wrinkles, there may be a day when Botox might fight obesity, if researchers can iron out the details.
The road from wrinkles to excess fat
Researchers have been hard at work trying to find new, effective ways to deal with the growing problem of obesity, and it could be that a team from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) has uncovered one. Thus far the work has been limited to rats, but the scientists have their eye on human studies in the near future.
The discovery involved the injection of Botox--which is made from a potent poison called botulinum toxin that is derived from the bacterium Clostridium botulinum--into the vagus nerve in the stomach of rats. The vagus nerve runs from the brain stem down through the abdomen, and among its many regulatory functions is administration of the digestive tract.
Specifically, the vagus nerve helps contract muscles of the stomach and intestinal tract, which aids in the processing of food. It also sends messages back to the brain about what you eat, including if you feel full.
In the study, Helene Johannessen, a PhD candidate at NTNU, observed that the Botox injection caused the rats to lose 20 to 30 percent of their body weight over five weeks. The reason for this weight loss appears to be related to the fact that Botox paralyzed the stomach muscles, which slowed the transport of food through the stomach, making the rats feel fuller for longer.
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Other studies of Botox and weight loss
This is not the first time Botox has been studied for weight loss help. Two studies, both conducted at Mayo Clinic, are of particular interest.
In one, investigators found that when they injected Botox into the abdominal muscle in 10 obese adults, the individuals experienced a significant improvement in satiation (feeling full) two weeks after receiving the injection. The average amount of weight the participants lost over a 16-week period was 11 pounds.
In the second and subsequent study, the investigative team involved with the first research tested Botox injections in 60 obese adults during a 24-week, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. By week 16 of the study, the authors were disappointed in the results.
Overall, weight loss between the Botox and placebo group was not significantly different. In addition, Botox did not have a marked effect on feeling full, eating behaviors, or amount of calories consumed.
What’s next for Botox and obesity
At least for Johannessen and her team, the next step is to conduct human clinical studies using Botox. Before they can begin, the investigators need approval from the Norwegian medical ethics authorities.
If approval is granted, the researchers plan to enroll obese individuals who are not candidates for bariatric surgery. Eventually, the hope is that Botox will be an alternative weight loss option for people with obesity.
Norwegian University of Science and Technology
Topazian M et al. Endoscopic ultrasound-guided gastric botulinum toxin injections in obese subjects: a pilot study. Obesity Surgery 2008 Apr; 18(4): 401-7
Topazian M et al. Gastric antral injections of botulinum toxin delay gastric emptying but do not reduce body weight. Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology 2013 Feb; 11(2): 145-50