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Women May Benefit from New Weight Control Agent that Works in Mice

Tim Boyer's picture
Weight Control

A new study reveals that sex specific weight control is possible as researchers discover that feeding a chemical compound from the leaves of a tree in South America caused female mice fed a high fat diet to avoid weight gain while their male test-mates became obese and diabetic on the same diet.


A press release from Cell Press journals announces that a new study published in the March 5 issue of the journal Chemistry & Biology suggests that sex specific weight control could become as simple as taking a pill that contains a compound called 7, 8-dihydroxyflavone (7, 8-DHF) that is found in Godmania aesculifolia and primula tree leaves in regions of Central and South America.

"An equivalent diet pill in humans would allow people to maintain a healthy weight, despite a high-fat diet," stated senior author Dr. Keqiang Ye, of the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta for the press release. "The pill would burn calories without affecting appetite."

The study describes how that when mice were fed 7,8-DHF along with a high-fat diet, that the females maintained their appetite but kept a healthy weight and metabolic profile without demonstrable side effects. Males, however, still became obesity and developed diabetes.

While the exact mechanism of action remains a mystery so far, the researchers speculate that 7, 8-DHF mimics the physiologic function of a brain hormone called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is secreted after physical exercise and helps control body weight gain by relaying signals to suppress food intake and enhance calorie burning.

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In fact, the association of the proposed mimicking action of 7,8-DHF has been demonstrated when researchers showed that female mice that were genetic knockouts of the BDNF receptor wound up becoming obese and diabetic while on the 7,8-DHF laced high-fat diet whereas the normal non-knockout females maintained their normal weight and health.

The reason why female mice on the BDNF mimic fed a high fat diet fared much better than male mice could be due to hormones like estrogen that circulate at much higher concentrations in females than in males. The study points out that estrogen has been proposed to enhance the effects of BDNF signaling, and that 7, 8-DHF has been reported to alter estrogen metabolism and therefore presents a promising strategy for combating obesity.

Currently, the testing of 7, 8-DHF is now headed for phase I human clinical trials in China and Australia for not only treating various BDNF-implicated neurological diseases--including Alzheimer's―but now for obesity and diabetes as well.

"This drug has been extensively tested in a variety of neurological diseases in both male and female animal models and exhibits very promising therapeutic efficacy, suggesting that this drug is efficacious for both sexes in the central nervous system," Ye said. "Clearly, further investigation is necessary to explore why it selectively burns the fat for the female mice."

For a related article about sex differences and diet, here is what some researchers found that was a surprising sex specific benefit from a vegetarian diet.

Reference: "Activation of Muscular TrkB by its Small Molecular Agonist 7, 8-Dihydroxyflavone Sex-dependently Regulates Energy Metabolism in Diet-induced Obese Mice" Chemistry & Biology, Chan et al.