Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Anti-Obesity Baby Formula?

Here's one of the scarier pieces I've read in a while.

Prof. Mike Cawthorne, a UK scientist is formulating a baby formula designed to prevent future obesity via its inclusion of the hormone leptin.

Leptin is a fairly well understood hunger/satiety hormone. It was discovered in the 90s out of studies of an obese mouse model and it's produced by our bodies' fat cells. Leptin's job is to help let the brain know we're full and binding of leptin to the satiety centre of our brains (the hypothalamus) is one of the body's satiety signals.

Folks with two defective leptin receptors are morbidly obese and providing them with leptin injections confers massive weight loss.

Before you get too excited about the potential for leptin to benefit folks with weight management issues you should know that to date there have only been a few dozen folks worldwide who have been shown to have two defective leptin receptors and that obesity researchers got far too excited about leptin's role in treatment and to date virtually every study ever done on leptin replacement as a weight management tool has been a major disappointment unless you're one of those few dozen individuals with the exceedingly rare combination of two defective leptin genes.

In folks with significant amounts of weight, one of the proposed mechanisms or contributors is in fact leptin resistance whereas their bodies actually produce more leptin (remember it's produced in the fat cells themselves), it's just that their bodies don't seem to respond to it.

Back to the baby formula. Professor Cawthorne is basing his idea off of a couple of rat studies: In the first study suckling rats were given 4 times the amount of leptin normally ingested from their mothers and later in life were found to be lighter and eat fewer Calories. The second study, administered leptin to pregnant rats and found that their offspring were leaner and lighter. Putting these studies together Professor Cawthorne is designing an infant formula that has leptin added to it.

What's fascinating to me is the fact that to an extent, these studies have already been conducted in humans and their results have proven to be woefully disappointing.

You see, we know that folks with significant amounts of weight produce a great deal more leptin than lean folks, and that therefore obese pregnant women's babies are exposed to a great deal more in-utero leptin and more breast milk leptin. Yet we know that having a parent with a significant amount of weight vastly increases the risk of that child being an obese adult. If you were like Dr. Cawthorne and wanted to make an overly simplistic leap, you might even want to paradoxically blame the leptin.

I don't think that would be wise either.

For me obesity is not a single cause issue. At the end of the day there are an incredible myriad of factors that influence how much we eat and how much we burn. When I read stuff like Mike Cawthorne's formula plans the cynic in me wonders how much the fact that there's a 50-100 billion dollar industry out there where folks buy hope in the form of miracle pills, tablets and cures, influences the plans of such formulations.

Scary stuff jumping from bench to bedside in one fell swoop. Who knows what kind of other longterm implications might occur with such a plan, including the possibility of a worsening of future weight, or unforeseen and unrelated after effects.

Me, I'll stick to educating, motivating and supporting.