Obesity Surgery May Hold the Keys to Understanding Weight Loss Hormones

Orexigen Therapeutics Inc. is trying to revive a previously abandoned weight loss drug called Contrave.

Obesity surgery is responsible for advances in the way that we understand how our bodies control weight.

Though diet and exercise remain important steps taken towards regulating weight loss, it turns out that hormones from the stomach and their communication with the brain affect how the body maintains and loses weight.

Dr. Sunil Bhoyrul, a weight-loss surgeon at Olde Del Mar Surgical in La Jolla, California, told MSNBC that "As a result of weight loss surgery, we finally are beginning to understand the physiology of weight loss better than we've ever understood it before."

By looking at patients that had undergone gastric bypass and examining the weight that they'd lost or gained back following the sugary, researchers were able to isolate a hormone called ghrelin, an appetite stimulant. When we diet, ghrelin levels in the body rise, making us hungry. Though we may lose weight, our body maintains its levels of ghrelin, which continues to make us feel hungry--the hormone's levels only fall if we regain the weight.

Gastric bypass surgery has resulted in a drop in ghrelin levels for many patients--it's cited as just one of many hormonal changes that occur with weight loss surgery.

Dr. Emma Patterson, a bariatric surgeon in Portland, Oregon, told MSNBC that gherkin communicates differently after different forms of surgery--those that undergo gastric banding experience a drop in hunger but not ghrelin. 

Researchers are now focused on replicating the results of the surgery using drugs.  "If we can understand how these surgeries work///we can put whatever that thing is in a pill," Patterson told MSNBC. One possible tactic involves targeting an enzyme used for producing ghrelin. However, some have argued that because of the complex variety of hormones involved in weight loss, looking only at ghrelin may be a reductive approach. "Most of us are skeptical that 'turning off the gherkin switch' is the universal answer to all obesity," Bhoyrul told MSNBC.
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