An obscure drug used to treat canker sores in the mouth has been linked to weight loss in mice. The mice given the drug, amlexanox, lost weight without going on a diet or exercising more often. Sound too good to be true? It might not be in a few years, if they drug is approved for use in humans.
A study at the University of Michigan found that, when obese mice were injected with amlexanox, they lost weight even though they were eating the same number of calories. When they were taken off the drug, they gained all their weight back.
Amlexanox has been on the market for about 15 years as a treatment for canker sores. The way it worked in the mice that it seemed to affect the metabolism, rather than by suppressing the appetite. The metabolism increased due to something called thermogenesis, which means the mice in the study generated a bit more heat while they were on amlexanox. Dr. George Bray, chief of the Division of Clinical Obesity and Metabolism at Pennington Biomedical Research Center at Louisiana State University said:
“It is a tour de force and offers a new and potentially exciting opening for developments of new anti-obesity drugs — something which is badly needed.”
Researchers seem optimistic about the application of the drug to weight loss, although it needs to be tested on humans. They say that if it is ever approved for human use for weight loss, anyone who takes it will likely be on it for the rest of their lives.
This drug sounds great in theory, but….what about the other health effects of obesity? Things like diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure? Would these conditions also melt away with the help of this drug? It seems to be that if people were eating the same foods as when they were obese and living the same lifestyle as when they were obese (as the mice did), then their health conditions would persist at least somewhat, even if they lost weight by having their metabolisms speed up.
While I think it’s beneficial to develop drugs that can address the affects of obesity (as well as the condition itself), I’m a little bit wary of what a drug like this could mean, if it goes on the market. It could very well be the magic weight-loss pill people have been looking for ever since….well, ever since people got fat. And while that’s not a bad thing, I think that there needs to be a sea change in lifestyle attitudes in our country before we can ever truly begin to address the growing problem of obesity. Healthy eating, regular exercise: these things take work, unlike a drug that speeds up the number of calories you burn regardless of what you eat or how much you move. But these kinds of lifestyle changes are also more likely to create the long-term health changes that would truly benefit people.
I also wonder what the effect this drug might have on people who are more genetically-disposed to being overweight. Would it only work on people who had been following a high-fat diet, as the mice were? What if you work out and eat well but you’re still considered “clinically obese?” Would this drug work for you?
As you can see, I have lots of questions about this amlexanox. Good thing, because it’s going to be tested on humans later this year. I’m eager to hear what comes of it, although I’m hesitant to think of this drug as the panacea our increasingly-overweight society needs.