How a pill made from mud could be a cure for obesity – soaking up fat to stop the body absorbing it
Well, it could be soon as plain as dirt – thanks to a new pill made from mud.
Scientists from the University of South Australia were looking at how clay can improve the effectiveness of drug delivery, when researcher Tahnee Dening made an accidental discovery.
She found that clay is able to "soak up" fat droplets in the gut.
And that discovery could mean that clay could potentially be a cure for obesity.
"It's quite amazing really," Dening said.
"I was investigating the capacity of specifically clay materials to improve the oral delivery and absorption of antipsychotic drugs, when I noticed that the clay particles weren't behaving as I'd expected.
"Instead of breaking down to release drugs, the clay materials were attracting fat droplets and literally soaking them up.
"Not only were the clay materials trapping the fats within their particle structure, but they were also preventing them from being absorbed by the body, ensuring that fat simply passed through the digestive system.
"It's this unique behaviour that immediately signalled we could be onto something significant – potentially a cure for obesity."
Her research looked at how a natural clay and a man-made clay impacted on how well people responded to the weight loss drug orlistat.
The study found that the processed clay had a "huge capacity to interact with and soak up digested fats and oils present in the foods we eat".
"Orlistat on the other hand, is an enzyme inhibitor that blocks up to 30 per cent of dietary fat digestion and absorption, which leads to weight loss, but has unpleasant side effects such as stomach aches, bloating, flatulence and diarrhoea, which limits its use in weight loss as people choose to stop using it," she explained.
"What we're researching now is a synergistic approach with both the clay material and orlistat: the orlistat blocks the enzyme that digests fat molecules, and the clay particles trap these fats so they're excreted out of the body without causing gastrointestinal disturbances.
"We're essentially attacking fat digestion and absorption in two different ways and we hope this will lead to greater weight loss with fewer side effects."
The UK has just been crowned the 26th fattest country in the world, with one in three Brits being obese.
We've seen magic pills be promoted as "cures" for obesity before – but professionals are rarely keen to endorse them.
Dr Aseem Malhotra told The Sun back in the summer that "prescription drugs like Lorcaserin are the greatest threat to modern medicine".
"The result is a nation of over-medicated sugar addicts who are eating and pill-popping their way to years of misery, battling chronic disease and probably an early grave.
"Instead of dishing out prescriptions for pills we need to give doctors the power to prescribe lifestyle medicines.
"They should be able to prescribe better diets, exercise, a good night's sleep. Drugs cannot fix everything."
But Professor Clive Prestidge from the university said that this new research is a "significant discovery that provides new and exciting avenues for weight loss research which naturally attracts potential commercial partners".
"With a finding like this, people will naturally be keen to find out when they can try it.
"Given that the material is generally considered safe and is widely used in food and nutraceutical products, it is feasible that human clinical trials could start reasonably soon.
"Watch this space."
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