Ghrelin: the gateway to the cure of obesity?

Is Ghrelin (pronounced GRELL-in) the answer to curing obesity? Researchers are currently studying the human appetite through rodents in a race to answer just that. As obesity continues to plummet, now affecting 2/3rds of Americans, an answer is crucial. Today, 59 million people are considered obese. Is this because of our bad habits or is there something in our bodies working against us?

Ghrelin was first discovered in 1999 by Japanese Scientists and within one year, American researchers found that it drives appetite. Ghrelin is the human hormone made in the stomach and tells the brain when to eat. Researches do not believe that Ghrelin is the cause of obesity, but could possibly be used to control appetite and play a major role in weight loss.

Hundreds of researchers and a handful of facilities are testing rodents and finding clear evidence. Correspondent Vicki Mabrey of CBS News reports on a visit to the St. Louis Veterans Affairs hospital, “We observed one illustration of ghrelin’s power. A mouse was injected with the hormone. Just 15 minutes later, he was absolutely wild for food, even though he’d already eaten enough to be full.” Scientists are beginning to believe that the reaction of the hormone on rodents has the same power in humans. A big discovery of this was made through Dr. David Cummings and his patient Jim Rudolph.  Jim Rudolph underwent gastric bypass surgery and lost 195 pounds and reported “I don’t seem to get really hungry.” Scientists believe that his surgery stopped his body from producing Ghrelin or numbed its function. Rudolph’s surgery, along with four other patients of Dr. Cummings, revealed information about appetites and the only known hormone that produces it.

The question we are fumbling, are we fighting bad habits or biology? Dr. Steven Bloom agrees with both by stating, “We are machines designed to live through famine,” says Bloom. “In the days when we evolved, there would be a good harvest for six years and a bad harvest in the seventh year. And the only people who lived through the seventh year were the ones that were overweight. So, if you were able to watch your weight very nicely, you aren’t here anymore. We are survivors of the obese. All we need is a plentiful supply of food and we gain weight. That’s the way we are made.” In London, Bloom is experimenting with ghrelin and another home called PYY-336. This hormone is the exact opposite of Ghrelin. It is the hormone that makes you feel full. During experimenting, Bloom reports that his team gave hungry humans PYY and then offered them a buffet. They found that during eating time at the buffet and for 24 hours after taking the PYY, they ate 1/3 of their usual diet. Bloom states that the proof of his experiments have caused him to let go of the traditional “eat less, exercise more” theory. He now believes that Obesity should be treated like other illness, with medication.

So is Ghrelin the answer? Can it substitute the more invasive gastric bypass procedure and help control obesity? Imagine a miracle pill that is safe and effective. It would be worth billions of dollars on the pharmaceutical market. Dr. Mark Heiman and his team are working on a blocker and currently are testing substances that are the weapon for keeping weight off. Researchers are hopeful because Ghrelin is created in the lining of the stomach and can perform experiments without as many risks on other organs and in the long run, create a blocker. “This is a long, long process,” says Heiman. “It would probably be about ten years before it’ll be in the pharmacist’s shelf.”

With the race continuing to create a blocker and takeover the hormone Ghrelin, many speculate whether or not it will be the answer to curing Obesity. We have to ask ourselves if targeting this hormone with a blocker will end a disease that is taking control of our population. Is this the answer? Dr. Cummings says, “I don’t think that there’s ever going to be a single medicine that would prove to be the magic bullet for all people, but I think there’s reason for hope that we may have, one day, half a dozen magic bullets that can be used in combinations to help people with their body weight in much more powerful ways than we now can do.”

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