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Beat the munchies with Taranabant

Dietitian Juliette Kellow reports on the development of a new Anti-Obesity drug, Taranabant.

Beat the Munchies with Taranabant

By Dietitian, Juliette Kellow BSc RD

Good news for anyone who struggles with frequent bingeing or always feels hungry. A new anti-obesity drug to help people control their desire to eat is currently being studied.

New research included more than 500 obese adults who were given either a placebo or daily doses of a drug called Taranabant, in differing amounts.

After 12 weeks, all of the people given the drug lost weight, with the biggest losses being found in those adults taking the largest amounts of the drug. Those taking 0.5mg of the drug lost an average of 2.6lb, while those taking 6mg lost more than four times as much – an average of 11.6lb. The scientists then conducted a separate study on 36 overweight and obese adults and measured their food intake and energy expenditure for 24 hours. Those receiving 12mg doses of the drug reduced their calorie intake by a massive 22 percent and also increased their energy expenditure.

Development of this drug stems from previous research looking at ways to block the endocannabinoid system in the brain, a system that’s involved in regulating appetite, energy levels and metabolism.

For many years scientists have known that smoking cannabis stimulates appetite and increases the desire to eat, a condition often referred to as the ‘munchies’. This happens because active ingredients in cannabis over-activate cannabinoid receptors in the part of the brain that controls appetite, making cannabis smokers feel really hungry. Scientists then looked at developing drugs, which could block these receptors – and that’s exactly what Taranabant does. It blocks the cannabinoid receptors on the surface of brain cells, helping to reduce appetite.

Taranabant is the second drug to be developed that works in this way. The first drug called Rimonabant (Acomplia) became available on private prescription in the UK in June 2006 (it’s not yet available on the NHS). Clinical trials have shown it’s effective at aiding weight loss and may also help people to stop smoking and prevent the weight gain that’s often linked with quitting. However, the drug doesn’t come without problems. In America, the Food and Drug Administration have refused to licence Rimonabant because of an increased risk of suicide in people who have taken it.

Indeed, research into Taranabant, which is still undergoing trials and is not yet available, indicates that like most drugs, there are some side effects. The most recent study found that some participants suffered with gastrointestinal problems such as nausea, loose stools, vomiting and lose bowel movements. Plus, several psychiatric effects were identified including increased anxiety, mood swings, depression, insomnia and irritability.

WLR says:

It’s always good to hear about research that’s being carried out to help find new ways to tackle our excess weight. But even with new developments, it’s unlikely that scientists will ever find a miracle cure for making us slim. Ultimately, we will always need to persevere with the tried and tested method of diet and exercise.

Just like other anti-obesity medications available on prescription in the UK, should this drug be licensed in the future, chances are it will only be available on prescription for people who are obese (BMI over 30) or overweight (BMI of 27 or above) with other health problems such as heart disease or diabetes.

Potential candidates for the drug will probably need to demonstrate that they can lose a small but significant amount of weight before their GP will prescribe it – and they will almost certainly need to be committed to following a reduced-calorie diet and taking more exercise. In other words, they will still need to be more active and watch what they eat.

It’s worth remembering that a healthy diet doesn’t just help you lose weight. Eating well and exercising will affect your entire body helping to achieve everything from a healthy heart and stronger bones to clearer skin and better digestion – and that’s something one tiny pill can’t do!

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