The findings suggest that the compound extracted from the “Thunder God” vine could be developed into a drug for treatment of obesity.
In the study, the compound was found to reduce food intake significantly and cause up to a 45 percent decrease in body weight in obese mice.
The weight-loss compound, called Celastrol, produces its potent effects by enhancing the action of an appetite-suppressing hormone called leptin, the researchers noted.
“If Celastrol works in humans as it does in mice, it could be a powerful way to treat obesity and improve the health of many patients suffering from obesity and associated complications, such as heart disease, fatty liver, and Type-2 diabetes,” said senior study author Umut Ozcan from Harvard Medical School.
Within only one week of Celastrol treatment, obese mice reduced their food intake by about 80 percent compared to untreated obese mice. By the end of the third week, treated mice lost 45 percent of their initial body weight almost entirely by burning fat stores.
This dramatic weight loss is greater than that produced by bariatric surgery — an operation on the stomach and/or intestines that helps patients with extreme obesity to lose weight, the study noted.
Moreover, the weight-loss compound decreased cholesterol levels and improved liver function and glucose metabolism, which collectively may translate into a lower risk of heart disease, fatty liver, and Type 2 diabetes.
Even though Celastrol did not produce toxic effects in mice, whether the compound would be safe for use in humans is not yet known.
“Celastrol is found in the roots of the thunder god vine in small amounts, but the plant’s roots and flowers have many other compounds,” Ozcan said.
“As a result, it could be dangerous for humans to consume thunder god vine extracts to lose weight,” Ozcan cautioned.
The study was published in the journal Cell.