f you find the prospect of staying thin while eating as much as you want appealing, scientists have news for you. New research from the University of California, Irvine — detailed in the March issue of Cell Metabolism — found that certain brain chemicals with characteristics similar to marijuana might play a key factor in helping you shed pounds without any exercise. A dream come true? Here's a brief look at the promising discovery:
What chemical could have such power?
It's an endocannabinoid compound called 2-AG. Endocannabinoids, as the name might suggest, share a similar molecular structure to the active ingredients in cannabis. Typically, high levels of 2-AG are found in the brains of mammals, and previous studies suggested that these compounds may make the body crave fat. Scientists think endocannabinoids play a key role in regulating the body's metabolism, or the energy it makes from food.
How did scientists put the compound to the test?
Researchers genetically engineered brain cells in mice to exhibit low levels of 2-AG, on the theory that this would allow the rodents' metabolic rates to "go crazy," says Kristen Philipkoski at Gizmodo. And the hunch was right. These mice lived in a "hypermetabolic state," burning fat calories far more efficiently than normal mice, study researcher Daniele Piomelli said in a statement. They were "resistant to obesity," staying thin despite a high-fat diet without exercise. They even had normal blood pressure, and showed no increased risk of heart disease or diabetes.
How could this discovery help humans?
"To produce the desired effects, we would need to create a drug that blocks 2-AG production in the brain," says Piomelli, "something we're not yet able to do."
So can we expect a miracle pill in the foreseeable future?
"Tweaking" human brain chemistry is no easy task, says Philipkoski. And preliminary estimates say it would take a decade and cost up to $2 billion to make the drug safe and effective enough for the FDA to to approve it. "So don't cancel that gym membership just yet," says Piomelli.
- 4 secret societies you probably don't know about
- The 10 worst-reviewed movies of 2013
- Watch The Daily Show mock the NSA and the gamers they're spying on
- Did God have a wife?
- How to stick it to the poor: A congressional strategy
- Which professions have the most psychopaths?
- Diagnosing the Home Alone burglars' injuries: A professional weighs in
- This is the twistiest tongue twister ever, says science
- Why Newt Gingrich is getting flak for defending Nelson Mandela
- The secrets of happy families
Subscribe to the Week