Dieting might become easier, as scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies have developed a pill that tricks the body into thinking it has consumed a large meal, igniting the fat burning process and cutting the appetite.
The research team is soon to embark on human clinical trials of the compound, called Fexaramine, for it effectively stopped weight gain, lowered cholesterol, controlled blood sugar and minimized inflammation in mice.
Most diet pills on the market -- including appetite suppressants or caffeine-based diet drugs -- dissolve into the blood, whereas Fexaramine remains in the intestines where it causes fewer side effects.
"This pill is like an imaginary meal," said Ronald Evans, director of Salk's Gene Expression Laboratory and senior author of the new paper, published January 5 in the journal Nature Medicine. "It sends out the same signals that normally happen when you eat a lot of food, so the body starts clearing out space to store it. But there are no calories and no change in appetite."
It's been two decades in the making, and the study has centered on the farnesoid X receptor (FXR), a protein that controls much of the digestion process, triggering the release of bile acids, say the researchers.
FXR also plays a role in the storing of fats and sugars, as it controls the blood sugar level and instigates fat burning before meals.
While none of this is news to the scientific community, and pharmaceutical companies have already worked with FXR in the hopes of treating metabolic conditions, Evans's team appears to have made a breakthrough by localizing the effects in the intestines.
"When you eat, you have to quickly activate a series of responses all throughout the body," says Evans. "And the reality is that the very first responder for all this is the intestine."
Fexaramine is also predicted to be safer in humans than other FXR-targeting drugs because it doesn't reach the bloodstream.
After five weeks of Fexaramine treatment, obese mice were not only in better shape, but experienced a rise in body temperature, signaling an increase in metabolism, also indicated by the conversion of white fat deposits to energy-burning beige fat.
The research team is at work organizing human clinical trials and says the drug would work in conjunction with diet and lifestyle changes.
ALSO ON HUFFPOST