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'Fake meal' pill tricks the body into losing fat





An "imaginary meal" pill is the latest weapon developed by scientists to fight obesity.

The pill tricks the body into thinking it has consumed a large amount of calories - as if you have just eaten a substantial meal.

In early tests on mice it effectively halted weight gain, lowered cholesterol, controlled blood sugar and reduced levels of unhealthy white fat.

"This pill is like an imaginary meal. 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," said US lead scientist Dr Ronald Evans, director of the Salk Institute's Gene Expression Laboratory in La Jolla, California.

The drug, fexaramine, activates a protein called the farensoid X receptor (FXR) that plays a role in how the body releases bile acids from the liver, digests food and stores fats and sugars.

At the start of a meal, FXR prepares for an influx of food, not only triggering bile acid release but also altering blood sugar levels and instigating the burning of some fats.

Other drugs have been developed that act on FXR pathways, but they affect several organs and have unwanted side effects.

An important feature of fexaramine is that it only functions in the gut and does not dissolve into the blood like appetite suppressants.


Since it does not reach the bloodstream it is likely to be safer than other FXR-targeting drugs, said the researchers who are working to set up clinical trials.

Obese mice given a daily dose of the drug for five weeks stopped gaining weight, lost fat and had lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels than untreated mice.

The research is reported in the journal Nature Medicine.