Health Watch - Fat: Brain Chemistry

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This week on Health Watch, we’re talking about fat and obesity and how it can affect health. It’s possible that the key to avoiding obesity could be in your brain — and it’s not willpower.

Researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center have found that the brain chemical orexin helps make the body more sensitive to the weight-loss hormone leptin. Dr. Masashi Yanagisawa, a UT Southwestern molecular geneticist, says obese people’s bodies aren’t very sensitive to leptin. Mice with higher orexin levels remain lean even when fed a high-fat diet because their metabolism rate increases. This finding could eventually lead to new ways to treat or prevent obesity, but one problem is that the blood-brain barrier means the chemical can’t be injected or taken orally and still get to the brain, where it can work. Because orexin also affects sleep, this research could also lead to treatments for narcolepsy and other sleep disorders.  

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April 2009

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