Hot Sauce Ingredient in Future Weight Loss Surgery

hot peppers weight lossAn ingredient found in hot sauce could play a part in weight loss in the future, according to a new study published in this month’s issue of Digestive Diseases and Sciences.  Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital studied the weight loss results of two potential future surgeries, in comparison with today’s weight loss surgery options. The surgeries that they investigated were vagal de-afferentation, which uses capsaicin, the component responsible for the chili pepper’s “hotness”, and vagotomy, which involves removing the vagus nerve, a messenger between the gut and the brain.  (A vagal de-afferentation also involves the vagus nerve, but instead of removing the nerve completely, capsaicin is used to destroy only certain nerve fibers.)

The researchers found that vagotomy significantly reduced total body fat, as well as visceral abdominal fat, known as the “beer belly” fat. The volume of visceral fat a person has is a marker of obesity, and obesity-related diseases. While vagal de-afferentation reduced these fats to a lesser extent, the researchers still describe the reduction as “remarkable”.  Being able to target dangerous visceral fat makes these procedures especially appealing. Of the two procedures, vagal de-afferentation has fewer side effects, as it does not completely destroy the vagus nerve; while the capsaicin destroys the nerve fibers that move signals from the gut to the brain, it leaves the fibers that send signals in the opposite direction intact.

The findings of this study are early and further research is needed to determine if capsaicin could be applied directly to human vagal fibers.  Procedures such as these that show promising results for weight loss in a less invasive fashion will become more important as the demand for weight loss surgery increases, say the study authors. Additionally, as diabetes rates continue to climb, more and more people will need effective therapy options to fight the epidemic. In fighting the battle against visceral fat, soluble fiber has proven to be an effective weapon. A study last year showed the positive effects of soluble fiber, which is found in beans, oats, peas, apples, carrots, and barley. You can read more about the study here.

Another recent study found fat-fighting promise in another “spicy” ingredient–black pepper.  Researchers pinpointed that  piperine, the pungent-tasting substance that gives black pepper its characteristic taste, can block the formation of new fat cells. Lab studies and computer models found that piperine interferes with the activity of genes that control the formation of new fat cells, and in doing so, it may also set off a metabolic chain reaction that helps keep fat in check in other ways. You can read more about the black pepper study here.

We spoke with Dr. Laura Machado, expert weight loss surgeon in Sacramento, about the findings. She said “As the rates of obesity continue to increase, the ongoing need for further research into both surgical and medical approaches is highlighted in these recent articles.  Hot peppers, fiber, and spices all have a role to play in the life of a fat cell.”  She explained that the ability to decrease visceral fat is the hallmark of a successful weight loss intervention, as it improves overall health and decreases diabetes risk.  The potential for a natural occurring substance to play a role is very appealing from a global health standpoint.

“The particular effect of capsaicin on visceral fat by way of interfering with nerve signals could play a major role in future applications,” Dr. Machado continued.  “We will always be researching the ability to achieve similar effects with less invasiveness as we consider the global needs regarding the obesity epidemic.  The ‘fire’ that we experience from spicy foods may be more internal than originally thought to be.  For the time being, I will continue to order my food ‘extra spicy’”, Dr Machado said.

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