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How hormones sabotage your diet

1st November 2011

People who are trying to lose weight, and people who design diets, may benefit from taking hormones into account, according to a recent Australian study.


This is because, even a year after losing weight, the hormonal signals which cause formerly overweight or obese people to overeat are still present.

The researchers found that hormones such as gherlin and leptin, which send the body signals to eat and to stop eating respectively, were tied to weight regain after successful dieting.

The finding also points toward the prevention of people's becoming obese in the first place as an important goal for public health.

Scott Kahan, an obesity expert at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore in the US, who was not involved in the study, said the finding showed that it was not enough to throw a lot of resources at treating obesity, but that people needed to focus on preventing it from appearing in the first place.

Lead researcher Joseph Proietto, a professor of medicine at the University of Melbourne, said that until people had appetite suppressants that were safe to use as a long-term strategy, people who wanted to lose weight permanently should weigh themselves regularly, eat breakfast, and exercise at least one hour per day.

He said that, from the standpoint of human evolution, it made sense that people's bodies would encourage them to regain weight lost during a time of scarcity, and that this meant that weight regain should not surprise people.

For the study, the researchers recruited 50 overweight people and asked them to diet for 10 weeks.

Sixteen of the subjects either stopped the diet or did not lose 10% of their weight.

The remaining 34 patients followed the diet successfully, losing 10% of their weight, but surprisingly those people's gherlin levels were even higher than they had been before.

At the same time, the same 34 patients had lower-than-usual levels of a hormone that tells the body whether or not fat is present, as if the body's own appetite-regulating hormones were working against the weight loss.

After 62 weeks, the researchers took more measurements of people's appetite-regulating hormones.

It seemed that any change in the mix of hormones brought about by dieting caused the scales to be tipped in favour of feeling hungry and needing to eat more food.

Hormones such as leptin, peptide YY, and cholecystokinin were all reduced, a profile which would favour weight regain.

Proietto said the findings explained why it was common for people to regain weight after dieting, and why public health measures generally fail to reduce the prevalence of obesity.

Lost weight gets regained within five years of people losing it, according to published evidence.

Kahan said he felt the finding was important.

He said that the study was one of many which made it clear that weight regain was not a problem of willpower, but rather a problem of hormones and metabolism.

Louis Aronne, founder and director of the Comprehensive Weight Control Program at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, agreed, and said that achieving weight loss and maintaining that loss was very complex and that scientists needed new approaches to treatment, including medication.


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