Anyone who has ever tried to lose a few pounds knows how difficult it is to eat a meal without eating too much. Food cues abound in society, from the food ads on billboards to the cooking shows on television. If only there was some way to dampen that clamor from your appetite! Well, medical research says there may be some possibilities — and a few may surprise you.
Appetite, says Susan Dopart, is a complex process. Dopart, a registered dietitian, wrote an article on appetite suppression for the Huffington Post in October 2010. Appetite, she explains, is controlled by three hormones — insulin, ghrelin and leptin. These hormones interact with each other and affect the brain. Insulin manages the transfer of sugar from the blood stream into the body cells. A diet high in simple carbohydrates can cause insulin resistance, which causes overeating; Dopart says you lose your ability to know when you’ve had enough. Ghrelin and leptin see-saw according to various body processes; ghrelin makes you hungry, while leptin decreases hunger. Appetite suppressants usually must affect these hormones in some way in order to be effective.
Medicines and Appetite
Anti-obesity drugs have been plentiful over the years: Aminorex, Redux, Redusa, Monaslim, Meridia and Reductil are but a few of the names. Most were marginally effective; people lost about 3 percent of body weight for most of them, and as much as 10 percent of body weight for some combinations. Unfortunately, they were all removed from the market because of serious side effects. Cardiovascular problems such as irregular heart beats, strokes, and pulmonary hypertension, as well as psychiatric reactions, led to these drugs and others being banned. Mark K. Huntington and Roger A. Shewmake completed a review of antiobesity drugs for “Future Medicinal Chemistry” in March 2011. They note that as of that writing, only two drugs were still on the U.S. market, Xenical and Alli, both versions of orlistat. While they have side effects, notably gastrointestinal complaints, and fat-soluble vitamins are not as well absorbed while the medicine is being taken, they are about as effective as the other medications that have been discontinued.
Nicotine and Appetite
Nicotine, probably the best known active ingredient in tobacco, also is known to be an appetite suppressant. Intake of nicotine, for example by smoking a cigarette, results in increased level of free fatty acids in the blood stream. This results in a decrease in insulin sensitivity; remember, insulin is one of the hormones that regulates appetite. In one study in Denmark, a research team led by A. Jessen found that when caffeine was added to nicotine, appetite suppression was even greater than when nicotine was taken alone. This study was reported in “Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism” in July 2005.
And finally, the surprise entry in the appetite suppressant field — dark chocolate! Two studies, one in the Netherlands and one in Copenhagen, found dark chocolate effective in suppressing appetite. Writing in the April 2010 issue of “Regulatory Peptides”, E.T Massolt reported that healthy women who ate or smelled dark chocolate reported decreased appetites. Additionally, the women displayed decreased ghrelin levels; ghrelin is the hormone that stimulates the appetite. The Copenhagen study, reported by Kirsten Jenlev for the Faculty of Life Sciences in December, 2008, found study participants who ate 100 g of chocolate — either milk or dark chocolate -- ate 15 percent less of the pizza they were later offered.
Considerations and Warnings
None of the appetite suppressants that research has found to be effective are perfect. Nicotine is the most risky; smoking cigarettes is clearly linked to lung cancer. Orslitat has side effects, requires a prescription and may be expensive. Chocolate, while delicious, usually also contains sugar and fat. If you feel you need to lose weight, the best plan is to consult with a qualified health care professional who can advise you of the choices that should be right for you.