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Newest Weight Loss Trick: Burning Fat without Food

Every day there seems to be a new secret promising to dramatically aid in your weight loss success.

If you're someone who's never had to watch what you eat, or been one to exercise, all these advertisements can be extremely overwhelming.

You may have even participated in a couple of these "miracle" supplements in hopes of reaching your desired weight.

The newest "trick" scientists are looking into is a way to make your gut burn fat on its own, without needing any food. Researchers have been working on a pill that would act as an imaginary meal and would trick your digestive system into burning fat without any food.

The pill contains fexaramine, which has shown to reduce inflammation, aid in turning white fat into brown fat, and limiting weight gain in mice. Fexaramine is activated as a receptor into releasing bile acids (your digestive juices) that can help you absorb essential nutrients after you've eaten.

Even though this seems like another promising pill, is it really safe?

Dr. Mike discusses the newest weight loss "trick" and if it's something you should be considering.

RadioMD Presents:Healthy Talk | Original Air Date: April 10, 2015
Host: Michael Smith, MD

Healthy Talk with Dr. Michael Smith, MD. And now, here's the country doctor with the city education, Dr. Mike:

DR. MIKE: What if I were to tell you that I could---Well, not me, but a certain chemical. A pill could trick your body into thinking you ate a meal. Hmm. Interesting, isn't it? This comes from a paper published in Nature Medicine just this past January. Now, this is complicated so I'm going to take my time in trying to explain what's going on here. Let me begin by saying this. We've talked about, for a long time, the importance of when you are dieting not to overdo it because if you eliminate a lot of calories in a day—too many—it actually can have the opposite effect you want. If, all of a sudden your body is saying to itself, "Wow. I'm missing a lot of food all of a sudden." You know, if you're dieting and you decrease your calorie intake 15%, 20%, 25%, even beyond that.

Some of these extreme fad diets really cut calories big. If you do that right away, definitely, your body senses that you're missing food and it starts to think, "Oh, my gosh. There's like a famine going on. We're starving." And it will kick in anti-starvation mechanisms. I mean, the human body, because we've gone through so many famines in our human existence, we've developed some really amazing mechanisms to make sure we can make it through that famine and not starve to death. Our bodies can do some amazing things, specifically through the liver.

The take home message to all this is that the body never wastes the calorie. Every calorie you bring in is either burned or stored. So, if you start to decrease calories too much, your body actually does the reverse of what you wanted to do. It starts to store everything up, even if you eat a little bit, it stores it as fat and, eventually, you'll plateau and even start gaining some of that weight back.

I wanted to begin with that because what this study highlighted was the fact that when you do consume calories—when you bring calories into your system, there are two physiological mechanisms that kick in. The first one—and this is the easy one, I think, for most people to understand. If there's anything in your gut, it needs to be moved out to make room for the new food that you're eating. So, the first thing that happens when you consume something is it stimulates the "peristalsis" which is the contraction of the bowels to move anything that's just sitting there, out. That's the first thing. But what we've learned, though, is that's not the only thing that happens. That peristalsis, that movement of the digestive system, is highly controlled between hormones and neurotransmitters. The brain's involved, certain gut reflexes are involved. I mean, it's very complex.

When that peristalsis starts to kick in, there's a second thing that happens. As you're making room for the food you just ate, something else happens. Fat cells get a signal to start to burn. Why would they do that? Well, because they want to make room for more storage. More fresh storage of fat, if you will. They're trying to also supply some energy to that peristaltic motion in the gut. So, all of this time that people like myself and other weight loss experts have been saying, "You've got to eat if you want to lose weight," we were right. We're just learning about what's really going on and we always knew that if you eat smaller meals throughout the day, that helps in weight loss. Starving yourself doesn't help down the line.

Now, we're kind of starting to understand the physiology involved. So, let me just explain this one more time to make sure, because it's hard to understand what this new drug is doing without understanding everything I just said. So, cutting out calories increases anti-starvation mechanisms. So, even if you eat a little bit of something, you're going to turn it into fat. So, that's why we don't want to starve. Number two, when you do bring in calories, it stimulates what's called peristalsis which is very complex in the body. It contracts the gut and moves food out, but that process also leads to fat burning, probably to supply the energy for peristalsis as you start to mobilize the sugars and stuff like that for food, you've got to supply the peristalsis before all that food gets in.

So, those fat cells that have been burned are now used for fuel to do the peristalsis. So, yes. You've got to eat to lose weight. So, that's important to understand. This is a conclusion from one of the researchers in this paper: Dr. Evans said that once you start to bring calories in and you initiate this peristaltic hormonal relay, the fat tissue needs to anticipate food before it's there and it starts to burn itself to supply energy and make room for new fat storage. It's pretty awesome, isn't it? So, let's go back.

So, how are we going to do this? Remember at the beginning of this, I said, "What if there were a way for a drug to kind of initiate all of this?" All of this peristaltic kind of motion, the fat burning motion, to make room for new fat to supply energy for peristalsis? What if we could initiate that without eating? What if we could help somebody who is obese who really can't do the several meals? I mean, they're just eating huge meals consistently throughout the day and that's not going to work. What if we could replace some of those meals with a pill that acted like food and kind of initiated this complex peristalsis and fat burning thing? Wouldn't that be awesome? It would be very helpful, at least for people who are morbidly obese.

So, here we have this pill. The drug is called Fexaramine. It was developed by Ronald Evans, Director of the Gene Expression Laboratory at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California. Again, this was published in January 2015 in Nature Medicine. They found that this Fexaramine could reduce weight gain, ease inflammation and help turn white fat, which stores calories, into brown fat which burns it in overweight mice compared to a controlled group.

Remember, food itself can also do that. Not to a huge degree, but when you bring in calories, you kick in peristalsis. You've got to supply energy for that. So, you take white fat, you turn it into brown fat. You burn that fat and now you have fuel for peristalsis. Now, what they have found is a drug, Fexaramine, that could mimic that process without eating the food. Fexaramine is a food that activates a receptor that's linked to the release of bioacids. This is how it works or what they, in this study, called "digestive juices". My listeners know digestive juices, for the most part, mean digestive enzymes and bioacids. That's important because that's what, especially with the fatty meal, helps you emulsify fat so you can absorb those nutrients.

These digestive juices and bioacids are produced in the liver. They go to the gallbladder before being released in the intestine. All of this is the beginning part of the digestion process before you really start kicking in peristalsis and needing that energy, this is all that happens when you take in a bolus of food. Turns out, this Fexaramine can bind to the same receptors that some food sources do, mimicking the food source.

We realize the release of bioacids flips on a series of genetic programs that control intestinal activity. The gut gets a signal in there which mobilizes blood flow to gather nutrients and prepares fat tissue to behave in a particular way, which is to burn itself. So, Fexaramine is mimicking a bolus of food, initiating peristalsis and the burning of fat so you can provide fuel for that peristalsis. So, Fexaramine is a pill that maybe somebody that's morbidly obese can take at certain times and not eat, but you get that same feeling, get that same process going and get some additional fat burning.

Fexaramine. Is this the new weight loss trick? Maybe so. Fexaramine.

This is Healthy Talk on RadioMD. I'm Dr. Mike. Stay well.