Charge Up for Good Health

A Vaccine Against Fat?

There are at least two �flab jabs� in the pipeline that might make you forget your fear of needles.

Imagine there was a vaccine that would allow you to eat what you want and still lose weight.

Well, if you’re a chubby rodent, there is.

In fact, there are two vaccines in the works that could change the entire frontier of obesity, though both are still in the animal testing stage.

One, developed by scientists at Scripps Institute in California, works by zapping the appetite-boosting effects of the hormone ghrelin. It doesn’t exactly help you lose weight, but it significantly curbs weight gain. Rats who got the vaccine and ate whatever they wanted only gained 0.8 grams a day vs. rats on a placebo who gained 1.6 grams a day when allowed to pig out. Add a low-cal diet to the equation and voila -- easier weight loss.

The ‘Flab Jab’

The other vaccine, developed by Braasch BioTech in South Dakota, does help you lose body fat, even if you’re a regular at the all-you-can-eat buffet. This “flab jab,” as the British tabloids dubbed it, works in an entirely different way, by suppressing a hormone that slows down metabolism. Technically speaking, it inhibits the release of growth factor (aka human growth hormone or HGH) from the pituitary gland, allowing it to build to higher levels in the body -- the way it was when we were kids and could eat anything and not gain weight.

The anti-obesity vaccine actually takes aim at fat cells, explains Keith N. Haffer, PhD, president and chief science officer of Braasch. “These cells stop making new fat (lipogenesis) and excrete fat (lipolysis),” he says. “In other words, they’re not making any more fat and burning the fat they have.” (Read the full study here.)

Too Good to Be True?

While the mice in Haffer’s study were all fat-eating obese mice, those that got the vaccine were leaner and lighter than their compatriots, even though they were eating the same number of calories. But that doesn’t mean that, if this vaccine comes to the human market, you can have your cake and lose weight too.

It will work even better if you’re on a healthy diet and exercising, says Haffer.

Haffer created the vaccine originally for the meat and milk industries. Because it naturally increases levels of HGH, it would replace the synthetic version now given to cows and pigs to increase lean meat and milk production and promote faster growth in young animals. That’s a common and now increasingly controversial practice that’s been banned in some places, including the entire European Union, because of fears that it can disrupt normal hormonal functions in humans.

That hasn’t stopped bodybuilders and Internet entrepreneurs from promoting it as a way to build muscle and stop aging. Early research found that people who were injected with synthetic HGH lost weight, fat, and built more lean muscle. And there’s some evidence that HGH can turn back the hands of time in some ways. In fact, a study published on August 6 in Archives of Neurology found that older people with mild cognitive problems had improved memory, concentration and decision-making skills when they took a drug that boosted natural HGH in the body.

Unfortunately, synthetic HGH -- the kind that bodybuilders crave and can be found all over the Internet -- can have some serious side effects in humans, including joint and muscle pain and insulin resistance, a risk factor for diabetes.

When Will It Be Available?

So far, says Haffer, after testing in 20,000 animals, he hasn’t found any appreciable side effects. And, he says, it’s not going to be sold over the Internet.

The vaccine is short-acting -- after a couple of weeks, you’re back to your old sluggish metabolism -- so it needs to be administered again. By your doctor.

“You would definitely have to be monitored,” says Haffer, who is now seeking a U.S. Food and Drug Administration license to release the vaccine for use in animals.

Both this shot and the one being developed by the Scripps Institute are still years away from being approved for human use. But, says Haffer, “we hope this vaccine is seen as a potential tool on the horizon for treating obesity. What consumers want is an anti-obesity drug. And this is an option that the big pharmaceutical companies are not looking at.”



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