America has become a society obsessed with appearance, especially weight.
We are conditioned at a young age to believe the only way to be normal is to be
thin. This norm is projected to millions of Americans each day through
television, magazines, billboards and every other form of media and advertising.
How are people to know acceptance and happiness with themselves and others when
our culture propagates what the perfect body should be.
It is the search for the elusive, perfect body that has created a thirty-
three billion dollars a year weight loss industry. Yet few reduce their body
fat and even fewer maintain their weight loss beyond two to three years. This
leads to yo-yo dieting and increased low self-esteem of people constantly
struggling to become what they see as a normal member of society.
A problem that lies within this problem, is the chronically obese person.
Obesity is when one’s body wieght is 25-30% above normal. While overweight is
20-30 pounds over normal.Most people, including health care providers see
the problem with obesity as eating too much and exercising too little. But in
truth, for many obese people the problem lies with genetic predisposition,
metabolic problems, binge eating or sometimes all. These factors make dieting
virtually impossible because these problems are not ones that can be solved by
simply cutting calories. Especially the problem of binge eating.
Compulsive “binge” eating in the obese is not caused by just wanting to eat.
The want to eat is caused by looking for a sense of security. A sense of
security wanted because there are poor or no coping skills for stress or
depression and low self-esteem. Therefore, when a compulsive overeater or binge
eater diet, the diet is doomed to fail because the weight returns when the
person resumes normal eating. Thus creating an even greater depression.
Now many obese people have medical research to turn to as to why the weight
they lost usually comes back. Recent research has strongly backed the set-point
theory, which says that when an individual loses weight, the body’s metabolic
rate adjusts in order to return to the baseline weight.
Research with animals has revealed a protein called leptin. Leptin
circulates in the blood and signals the set point mechanism in the brain, which
tells how much fat is present in the body. The protein is believed to be
produced by an obesity gene called ob. When leptin is injected into rodents, it
lessened appetite and increased calories being burned. However, leptin is still
very much in early experimental stages, because even though it may gauge how
much fat you have it does not at this point tell how much you want.
Another recent breakthrough was the discovery of unocortin. Unocortin
appears to suppress appetite when the body is under severe stress. It is a
cousin of the brain chemical that generates the body’s “fight or flight”
response. Unocortin was discovered at the Salk Institute, when a researcher was
studying a neuropeptide which activates body stress reactors. He noticed
receptors in parts of the brain where the chemical did not exist. However, it
may be a long time before unocortin is actually a consumer drug. At this time,
the only way unocortin works is to be directly injected into the brain. A
company called Neurocin Biosciences, is already researching the brain receptor
unocortin locks onto to work.
For now, the serotonin reuptake inhibitor drugs are the only diet drugs
being used in the U.S. These drugs work by affecting eating behavior. Eating
behavior is the result of a mixture of neurotransmitters. The link between
serotonin and eating disorders was discovered in the early 1980’s. The
serotonin inhibitors include Lovan, Redux and phen-fen (Phentermine and
Fenfluramine). Phen-fen is the drug combination currently recieving so much
attention. Phentermine is similar to an amphetamine and it works to increase
metabolic rate. Fenfluramine(brand name Pondimin) in-creases the serotonin
level, which decreases appetite. However, neither drug works alone. They only
have optimum effect together.
Phen-fen is how I became interested in the research of new obesity drugs.
I first learned of phen-fen in June. The article I read in the Knoxville paper
about people who had taken the medicine, showed it to be what I and many others
had been waiting for. I finally believed my real chance to lose weight had
arrived. So with real anticipation, I made the two and half hour drive to
Monticello, Kentucky. My first month on the medicine was great, I lost fourteen