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Controlling Body System That Can Cause the 'Munchies' May Aid Weight Loss

April 28, 2006 (New York) -- A system in the body that plays a role in getting the "munchies" may be the latest battleground in the war on obesityobesity, according to experts at a presentation sponsored by the American Medical Association.

The endocannabinoid system affects many body processes, including the control of food intake and metabolic functions such as energy, sugar, and fats. Studies have shown that the endocannabinoid system is revved up in people who are obese, causing weight gain and its related risks.

"What many people are looking at as a lack of willpower could have some physical basis," says Louis J. Aronne, MD, director of the Comprehensive Weight Control Program at New York Presbyterian Hospital-Weill Cornell Medical Center and a clinical professor of medicine at Weill Medical College of Cornell University in New York. Simply put, when the endocannibinoid system is overactive, people eat more, leading to weight gain.

But blocking the endocannabinoid system may do more than just reduce weight; it may also reduce related risk factors. Because this system also affects metabolic functions, putting the lid on it fights risk factors that lead to diabetesdiabetes.

Five drugs are being developed that block the endocannabinoid system, including Acomplia, the "antimunchies" drug, so-named because it acts like marijuana in reverse, curbing appetite.

EC system 101

When your endocannabinoid system is overactive, the deck is stacked against you. "Its effect on the brain is to increase hunger and decrease satiety, and drive the desire for palatable food," he explains. "In the gastrointestinal tract, it interacts with other hormones ... to make you feel hungrier."

What's more, it impairs the cells' ability to use blood sugar. This sets the stage for diabetes.

Studies in both animals and humans show that when the endocannibinoid system is stimulated, it leads to weight gain, increases body fat, and slows the action of insulin. Taken together, these effects are called the metabolic syndromemetabolic syndrome, which predisposes a person to developing heart diseaseheart disease and diabetes.

Is Blocking the EC System a Panacea?

Soon after discovering the endocannabinoid system, researchers began to find sites all over the body called cannabinoid receptors. Blocking these receptors may rein in the overactive endocannabinoid system and reduce weight as well as improve other related risk factors. Acomplia is designed to do just that.

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