Obesity is a disease that involves having an excessive amount of body fat. It is a serious issue that increases the risk of other medical problems such as heart disease and diabetes. Our understanding of obesity is limited, though scientists from The Spanish National Cancer Research Center continue the process of untangling the relationship between inflammation and obesity that they began five years ago.
The team was exploring the relationship between inflammation and liver cancer in mice and noticed that the mice were losing weight. Through further study, they identified a molecule that could have a role in this process called interleukin 17A, or IL-17A, which is known to trigger inflammation. They then decided to turn to digoxin, a drug known to inhibit the activity of IL-17A.
Digoxin is already used to treat various heart conditions, though its effect on body weight had not been studied before. Their hypothesis was that the use of digoxin to suppress IL-17A would lead to weight loss in mice and have since conducted more experiments to explore that possibility.
The team found that the bodies of obese mice treated with digoxin reduced their production of IL-17A and that regardless of the continued unhealthy, high-calorie diets, they exhibited activation of their basal metabolism, leading to the burning of excess fat and a total reversal of obesity. The obese mice were soon the same weight as healthy control mice on regular diets. No negative side effects were observed while the benefits were monitored for at least eight months.
According to the team, their experiments showed that IL-17A acts directly on fatty tissue to not just drive obesity but lead to metabolic changes that are related to conditions such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease.
Ana Teijeiro, the first author of the study, says “It is tempting to propose that obese patients could take digoxin for a short period until weight loss stabilizes, and then follow a healthy diet.” She adds that “The drug could also be indicated for obesity-related pathologies, such as hypercholesterolemia, hepatic steatosis, and type 2 diabetes.”
Though these results are extremely promising, the effect of digoxin has only been studied in mice, so there is a lot of research to be done before potential application in humans. The team hopes that future research will continue to improve our understanding of how inflammation and obesity are connected and that this exploration will eventually lead to healthier lives for those who suffer from obesity and other related health concerns.