London: The compound that gives hot chillies the heat may play an important role in weight loss therapies in future, scientists say.
A team at the Brigham and Women`s Hospital in Boston are testing a technique involving capsaicin, which gives peppers their burning sensation, as an alternative to vagatomy where the vagus nerve that connects the gut and the brain is cut.
The surgery, which is used to treat ulcers, has the added benefit of reducing the risk of obesity-related diseases. But, it has never been used specifically for weight-loss due to the number of possible side-effects like delayed gastric emptying.
In the new technique, called vagal de-afferentation, the team used capsaicin to destroy only certain nerve fibres in obese rats instead of removing the vagal nerve completely.
They found this type of surgery reduced the amount of "beer belly" fat -- which pads out the space between abdominal organs -- by seven per cent over 11 months compared to the control rats.
Although a vagatomy achieved a 19 per cent reduction in fat in rats it was associated with far more side-effects.
"High visceral fat volume is a marker of obesity and obesity-related diseases, such as diabetes. Preferentially lost visceral fat after vagal de-afferentation highlights the potential for this procedure," lead study researcher Dr Ali Tavakkoli was quoted as saying by the Daily Mail.
The researchers note that more work needs to be done on whether these surgeries can be used on humans, and whether capsaicin could be applied directly to human vagal fibres.
However, the study provide promise of what the future can hold, said Dr Tavakkoli, adding, "As demand for surgeries that reduce weight and obesity-related diseases increases, procedures that can achieve success in a less invasive fashion will become increasingly important.
"This is an important and developing surgical discipline, especially as diabetes rates soar worldwide, and people try to find effective therapies to fight this epidemic."
The study is published in the journal Digestive Diseases and Sciences.