While Botox is most commonly known for its use by the rich and famous to eliminate facial wrinkles, researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology are studying if it could be used as an alternative to treating morbid obesity, replacing costly and dangerous operations.
Tests on rats have shown that treatments with Botox injected into the vagus nerve in the stomach can lead to weight loss. When researcher Helene Johannessen injected rats with Botox, the animals ate less and lost 20–30% of their body weight over five weeks.
The treatment effectively paralyses the vagus nerve, which triggers the sense of hunger and controls the passing of food through the intestines.
Paralysing the nerve subsequently paralyses muscles in the stomach, which appears to slow the passage of food through the stomach. This effect might one day lead to satiety treatments that cause people to feel fuller for longer.
Alternatives to gastric surgery
The hope is that the use of Botox could be developed into an alternative to gastric bypass surgery. Johannessen and her research team are part of the Experimental Surgery and Pharmacology research group, which is exploring alternatives to gastric surgery. The Botox treatment study is part of an EU project called Full4Health.
Botox is actually botulinum toxin, which when ingested in spoiled foods can lead to both paralysis and death. Today Botox is used in the medical treatment of dystonias and spasms, as well as for its more famous cosmetic use.
If Johannessen and her colleagues succeed in their efforts, it might also become useful in giving people a healthier and less weighty life.
Human clinical studies
Johannessen said her research team would start human clinical studies as soon as Norwegian medical ethics authorities gave their approval.
“As a start, we will be inviting patients who are candidates for obesity operations but who, for one reason or another, cannot undergo one,” Johannessen said.
Obesity is a growing problem across the globe. Being overweight can lead to severe diseases and conditions including diabetes and heart problems.
The World Health Organization estimates that obesity is responsible for 2–8% of health care costs and 10–13% of deaths in different parts of Europe.