Obesity- It's all in the head

Obesity- It's all in the head

Those stubborn pounds that creep on around the stomach in mid-life are the bane of many.

Professor Lora Heisler, Chair in Human Nutrition at the University of Aberdeen’s Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health will discuss new treatments that may help tackle the middle-aged spread at a public event on December 4 in the Suttie Centre, Forresterhill.

She will share the findings of her research which forms part of a £1.4 million project funded by the Wellcome Trust in the talk titled ‘Obesity – It’s all in the Head’.

She will discuss how signals in the brain that tell us to stop eating function less efficiently as we approach mid-life.

The public event forms part of an education programme organised by the Aberdeen Medico-Chirurgical Society. First established in 1789, the Society plays an important role in the medical community and organises a regular programme of clinical and scientific lectures as well as overseeing funding bursaries for students and providing access to portraits, artefacts and documents which form a unique record of local, national and international medical developments.

Professor Heisler said: “From young adulthood approaching middle age people commonly experience progressive weight gain and this is commonly referred to as middle-aged spread.

“One of the reasons for this can be attributed to a tiny subset of cells in an area of the brain where appetite is controlled.

“These cells make important brain hormones called pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC) peptides that are responsible for regulating our appetite and body weight.

“As we approach mid-life these ‘fullness’ cells slow down and become lazier in sending these signals, which leads to a misjudgement of how much food our body needs.

“Our research has focused on understanding how obesity medications formerly available on prescription around the globe – namely d-fenfluramine and sibutramine - and the new medication lorcaserin which has just been launched in the US, work.

“What we have found is that the small subset of cells that make POMC peptides are the key to these particular drugs working effectively.

“These drugs spark POMC neurons into action, triggering important signals to the brain to let us know when we have had enough to eat.”

The findings could have implications for the development of new treatments to tackle the obesity epidemic in the future.

Professor Heisler continued: “More than half of people in the UK are overweight and 1 in 4 are clinically obese.  This is an enormous percentage of the population, and given the links established between obesity and serious medical illnesses including cancer, heart disease and diabetes, it is essential that we strive to find new methods to tackle this epidemic to improve our health.

“Our new understanding of the crucial role POMC neuron play in combating the middle-aged spread opens the door to new medications that could be developed to jumpstart the signals these neurons send to control appetite and our waistline.”

The free event gets underway at 7pm at the Suttie Centre located in the Foresterhill campus. Parking is available in the University car park, entrance beside the post box on Ashgrove Road.

For more details visit http://www.abdn.ac.uk/events/6261/