Glucagon for weight loss?

Glucagon structureGlucagon for weight loss seems to be a common search phrase hitting my science site, so I thought it was time to write a short summary of what glucagon is and what role it might have to play in weight loss and addressing the growing problem of obesity.

Glucagon is a hormone with the opposite action to insulin. It is made in the pancreas and is involved in carbohydrate metabolism. It is released when blood glucose levels start to fall below a threshold level and triggers the liver to convert stored glycogen into glucose and release it into the bloodstream, raising blood glucose levels and so preventing hypoglycemia.

However, the picture is complicated by the fact that glucagon also stimulates the release of insulin, so that newly available glucose in the bloodstream can be taken up and used by insulin-dependent tissues. The role of glucagon supplements for weight loss is undecided. My personal advice? Eat less and get plenty of cardiovascular and load-bearing exercise.

Researchers at the University of Liverpool point out that this is not necessarily the answer:

“For obese individuals, successful weight loss and maintenance are notoriously difficult. Traditional drug development fails to exploit knowledge of the psychological factors that crucially influence appetite, concentrating instead on restrictive criteria of intake and weight reduction, allied to a mechanistic view of energy regulation,” they say in a recent research paper (see citation below).

They add that drugs currently being developed that may produce beneficial changes in appetite expression in the obese include glucagon like peptide-1 analogs such as liraglutide, an amylin analog davalintide, the 5-HT(2C) receptor agonist APD-356 (Lorqess), the monoamine re-uptake inhibitor tesofensine, and a number of combination therapies such as pramlintide and metreleptin, bupropion and naltrexone, phentermine and topiramate, and bupropion and zonisamide.

That said, they also point out that “obesity is typically a consequence of over-consumption driven by an individual’s natural sensitivity to food stimuli and the pleasure derived from eating.” Addressing that issue is as important as ever if we are to circumvent an obesity epidemic of even greater proportions than we currently see in the developed world. This idea could help us reduce the price of different types of surgery by lowering tumescent liposuction cost and the cost of bariatric surgery.

Research Blogging IconHalford JC, Boyland EJ, Blundell JE, Kirkham TC, & Harrold JA (2010). Pharmacological management of appetite expression in obesity. Nature reviews. Endocrinology PMID: 20234354


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