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Thunder God Vine - FAT-FIGHTING FRIEND OR TOXIC FOE
What Is Thunder God Vine?
Thunder god vine, also known as Tripterygium wilfordi, comes from the plant family Celastracea, and has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine for the treatment of inflammatory and autoimmune disorders, and for relieving pain and reducing swelling. The vine has three main active ingredients: celastrol, triptolide, and wilforine.
In addition to thunder god vine’s known properties for treating inflammation, there’s new evidence in mice models that one main active compound, celastrol, is an anti-obesity agent that works on leptin regulation. Leptin is a main hormone involved in hunger and metabolism that sends a signal to the brain when a person is full and should stop eating. When leptin is low, hunger is suppressed and metabolism is increased.
Celastrol was shown to suppress food intake, block reduction of energy expenditure, and lead to significant weight loss (more than half of body weight) in hyperleptinemic diet-induced obese mice. Celastrol worked by increasing leptin sensitivity, but was ineffective in leptin-deficient and leptin receptor-deficient mice, indicating that celastrol is an effective leptin sensitizer. Although this is just an animal model, it’s known that humans who lack leptin signaling have a hard time feeling full, eat more calories than is necessary, and can become obese.
What Did the Research Find?
In the study, obese mice reduced their food intake by about 80 percent compared to the control group. Over the course of the three-week celastrol supplementation, the mice lost 45 percent of their initial body weight by oxidizing their stored fat. Additionally, the mice also experienced decreases in cholesterol levels, improved liver function, and glucose metabolism.
Celastrol appears to work not only on leptin sensitization to cause these effects, but also by reducing endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress. A reduction in ER expression is linked to pathophysiology of several metabolic diseases, including obesity. Although these results are promising, further research is needed to determine if the mechanism will function the same way in humans, and what dose would be effective.
Extraction and Toxicity
Extracting the active component celastrol from the vine can be a challenge. These plant extracts are known to be toxic, and the vine extracts can easily become contaminated during processing. Adverse effects include diarrhea, headache, nausea, and, in some cases, infertility! Although this ingredient may hold some promise, more research is needed to understand if the extract is safe for use in humans.
Liu J, et al. Treatment of obesity with Celastrol. Cell. 2015;161(5): 999-1011.
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