Capsaicin, the component which gives hot sauce its burning sensation, could play a key role in the future of weight loss.
Surgeries known as vagal de-affrentation, which uses capsaicin, and vagatomy can achieve weight loss and reduce the risk of obesity-related diseases with fewer side effects when compared to bariatric weight loss surgeries.
The study was conducted at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) and is published in the May issue of Digestive Diseases and Sciences.
After testing the two surgeries in the lab, the researchers found that vagotomy significantly reduced total body fat, as well as visceral abdominal fat—the "beer belly" fat that pads the spaces between abdominal organs. Vagal de-afferentation also reduced these fats, but to a lesser degree.
However the researchers state the reduction is still remarkable.
"The reduction in visceral fat is particularly important," said Ali Tavakkoli, of the BWH Department of Surgery.
"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."
Vagotomy involves removing the vagus nerve, which sends information between the gut and the brain. Vagal de-afferentation also involves the vagus nerve. But rather than removing the nerve completely, surgeons use capsaicin to destroy only certain nerve fibers.
Capsaicin destroys the nerve fibers that take signals from the gut to the brain, leaving intact the nerve fibers that send signals in the opposite direction, from the brain to the gut.
Between the two surgeries, vagal de-afferentation is associated with fewer side effects.
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 fibers. The study results, however, provide promise of what the future can hold.
"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," said Tavakkoli.
"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."