Saturday, September 02, 2006

Body the enemy in battle of bulge

There's bad news for people trying to slim down - the body is programmed to resist weight loss, new Australian research reveals. It is well known that dieters and people exercising to shed kilos often hit a plateau - a point where weight loss stops which is difficult to push past. Queensland University of Technology researcher Neil King has found this plateau can remain in place for a prolonged period even when people exercise or diet. "But I found out that if people keep exercising and taking energy out of their system they can still stay at a constant body weight," Dr King said yesterday.

The research, to be presented at the International Congress on Obesity in Sydney next week, involved two studies of obese and overweight people. In the first, 30 obese men and women from Britain took part in a 12-week, lab-based program in which they exercised five times a week. The second study looked at weight loss in 200 Australian men on a continuing commercial weight-loss program which involved both exercise and dietary advice. Both groups plateaued despite the regime differences.

Members of the British group lost an average of 3kg during the first eight weeks. But progress levelled out drastically at week eight, with participants shedding just 0.7kg in the last four weeks. Dr King believed the body struck a plateau because it was designed to cope with famine, "not the current obesogenic environment which enforces inactivity and a plentiful food supply".


A six-pack pill coming?While achieving a toned and muscular physique is hard enough, maintaining it can become a chore. For the would-be Brad Pitts among us, help is at hand. Scientists are on course to develop a drug that would allow people to maintain their six-packs without the need for exercise. Research into muscle wastage - intended primarily to treat weakness in the sick and elderly - could lead to therapies that enable healthy people to preserve a buffed look without lifting a finger. While muscles can be built up with exercise, they start to break down quickly without it, so it is necessary to keep exercising to prevent muscles wasting away... "Those in the field agree that the question is no longer if we can develop anti-wasting treatments, but when," New Scientist says. "While there are valid medical applications for anti-wasting drugs, as a safer alternative to steroids they will inevitably be hugely tempting for athletes too, not to mention the lazy well." Two independent teams, one at Harvard University and one from a pharmaceutical company called Regeneron, have identified genes named atrogin1 and muRF1 which are active only during muscle atrophy. In rats, when these are knocked out, the animals suffer much less muscle wastage from disease or disuse. A third team, at Purdue University, Indiana, has found another gene, erg1, which also contributes to the process. Its influence can be affected by an existing drug called astemizole, although this has been withdrawn because it can interfere with healthy heart activity."

A win against cancer: "A postmaster dying of the most dangerous form of skin cancer is one of two men to have been saved after their white blood cells were genetically engineered to fight their tumours. The trial in the US provides the first direct evidence that normal immune system cells can be altered genetically to become tumour-hunters, raising the prospect of a new generation of treatments for cancer. While the therapy has been tried on only the most virulent form of skin cancer, malignant melanoma, which accounts for about 3 per cent of cancers in Britain, scientists are convinced that it should work eventually for other tumours, such as those of the breast or lung. The team at the US National Cancer Institute (NCI) have already tailored human white blood cells to recognise and destroy other cancers in the laboratory and are planning to test these on patients soon... Of 17 melanoma patients who were given cells tailored to fight their tumours, only two responded. Even so, these two cases offer proof of the principle that the adapted cells can survive, then shrink tumours"

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