Combating type 2 diabetes and obesity is a major medical, social and economic challenge for Western societies. Caused by an excessive calorie intake relative to consumption by the body, these conditions are best addressed by lifestyle changes, but scientists are also investigating other solutions. Raising resting metabolic rate, energy consumption without physical activity, is one means of burning more calories. After screening over 2000 compounds, researchers discovered that piperine, an alkaloid extracted from black peppercorns (pictured in cross-section) can boost the metabolism of skeletal muscle, vastly increasing the consumption of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the energy currency of the body, in muscle fibres. As skeletal muscle accounts for on average 40% of body mass, this would have a significant impact. While piperine itself is likely to cause too many side-effects to be used as a drug, developing piperine-like pharmaceuticals with similar effects could yield new tools to facilitate weight loss.
Written by Emmanuelle Briolat
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