Brains, Botox, and Childhood Obesity

Heart-Ache, Stomach-Ache

Last time, Childhood Obesity News considered deep brain stimulation, or DBS. Now, we revisit the brain to look at other research where mice took center stage, concerning a change on the cellular level that “accompanies obesity.” ScienceDaily says:

The findings could explain the body’s tendency to maintain undesirable weight levels, rather than an ideal weight…

One head of the research team is Ken Mackie, who teaches psychology and brain sciences at IU Bloomington. He is also affiliated with the university’s Gill Center for Biomolecular Science, which has long collaborated with Italy’s Institute of Biomolecular Chemistry, academic home of the other leader, Vincenzo Di Marzo.

The hypothalamus is where the molecular drama takes place, involving neurons and a switch and a “massive shift of receptors.” The writer says:

This neurochemical system is involved in a variety of physiological processes, including appetite, pain, mood, stress responses and memory. Food consumption is controlled in part by the hypothalamus, a portion of the brain that regulates many essential behaviors. Like other important body systems, food consumption is regulated by multiple neurochemical systems, including the endocannabinoid system…

Leptin also enters the equation, contributing to the tendency of the molecular switch to go wonky. Various chemical events upset the delicate balance of this complicated network, which then makes our stubborn, traitorous meat vehicles want to be fat. The research has identified a mechanism that causes this to happen and hopefully will show where pharmaceutical intervention could potentially do some good.

Bad Tenants

Methanobrevibacter smithii (familiarly called M. smithii) live inside us, and they are up to no good. They consume hydrogen, which they get from more genteel and helpful gut bacteria. The M. smithii organisms, ingrates that they are, repay the favor by producing methane gas, which seems to somehow make us fatter. Maybe by slowing down the travel time through the intestines, giving the opportunity for more nutrients (soon to be calories) to be leached out of it, which leads eventually to overweight.

Scientists believe that a breath test can predict future obesity. Maggie Fox of NBC News says:

Researchers are trying to figure out if it’s possible to kill off the guilty germ and help people lose weight. But they know better than to just kill gut bacteria willy-nilly — studies have shown that taking antibiotics can alter the balance of microbes in a bad way, causing stomach upset, allowing deadly infections such as C. difficile to take hold and, perhaps, even allowing a takeover by the obesity-generating germs.

False Path

Here from is the lowdown a certain substance:

Botox, short for Botulinum toxin, is a neurotoxin produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. Though it is one of the most poisonous substances in the world, specialists use it in very small amounts… [P]erhaps its most popular use is cosmetic: Botox can smooth out facial wrinkles by paralyzing the muscles that cause them to form.

At some time in the recent past, a study was performed that seemed to show that gastric Botox injections could facilitate weight loss by making the stomach muscles relax, so they wouldn’t squeeze as hard. Food stays there longer and, if all goes as planned, the patient feels full. This wouldn’t make much difference to the absorption of nutrients, because most of that action takes place in the small intestine.

The same stuff that plastic surgeons squirt into people’s facial frown lines, gastroenterologists now stick tubes down people’s gullets to give them shots of in the stomach. The subjects of early research felt increased sensations of fullness, because the Botox would delay the speed of the stomach emptying. There seems to be a flaw in that reasoning, because compulsive eaters will eat far beyond the feeling of repletion and well into the discomfort zone. They don’t care. What’s a little pain in the midsection, when you’re feeding your face?

Anyway, the Botox thing, forget about it. Newer research from the Mayo Clinic has refuted it. says:

This study invalidates those findings because it is larger, used ultrasound to ensure injections were properly placed, and limited bias by ensuring that neither physicians nor patients knew who received Botox and who received placebo injections.

So, while Botox does delay the exit of partly broken-down food from the stomach, it doesn’t lead to weight loss. The admittedly inevitable risks, other than a mild sore throat from the esophageal tube, seem to remain largely unspecified.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Key Shift in Brain That Creates Drive to Overeat Identified,” ScienceDaily, 04/29/13
Source: “Breath test might show it’s not your fault you’re fat,”, 03/26/13
Source: “Stomach Botox Injections Don’t Help Weight Loss,” LiveScience, 01/28/13
Source: “Injecting botox into stomach does not promote weight loss,”, 01/29/13
Image by fekaylius (Jason Wilson).

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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