Vertigo Drug Betahistine Potential Blockbuster Obesity Medication

A doctor at Tel Aviv University has found that the vertigo medication Betahistine, also known as SERC, suppresses the desire to eat fatty foods. The effects were seen to be most significant in women under the age of 50. Women under 50 who took Histalean (a repurposed form of Betahistine) for 12 weeks lost 7 times the weight of those taking a placebo during the recently completed Phase II clinical trial.

The drug is commonly prescribed for people with inner ear and balance disorders or to ease vertigo symptoms associated with Menieres Disease. It has been in use since 1970 and has a good safety profile. In the Tel Aviv study, none of the 281 patients, males and females aged 18-65, complained of serious side effects.

How Does it Work?

Betahistine has strong antagonistic effects at H3 receptors in the brain, which are linked to the sense of fullness and the desire to eat fatty foods. It has been hypothesized that betahistine raises levels of neurotransmitters such as serotonin in the brainstem, which inhibits the activity of vestibular nuclei.

Dr. Nir Barak, specialist in nutrition and internal medicine at the Rabin Medical Center, reports:

All the drugs in the diet pill market today have serious side effects. They may help a woman lose weight, but with that weight loss comes all sorts of bad things like depression and even suicide. Safety issues are a real concern for the FDA. But because this new drug has already been proven safe for other indications, we think Histalean has real blockbuster potential.

“The results suggest a strong gender and age effect and support the potential of the drug as a breakthrough anti-obesity agent in women 50 years old or less,” said Dr. Yaffa Beck, CEO of Obecure, the company developing Histalean.

Obecure is also looking at the use of Histalean for preventing the weight gain that affects patients taking the popular (over $4 billion annual sales) antipsychotic Zyprexa.

Obesity Epidemic

Considering that over 60 percent of American women are overweight, and nearly a third fall into the category of obese and at greater risk of cancer, heart disease and diabetes, it is unfortunate that there is no safe, long-term medical remedy that tackles unwanted weight gain. Perhaps this new study will help change that for the better. Then all we have to do is stop kids from watching being couch potatoes and eating junk food. Not to mention the parents. A piece in the Washington Post drives home the point quite well:

    “Almost one in six American children and teens are overweight, according to the U.S. Surgeon General’s office, which also warns that 70 percent of overweight teens will grow into overweight or obese adults. Overweight children are now increasingly at risk for type 2 diabetes, a disease formerly associated only with adults. Kids carrying extra pounds may also have a higher risk of developing low self-esteem or depression.”

Another recent study by University of Michigan scientist Lloyd Johnston and colleagues points out that the majority of middle schools (67%) and high schools (83%) have direct or indirect contracts with a soft drink bottling company, in many cases giving students access to soft drinks all day long.

    Estimates of the median annual revenue for soft drink contracts in high schools turn out to be $6,000 ($6.48 per student), while for middle schools the annual revenue is about $500 (70 cents per student).

Another study grimly points out that low income neighborhoods have larger proportions of restaurants serving fast foods, while having fewer supermarkets and more convenience stores at which to buy their groceries.

Partially adapted from a news release issued by Tel Aviv University.
Engraving: Wellcome Images Creative Commons Attribution.