The secret nutrients that could be a new weapon against obesity


Odetta Graves has tried virtually every form of weight loss strategy imaginable, to little avail. “I’ve always been on a diet: the cabbage soup diet, the Morning Banana diet, the Peanut Butter diet, Atkins, Weight Watchers, fasting – everything,” says Graves, 62, who is medically obese and lives with her partner in east London. But after putting on a stone over lockdown – “Covid weight, I call it” – she is currently the heaviest she has ever been.

Now, there is hope on her horizon. Graves took part earlier this year in a small but promising weight loss study at Queen Mary University of London, where she works in the IT department. In the trial, Graves and 19 other obese adults, each aged between 18 and 75, were given capsules containing a cocktail of nutrients designed to tame their appetites. The nutrients all came from natural ingredients found in common foods (broccoli, coconut oil, and perilla oil) – a key attraction for Graves, who has tried Orlistat, slimming pills, and other synthetic weight loss drugs, but found they brought unpleasant side-effects.  

Lead researcher Dr Madusha Peiris says those nutrients were chosen because they contain medium-chain fatty acids, which are thought to trigger the colon into producing the powerful PYY hormone, which makes people feel full.

The trial was funded by Bowel Research UK, a new charity launched this month. 

Graves was invited into the university on two separate days, four weeks apart. On day one, she was given 12 tablets and then an hour later served a huge breakfast of yoghurt, cinnamon cake, two slices of white toast, and boiled eggs. Later in the day, she was given another 12 tablets and served an equally substantial lunch. “In came this beautiful picture of McDonald’s through the door, with full fat Coke, which is something else that I do love but I don’t have it all the time. I thought, ‘This is the most marvellous diet I’ve ever been on’.” 

Four weeks later, on day two, she was invited back to repeat the same process. 

But on one of the two days she was given a series of placebo tablets – dummies that contained none of the broccoli, coconut oil, or perilla oil nutrients. The order was randomised and double-blind, meaning the researchers administering the capsules did not know whether they were placebos or the real thing. 



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