Hibernating animals survive the winter months in a state of torpor. Their body temperature plummets, their heart and breathing rates drop, and their metabolism changes from primarily glucose burning to fat burning. They then live on body fat reserves, sometimes for many months at a time.
Could inducing a similar state of torpor in humans also change our metabolism from glucose burning to fat burning? And if so, would this be an effective treatment for obesity?That’s the astonishing suggestion made by Cheng Chi Lee, a molecular biologist at the University of Texas Houston Medical School, US, and a colleague in this patent application.
The idea comes on the back of his team’s discovery that the chemical 5-adenosine monophosphate, or 5-AMP, induces a state of torpor in mice, which do not usually hibernate. Lee says that a capsule or injection of 5-AMP could induce a similar state in humans, and the accompanying metabolic changes could help treat a range of conditions associated with obesity, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and eating disorders.
What to make of this? It’s an extraordinary idea, but it will need to be backed by good peer-reviewed evidence if it is ever to progress from a mere suggestion.