Bad Idea: Metabolic Poison as a Weight Loss Drug December 9, 2006Posted by Hegemony in Health, Science.
In case you’re confused I have changed the title of this article. The old title was attracting search engine hits from the wrong crowd. Not only were these searches disconcerting, these people were spamming my blog.
There is a fad out there right now. Some very body conscious people are using a substance, that for all intents and purposes, is a poison. You may wonder why they would do this. Because they can loose weight with it. We’ll call this DN (as I don’t want to give any impressionable people any ideas) and it is categorized as a highly toxic metabolic poison. Users of it know what I’m referring to. The mechanism by which it operates is downright interesting, and the consequences of it’s use are just as frightening.
Here’s a little background… DN was originally used in the 1930’s as a diet aid. It was one of those instances where people thought they had stumbled upon a miracle drug. People lost weight and everything was all well and good. Until they began to realize even a small overdose could cause a fever so high that it resulted in death. Not to mention the longterm effects include such favorites as cataracts. It fell out of use in the late 30’s and it stayed that way until the 90’s. Having apparently forgotten the lessons learned the first time around people began using it again. It is still popular with bodybuilders, models, athletes, and even some people with eating disorders. But how does it work, and what makes it so dangerous?
To answer that we’ll need a quick review of biochemistry. In our cells we have many proteins called enzymes. Enzymes are used to catalyze reactions that would not proceed on their own. Almost every reaction on the molecular level involves an enzyme in some way. Many of these enzymes are powered by that all important molecule, ATP. When an enzyme binds and hydrolyzes (breaks apart) ATP it allows the enzyme to undergo a conformational change (change shape). So we can think of ATP as imparting energy to the enzyme. This allows the enzyme to preform it’s specific reaction.
You need lots of ATP and most of it is produced in the mitochondria of your cells. These are small membrane bound structures that are probably the descendants of engulfed bacteria (but that’s another story). I won’t get into the intricacies here but this process relies on a series on enzymes that transport protons into a space between the mitochondria’s two membranes (known as the electron transport chain). This “proton gradient” leaks back out through another enzyme called ATP synthase. As the protons pass through the channel of the enzyme they initiate a conformational change that allows ATP synthase to make ATP. This is called oxidative phosphorylation.
Now, when you eat food the sugars eventually result in the production of ATP which allows your cells to synthesize complex molecules like fatty acids (among other things). If all you care about is loosing weight you can turn the production of ATP off and you body will begin breaking down fat for energy. This is called decoupling oxidative phosphorylation and it’s what DN does. It is capable of passing back and forth between the mitochondria’s membranes. It picks up protons from the gradient and releases them when it passes back to the other side, effectively undoing the work of the electron transport chain.
The problem with this is that that energy has to go somewhere instead of to ATP. It gets released as heat. Lots of heat. So much in fact, that even a small overdose causes core body temperature to rise above 104F. This is absolutely deadly. Proteins denature from the heat.
But still people use this stuff for quick results. It’s just not worth the risk here people. If you have body image problems seek professional help and don’t resort to these quick fix gimicks. You never know how dangerous it could be. Before trying ANY weight loss plan, consult a doctor. But just lay off the pills… they can be dangerous, as I’ve outlined above. And to those that use it professionally for that little extra edge (in athletics or bodybuilding), you are idiots. If anyone is interested in the identity of this substance, drop me a line. I’ll let it slip so long as you have a legitimate reason for asking.