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Hunger hormone shows promise

By Wire services
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 4, 2003

An extra dose of a hormone produced by the digestive system can apparently curb the appetite of obese people, a study has shown.

Volunteers who were given infusions of the hormone peptide YY 3-36 before a meal ate about a third less food than they did without it, providing the first direct evidence the substance might provide a potent new weapon in the fight against obesity.

"It looks promising," said Stephen Bloom, a professor of medicine at the Imperial College London who helped conduct the study, published in today's New England Journal of Medicine.

Bloom and other researchers cautioned, however, that the study was small and brief, so studies involving more people for longer periods will have be conducted to determine whether the hormone can help people lose weight safely and keep it off.

"I don't think it's going to turn out to be the so-called magic bullet that people are always looking for," said Rudolph Leibel, deputy director of the Obesity Research Center at Columbia University in New York, who wrote an editorial accompanying the study. "But it does appear to suppress food intake. Whether you could use this as a therapy over a long period of time has not been addressed."

Use spending accounts for over-the-counter drugs

WASHINGTON - Pain relievers, cough syrup, antihistamines and other over-the-counter medications can be bought with pretax dollars set aside in a flexible spending account, the Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service said Wednesday.

The change reflects the growing number of drugs available over the counter and without a prescription, Treasury and IRS officials said. While the over-the-counter medicines might cost less, consumers often pay more out of their own pockets for those drugs than for prescription drugs covered by insurance.

Flexible spending accounts give people a tax break for medical spending by allowing them to set aside untaxed money for medical expenses.

Drug use, smoking by students rises slightly

WASHINGTON - Illegal drug use and cigarette smoking among sixth- through 12th-graders increased slightly during the last school year compared with the year before, says a survey released Wednesday. Alcohol use remained at the same level during both years.

Nearly one-fourth, or 24 percent, of these teenagers reported using illegal drugs - marijuana, cocaine, heroin, hallucinogens and others - at least once in the 2002-03 school year, compared with 22 percent the year before, according to the private study by Pride Surveys.

The survey found cigarette use increased slightly to 27 percent in the 2002-03 school year from 26 percent the year before. About half of the students reported drinking alcohol in each year.

A 1998 federal law established the survey as a measure of the effectiveness of White House drug control policy.

Consumer group takes on diet drug Meridia

WASHINGTON - The consumer advocacy group Public Citizen said Wednesday the diet drug Meridia has been associated with the deaths of 49 patients since it came on the market five years ago, as the group renewed a petition to the Food and Drug Administration to ban the drug.

The group, which initially petitioned the FDA regarding Meridia more than a year ago, supplemented its effort with new information from the FDA "adverse event" database through the end of March. In addition to the 49 deaths, Public Citizen said, 124 users have been hospitalized for serious heart and cardiovascular problems since the drug was approved.

Meridia's manufacturer, Abbott Laboratories, said the drug is safe and has been used by more than 12-million people worldwide. Just fewer than 1-million Meridia prescriptions are written annually in the United States.

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