Scientists manage to reverse obesity with a drug used for the heart

Scientists manage to reverse obesity with a drug used for the heart


A team of scientists has managed – in a work carried out in mice – to reverse obesity and several of the disorders associated with it, such as diabetes or hypertension, using a drug that is widely used in humans to treat heart disease.

They have achieved this at the National Cancer Research Center (CNIO), where scientists have found that the administration of this drug (digoxin) caused the animals to lose up to 40 percent of their weight, even eating a diet rich in fat , and that they will be cured of the metabolic disorders associated with the disease.

The work, the conclusions of which are published today in Nature Metabolism, has been led by French researcher Nabil Djouder, head of the CNIO’s Group of Growth Factors, Nutrients and Cancer, who has verified with his team how mice, obese due to being subjected to On a hypercaloric diet, they began to lose weight within a few weeks of treatment and suffered no adverse effects, further suggesting that resistance mechanisms do not develop.

“We are not that far from being able to use this drug in humans to reduce obesity,” Djouder explained to EFE, and stressed the importance of now finding collaboration in hospitals or pharmaceutical companies to carry out the necessary clinical trials and verify that the treatment is also effective in humans.

The researcher has specified that the work has made it possible to verify in mice how hypercholesterolemia, the accumulation of fat in the liver, type 2 diabetes and the development of liver cancer are reduced, and that in the epidemiological studies they have done in patients with Heart diseases that had been treated with digoxin have also been observed to significantly lower cholesterol.

The CNIO has observed that obesity is an inflammatory disease, a chronic defensive reaction of the body to the aggression caused by excess nutrients, and from this premise the scientists set out to combat it by avoiding inflammation.


“Digoxin” works by reducing the production of a molecule that generally causes inflammation and researchers have discovered that this molecule intervenes directly in adipose tissue, causing obesity and the serious metabolic disorders associated with being overweight, such as type diabetes 2, hypertension or cardiovascular diseases, in addition to increasing the risk of cancer.

The researchers have observed in the publication that there are currently no effective medical treatments against obesity, normally caused by chronic over-feeding and inadequate physical activity, so this drug could become a therapeutic option.

The researcher Ana Teijeiro, the first signatory of the work, has underlined the clinical relevance of the discovery; “It is tempting to propose that obese patients could take digoxin for a short time, until they stabilize their weight loss, and then eat a healthy diet,” she said.

The CNIO has stressed that for the moment the results have been obtained in mice, and that therefore epidemiological studies and clinical trials are necessary to be corroborated in humans.

In addition to possible clinical relevance, the discovery is of essential value because it identifies a causal link between inflammation and weight gain, opening up new avenues of research that may be crucial in shedding light on the mechanisms that make obesity an inflammatory disease .


“A good understanding of the connection between excess nutrients, inflammation and obesity is essential to find novel approaches to treat weight gain,” said researcher Nabil Djouder.

Researchers have specified that therapies based on lifestyle changes – diet and physical activity interventions – can reduce weight by approximately 10 percent; and that with drugs that seek to affect appetite or fat absorption, reductions of between 2 and 7 percent are achieved.

Digoxin has long been used to treat heart failure, but its effect on body weight has never been observed, something that CNIO researchers have attributed to the fact that cardiovascular disease in patients who use it causes powerful fluid retention that goes so far as to mask the “slimming” effect of the drug.

The dose at which this drug is currently used in humans is also three times lower than that used in mice to combat obesity, without toxic effects, which suggests that the dose that could be used in humans to combat obesity would not be harmful either.

“We have shown in mice that a dose 3 times higher than that currently used in humans would be very effective to lose weight without causing toxicity or side effects; therefore, we must explore the possibility of increasing the dose in humans and see the effect of Digoxin in weight loss, “Djouder told EFE.

This CNIO study has been funded by the Ministry of Science and Innovation, the State Research Agency, the European Regional Development Fund, the Carlos III Health Institute, the European Foundation for the Study of Diabetes and the Pfizer Foundation.