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Study Explains How Western Diet Leads to Overeating and Obesity

More than two in three adults in the United States are considered overweight or obese, with substantial biomedical and clinical evidence suggesting that chronic overconsumption of a “Western diet”—foods consisting high levels of sugars and fats—is a major cause of this epidemic.

New research by scientists at the University of California, Riverside now shows that chronic consumption of a western diet leads to overeating and obesity due to elevations in “peripheral endocannabinoid signaling.”

The endocannabinoid system is located throughout the mammalian body, including the brain and all peripheral organs, and participates in the control of many physiological functions in the body, including food intake, energy balance and reward. It is comprised of lipid signaling molecules called endocannabinoids—which can be thought of as the body’s own “natural cannabis”—that bind to cannabinoid receptors located on cells throughout the body.

“Our research shows that targeting cannabinoid receptors in the periphery with pharmacological inhibitors that do not reach the brain holds promise as a safe therapeutic approach for the treatment of overeating and diet-induced obesity,” said Nicholas V. DiPatrizio, an assistant professor of biomedical sciences in the School of Medicine, who led the research project. “This therapeutic approach to targeting the periphery has substantial advantages over traditional drugs that interact with the brain and cause psychiatric side-effects.”

The work, done using a mouse model of Western diet-induced obesity, describes for the first time that overeating associated with chronic consumption of a western diet is driven by an enhancement in endocannabinoid signals generated in peripheral organs.

For more information, visit www.ucr.edu.