Could This Hormone Shot Block Urges to Smoke, Drink, and Overeat?

Could This Hormone Shot Block Urges to Smoke, Drink, and Overeat?
Science & Medicine

If only there was a way to magically “shut off” our cravings for all of our vices. Some kind of pill or shot that just took it all away…

It sounds very sci-fi, but it’s close to becoming a reality.

U.K. researchers are preparing to investigate whether hormones found in the gut could help people beat their addictions, and stop people who have given up smoking, drinking, and even overeating from relapsing into their bad habits.

“For a couple of months about 40% of people can manage to stop smoking, within a year it is 6-8% – the relapse rate is very large,” explained Dr. Tony Goldstone, one of the study’s leaders.

“Both these medicines have the potential, once someone has detoxified form alcohol or stopped smoking, to maybe help them stay off for longer.” [1]

Study participants will be given infusions of compounds that mimic the action of 2 hormone systems produced naturally in the stomach and intestines, called glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) and ghrelin. These hormones are responsible for making us feel full after eating, and are known to target brain areas involved in addiction, reward, and stress.

The team from Imperial College London wants to test whether compounds that mimic GLP-1 and ghrelin can reduce the urge to engage in addictive, unhealthy behaviors.

“Studies suggest that people who are overweight may also respond to stress by overeating, or be more impulsive. These behaviors will predispose them to overeat, particularly foods high in fat and sugar. They may also find it difficult to stop eating when they are trying to lose weight – in much the same way that people find it hard to give up cigarettes when they are quitting smoking, or giving up alcohol when they have a drinking problem,” Goldstone explained. [2]

The 90 participants – all either ex-smokers, ex-drinkers or people seeking to lose weight – will receive 3 infusions of the compounds, or a placebo infusion of salt water.

The scientists will conduct regular brain scans while the participants receive the infusions and are shown images of food, alcohol, or cigarettes. The team will be looking to see if these hormone-mimicking compounds reduce activity in the areas of the brain involved in stress to help people avoid cravings.

Stress will be measured by showing participants images of people holding knives or guns while their brain activity is measured.

“Obesity, smoking and alcohol dependence are major health burdens to society. In obesity, non-surgical interventions, such as diet and exercise programs, have been disappointing in achieving long-term weight loss,” said Goldstone.

“Similarly with alcohol and smoking dependence, relapse is common when trying to quit. Therefore, there is a pressing need to develop new drug treatments for addiction. We hope this study may lead to these.”

An injection could be available within the next 5 years.

“In the longer term it would be an injection like a diabetic has,” said Goldstone.

“If it is successful, the drugs are already available to be used.” [3]


[1] Daily Mail

[2] The Spirits Business

[3] NZ Herald