Chinese scientists have extracted a compound called "celastrol" from the thunder god vine, said to hold the answer in combatting obesity.
The team carried out the research on mice and found that celastrol could effectively control weight increases in the rodents feeding on food that is high in fat.
The research team found that celastrol could clear inflamed mitochondria from cells to alleviate inflammation. By affecting inflamed mitochondria, celastrol can help control cell metabolism.
The research was published in science journal Molecular Cell on April 6.
Zhang Xiaokun, a professor with the College of Medicine at Xiamen University who led the team, said that they would continue to research how celastrol regulates metabolism to help people lose weight.
The research has been supported by the National Nature and Science Foundation and Xiamen South Sea Center.
According to the scientific journal Cell, celastrol is among five herbal compounds with the most potential to treat "incurable" illnesses, such as cancer. Included in the list is artemisinin, which is extracted from sweet wormwood, which won Chinese scientist Tu Youyou a Nobel Prize in 2015.
Thunder god vine, like the sweet wormwood, is native to China, although it also grows in other countries in East Asia. It has been used for treating arthritis and autoimmune diseases in traditional Chinese medicine.
In modern research, the plant has been used in clinical trials on AIDS treatment. Its compounds have been found to have the potential to treat joint pain and rheumatoid arthritis.
However, the thunder god vine is very toxic and must undergo extensive processing to reduce toxicity before being used in traditional medicine.
The finding is very timely for China as eating trends in the country is creating a big problem on obesity. According to the World Obesity Federation, if the eating habits of Chinese do not change soon, the country will have the most number of obese people by 2025.
The federation stated that obese children and teenagers aged between 5 and 18 in Chinese mainland are poised to reach 48.5 million by 2025--a number that is bigger than Spain's population.