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Jelly in the Belly: A Diet Pill That Expands So You Don’t

Mar 11, 2008

Italian scientists are testing a new diet pill that turns into a clear, gelatinous blob the size of a tennis ball that may help shrink waistlines by giving dieters a sense of satiety. The pill, currently undergoing clinical trials at Rome’s Policlinico Gemelli hospital, would be downed with two glasses of water at the first sign of a stomach rumble.

"The effect is like eating a nice plate of pasta," said Luigi Ambrosio, lead researcher on the project at the National Research Council’s Institute for Composite and Biomedical Materials in Naples. "If you sit down for a meal with a stomach that already feels full, you’ll end up eating less."


The unnamed pill is made from a cellulose compound of hydrogel, a material that’s powdery when dry but plumps up to a cousin of Jell-O when wet. The gel can soak up to 1,000 times its weight. A gram in capsule form quickly balloons from the size of a spit wad to a ball that holds nearly a liter of liquid.

Growing waistlines are an increasingly hefty issue. The World Health Organization calls obesity  "one of today’s most blatantly visible — yet most neglected — public health problems." The WHO estimates that 1 billion adults worldwide are overweight, 300 million of them obese. Attendant illnesses include type-2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, stroke and certain forms of cancer.

Ambrosio and fellow researcher Luigi Nicolais, had been working with a team to develop super-absorbent materials for Swedish paper-product company and wondered whether a hydrogel could produce an effect similar to gastric banding — without the surgery.

Along the way, they discovered the spongelike material could be used to treat edemas, and are currently experimenting with it as a way to slow-water plants. The versions of the material for use in the diet pill is biocompatible, so the body just flushes it out, the scientist say.

If trials are successful, researchers hope to put the gel pill within easy reach of calorie counters on both the EU and North American markets in about a year. But, don’t get your hopes up, as with most weight loss drugs, they never make it to market because of the side effects.


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