Photo/IllutrationPeople try to lose weight in 1960 in Osaka. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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An intestinal worm produces a mysterious substance that activates a fat-burning neurotransmitter, a finding that could be used to prevent obesity, a Japanese research team said.

The study, using the worm known as a helminth in obese mice, was published in the online version of U.S. science journal Infection and Immunity on April 8.

“If we can understand the substance the helminth produces and confirm its safety in the body, we can develop diet medicines using the substance,” said Chikako Shimokawa, an assistant professor at Gunma University who specializes in infectious disease medicine and headed the research group.

According to the study, which involved the National Institute of Infectious Diseases, the intestinal nematode Heligmosomoides polygyrus starts a domino effect that can lead to weight loss.

The worm produces a substance that increases the amount of intestinal bacteria, which in turn excrete a neurotransmitter that activates the fat-burning mechanism, according to the team.

In the experiment, the researchers infected fattened mice with the helminth. The mice lost about 20 percent of their weight in about a month, while the neutral fat in their blood was reduced to less than half.

The infected mice ate the same amount of food as the mice in the control group.

The neurotransmitter norepinephrine, which facilitates fat burning, increased by about 1.5 times in the infected mice.

The mice’s feces also showed an increase in intestinal bacteria that excretes norepinephrine, the team said.