When five-year-old Mia Griggs was diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder that causes a feeling of constant hunger, her mother Joanne asked for a "miracle".
Mia's insatiable appetite and slow metabolism was due to Prader-Willi Syndrome; a condition caused by the deletion of chromosome 15, which affects between 1: 11,000 –1: 18,000 babies born worldwide.
The Griggs family had already created an "intervention lifestyle" to combat the many complexities of their daughter's developmental delay but Joanne felt "extremely frightened'' by stories of restricted sets of rules maintained by families of children with PWS.
Difficult food-seeking behaviour has often led parents to lock kitchen cupboards and ensure constant supervision, but Joanne found an instant remedy in the form of an Indian plant that she read about in an American health publication.
Since taking one tablet of the plant powder each day, Mia has kept her weight and appetite under control for three years.
"It's been a godsend,'' Joanne said. "Along with a regimen of habitual behaviour and good nutrition, supervision continues but Mia has been known to say she's not hungry.
"The concentration on food can be difficult because most people with PWS have low muscle tone which means the body cannot metabolise a large number of calories. This propensity can lead to obesity, diabetes and heart disease if regimens are not created."
Mia's success led Joanne to contact researchers to study the effects of the plant. Victoria University (VU) is now conducting a three-month trial in Melbourne's western suburbs to test the plant's effectiveness in overweight people.
Half of the trial's 40 participants have been receiving the recommended dose of the plant extract each day, with the other half receiving placebo capsules, in conjunction with advice on healthy diet and lifestyle.
VU Nutritional Therapy Senior Lecturer Dr Michael Mathai said the plant had been used traditionally in India during times of famine but little was known about it in the western world. It is being sold in a small number of countries but few trials on its effectiveness on weight loss have been carried out.
"This is a very exciting trial because of its potential as an appetite suppressant,'' Dr Mathai said. "The question is does the plant work well for Mia because it stops her focusing on food, or is it going to work for all overweight people to reduce their appetite? With the growing problem of obesity in Australia, the time is right to find out.''
Joanne, whose book Miracle in Potential will be launched in Melbourne tonight, hopes the results of the trial will lead to future funding of studies for people with PWS.
"In my opinion the plant has allowed Mia more time to concentrate on development play,'' she said. "It worked very quickly. On the first day we used it we noticed a difference.
"Mia is now enjoying school with her twin brother Ruben and the plant continues to help her concentrate. Our hope is that it will make it easier for those with PWS".
For interview: Joanne Griggs on 0414 800 411 or Dr Michael Mathai on 9919 2211 or 0414 718 748
Daniel Clarke, Media Officer,
VU Marketing and Communications Department
Ph: (03) 9919 9491 or 0407 771 072