Plant found to have anti-obesity properties

April 01, 2023 | Food Testing Lab

Current medications in treating obesity have negative side effects that cause high blood pressure and impact the kidney or liver.

Researchers from RMIT University discovered that antioxidant compounds and organic acid in hardy roselle have anti-obesity properties. The first of its kind, the findings of this study might help in the development of food alternatives and weight management medications. 

Led by Manisha Singh, PhD candidate and one of the authors of the study, they looked at how phenolic extracts and hydroxycitric acid found in Hibiscus sabdariffa could impede the formation of fat cells. Although adipocytes are vital in regulating the body’s energy and sugar levels, researchers explained that when fat intake exceeds expenditure, it can be deposited in cells and they can grow both in size and number, contributing to obesity.

The study included human stem cells treated separately with phenolic extracts and hydroxycitric acid before they were turned into fat cells. Cells treated with hydroxycitric acid reportedly showed no change in fat content. But, cells treated with phenolic extracts showed significant change with 95 percent less fat compared to control cells. 

Odoo text and image block
Odoo text and image block

With positive results associated with phenolic extracts from roselle, it is possible to create a health food product that is not only effective in inhibiting formation of fat cells but also efficient in curbing the negative side effects of current medications. Moreover, the researchers were able to detect the presence of digestive enzyme-inhibiting properties in the plant, comparable to those that are found in obesity management medications.

Roselle’s characteristics - hardy, disease-resistant, having low maintenance requirements for growth - makes it a perfect candidate for future usage. Researchers already have plans of storing phenolic extracts in capsules or turning them into little beads that could be used in making beverages. 

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