Whether consumed as whole fruit, juice or wine, muscadine grapes hold promise for managing obesity and metabolic disorders like fatty liver. The dark-colored red fruit is native to the southeastern United States, and contains potent natural chemical compounds that reduce the growth of existing fat cells as well as the development of new ones. One of the chemicals, ellagic acid, is particularly powerful - demonstrating the ability to boost the metabolism of fatty acids in liver cells.
The study was led by Neil Shay, a biochemist and molecular biologist at Oregon State University College of Agricultural Sciences. According to a university press release, the findings are viewed as an avenue to help overweight people improve their liver function.
"If we could develop a dietary strategy for reducing the harmful accumulation of fat in the liver, using common foods like grapes," Shay said, "that would be good news."
How grapes can help protect against metabolic disorders
In the study, some of the mice were given a diet of normal "mouse chow," which contains 10 percent fat. The other group was fed a diet of 60 percent fat - just the sort of diet that would heap extra pounds on a human frame. Shay points out that since mice like a high-fat diet, it's a good model for the sedentary person who doesn't get enough exercise and eats too much snack food.
Over the 10-week trial, the mice eating the high fat diet developed diabetic and fatty liver symptoms, which are the same metabolic consequences seen in a majority of overweight, sedentary people. However, the mice who received the grape extract in addition to the high-fat diet, experienced lower blood sugar and less accumulated fat in their livers.
"When Shay and his colleagues analyzed the tissues of the fat mice that ate the supplements, they noted higher activity levels of PPAR-alpha and PPAR-gamma, two proteins that work within cells to metabolize fat and sugar," notes the press release. "Shay hypothesizes that the ellagic acid and other chemicals bind to these PPAR-alpha and PPAR-gamma nuclear hormone receptors, causing them to switch on the genes that trigger the metabolism of dietary fat and glucose. Commonly prescribed drugs for lowering blood sugar and triglycerides act in this way."
Shay admits that the plant chemicals are not a weight loss miracle. The point of the study is not to replace medications, but to encourage people to choose familiar and available foods that have specific health benefits, especially those that help to boost metabolic function.
"We are trying to validate the specific contributions of certain foods for health benefits," he said. "If you're out food shopping, and if you know a certain kind of fruit is good for a health condition you have, wouldn't you want to buy that fruit?"
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