Sugar cane waste to fight obesity?

Posted on September 5, 2011

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Molasses supplements lead to increased energy excretion:

It sounds totally counter-intuitive: add sugar cane extract to a fatty diet and achieve weight loss?

But that could be the way of the future if clinical trials based on research by La Trobe University scientist Dr Richard Weisinger pan out.

In a recent study reported in ‘Nutrition Horizon’ his laboratory investigated the impact of adding an extract of molasses to the food of mice raised on a high fat diet.

Molasses usually end up as a waste-product of sugar refining.  However, they are rich in polyphenols, says Dr Weisinger, chemicals found in plants known for their antioxidant properties.

The results of the La Trobe experiments, presented at a meeting of the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior in Florida, USA, recently may provide a new approach for weight management in humans.

The study was carried out by Dr Weisinger with La Trobe colleagues Dr Lauren Stahl, Dr Denovan Begg, Dr Mark Jois and collaborators Dr Ankur Desai and Dr Jason Smythe from Horizon Science, a Melbourne based food biotechnology firm.

Greater calorie excretion

Dr Weisinger: Clinical trials start next year

Researchers supplemented the high-fat diet of a group of laboratory mice with molasses for 12 weeks. They found that these mice had lower body weight, reduced body fat and decreased blood levels of leptin – a hormone involved in energy regulation, appetite and metabolism – than the control group.

Further analyses, says Dr Weisinger, revealed that molasses supplements led to increased energy excretion, in other words, more calories were lost in faeces. They also found increased gene expression for several liver and fat cell biomarkers of energy metabolism.

‘The addition of molasses extract to a high-fat diet appears to reduce body weight and body fat levels, primarily through reduced caloric absorption,’ says Dr Weisinger.

‘Supplementing food with molasses extract might therefore be a way of tackling the world-wide increase of obesity and metabolic syndrome which has huge costs for our health systems.

‘It would also be of great benefit to a billion-dollar industry whose main product – refined sugar – is calorie rich but nutrition poor.’

Clinical trials are scheduled to begin next year to evaluate the molasses extract for weight control in humans. The project has been supported by the Australian Research Council and Horizon Science.

See also previous Bulletin report on  Dr Weisinger’s work