Sugarcane extract could be a pleasant tool in the fight against obesity, Australian researchers believe. The results of the La Trobe University experiments on mice and reported in Nutrition Horizon, may provide a new approach for weight management in humans.
The study was carried out by Dr Richard 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. Their work was discussed at a meeting of the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior held in Clearwater, Florida, USA.
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.
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, i.e, 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.