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Food-Borne Antioxidants May Deter Excess Body Fat and Related Diseases
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Study in mouse cells affirms that antioxidants in food suppress formation of fats associated with metabolic syndrome, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease

by Craig Weatherby

Scientists in Taiwan may have discovered how diets rich in plant foodsespecially blueberries and chili peppersreduce the risk of metabolic syndrome, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

Their study focuses on flavonoid-type antioxidants and the major subgroup known as polyphenols: the antioxidants abundant in berries, cocoa, tea, whole grains, and colorful fruits and vegetables.

Flavonoids and phenols appear to reduce risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease, cancer, obesity, senility, and other disorders: especially ones associated with chronic inflammation, which flavonoids oppose.

(Organic produce is especially helpful: see “Organic Produce and Milk Offer Abundant Antioxidants.”)

The anti-cancer effects of flavonoids are less well proven than their heart-health effects, but evidence on that score continues to accumulate (See “Antioxidant Food Factors Support Breast Cancer Survival” and “Food-Borne Antioxidants May Curb Breast Cancer”).

The Taiwanese researchers studied how 15 phenolic acids and six flavonoids affected adipocytes (fat cells) from mice (Hsu CL, Yen GC 2007).

Their results showed that fat cells exposed to certain antioxidants had lower levels of an enzymeglycerol-3-phosphate dehydrogenase (GPDH)that forms triglycerides from glycerol.

As a probable consequence of suppressing expression of this enzyme, the fat cells exposed to flavonoids showed lower levels of triglycerides.

High blood levels of triglycerides are a major feature of metabolic syndrome, and raise the risk of heart disease and diabetes.

And the winning antioxidants are…

Among the six flavonoids and 15 phenolic flavonoids tested, o-coumaric acid and rutin were most effective at reducing production of triglycerides inside cells, dropping fat levels by 61.3 and 83 percent, respectively.

Blueberries and chili peppers are leading sources of o-coumaric acid (Zadernowski R et al 2005).

Rutin is most abundant in buckwheatwhich, despite its name is a fruit, not a graingrapes, and other fruits and fruit rinds, especially citrus fruits (Kreft I et al 2006). Rutin is often included in vitamin C supplements with added flavonoids.

These two compounds also increased expression of adiponectin, a hormone secreted by abdominal fat cells.

Abdominal fat secretes various hormones that exert strong effects on appetite, inflammation, and metabolism, and influence whether fats and carbohydrates in foods are burned or stored as belly fat.

Among the various belly-fat-generated hormones, only adiponectin discourages insulin resistance, inflammation, and atherosclerosis. People suffering from obesity, insulin resistance, and atherosclerosis have substantially below-normal levels of adiponectin.

As the Taiwanese team said, their findings suggest that diets high in antioxidant-rich plant foods could suppress development of metabolic syndrome, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

In addition, higher dietary ratios of omega-3 to omega-6 fats also increases production of fat-fighting adiponectin (see “Omega-6/Omega-3 Imbalance Pushes Heart/Diabetes Perils”).


  • Abbasi F, Chu JW, Lamendola C, McLaughlin T, Hayden J, Reaven GM, Reaven PD. Discrimination between obesity and insulin resistance in the relationship with adiponectin. Diabetes. 2004 Mar;53(3):585-90.
  • Fabjan N, Rode J, Kosir IJ, Wang Z, Zhang Z, Kreft I. Tartary buckwheat (Fagopyrum tataricum Gaertn.) as a source of dietary rutin and quercitrin. J Agric Food Chem. 2003 Oct 22;51(22):6452-5.
  • Kreft I, Fabjan N, Yasumoto K. Rutin content in buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum Moench) food materials and products. Food Chemistry. Volume 98, Issue 3, 2006, Pages 508-512
  • Guebre-Egziabher F, Rabasa-Lhoret R, Bonnet F, Bastard JP, Desage M, Skilton MR, Vidal H, Laville M. Nutritional intervention to reduce the n-6/n-3 fatty acid ratio increases adiponectin concentration and fatty acid oxidation in healthy subjects. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2007 Aug 15; [Epub ahead of print]
  • Haluzikova D, Roubicek T, Haluzik M.  [Adiponectin and atherosclerosis] Vnitr Lek. 2007 Apr;53(4):359-63. Review. Czech.
  • Hsu CL, Yen GC. Effects of flavonoids and phenolic acids on the inhibition of adipogenesis in 3T3-L1 adipocytes. J Agric Food Chem. 2007 Oct 17;55(21):8404-10. Epub 2007 Sep 20.
  • Hsu CL, Yen GC. Effects of capsaicin on induction of apoptosis and inhibition of adipogenesis in 3T3-L1 cells. J Agric Food Chem. 2007 Mar 7;55(5):1730-6. Epub 2007 Feb 13.
  • Hsu CL, Huang SL, Yen GC. Inhibitory effect of phenolic acids on the proliferation of 3T3-L1 preadipocytes in relation to their antioxidant activity. J Agric Food Chem. 2006 Jun 14;54(12):4191-7.
  • The American Chemical Society. New insights into how natural antioxidants fight fat. Accessed online December 10, 2007 at
  • Zadernowski R, Naczk M, Nesterowicz J. Phenolic acid profiles in some small berries. J Agric Food Chem. 2005 Mar 23;53(6):2118-24.

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