Plant Compounds to Fight Obesity

Clifton Baile, Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar and D.W. Brooks Distinguished Professor of Animal and Dairy Science and professor of foods and nutrition, and his colleagues have been exploring the potential of plant-based compounds known as phytochemicals in weight loss for more than a decade.

Early research into compounds such as resveratrol – found in red wine and known for its anti-aging effects, and genistein, found in coffee, soy and other beans – revealed that the compounds can cause fat cells in cell cultures to die. In subsequent studies using mice, however, none of the compounds alone proved to be particularly effective, so Baile and his colleagues began exploring what happens when you combine compounds.

In a recent study, they found that older female mice given the combination of vitamin D, resveratrol, genistein and the compound quercetin gained less weight than a control group that did not receive the phytochemical cocktail. Weight gain and bone loss tend to occur at the same time in post-menopausal women, so the scientists studied the post-menopausal mice and found that those given the compounds also had greater bone density than the control group.

Baile and his team will need to test the compounds in humans, but so far the results are promising.

“It really is possible to impact adiposity, or fatness, as well as bone health with the right combination of phytochemicals in the right proportions,” he says.