Plant oil may counter obesity-related issues: Study

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Obesity Fat

Sterculic oil is extracted from seeds of the Sterculia foetida tree. Photo credit: K. Montgomery/Uni. of Missouri
Sterculic oil is extracted from seeds of the Sterculia foetida tree. Photo credit: K. Montgomery/Uni. of Missouri
Oil extracted from the seeds of the Sterculia foetida tree may reduce belly fat and help protect against obesity-related issues, suggests new data from the University of Missouri.

The fatty acid content of sterculic oil may inhibit the action of an enzyme associated with insulin resistance, which may indirectly help reduce belly fat, according to findings presented at the Diabetes, Insulin Resistance and Metabolic Dysfunction Symposium in Keystone, Colorado.

"This research paves the way for potential use in humans,"​ said Jim Perfield, PhD, Assistant Professor at Mizzou and lead researcher of the project. "Reducing belly fat is a key to reducing the incidence of serious disease, and this oil could have a future as a nutritional supplement."

While current data is limited to rodents, Dr Perfield added that he plans to conduct further studies of sterculic oil in hopes of developing a natural nutritional supplement.

In an email to, Dr Perfield explained that the research has generated commercial interest since the data was first released in January. “We are working with our office of technology management to establish non-disclosure agreements and move forward with these companies,”​ he added.

The data is yet to be published in a peer-review journal, but Dr Perfield added that the researchers are finalizing a couple additional pieces of data for the manuscript and it would be submitted soon.

Components vs whole oil

This is not the first report of the potential health benefits of sterculic oil: In 2008 researchers from the University of Nottingham in England reported that sterculic acid, the major component of sterculic oil, can reduce the activity of the enzyme stearoyl CoA desaturase (SCD).

Writing in the Journal of Lipid Research​ (July 2008, Vol. 49, pp. 1456-1465), the Nottingham scientists reported that hamsters fed a high fat diet and supplemented with sterculic acid gained less body weight and developed less fat tissue, compared with hamsters fed only the high fat diet.

Moreover, University of Wisconsin scientists reported findings of a cell study in 2003 (Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications​, Vol. 300, pp. 316-326), which showed that sterculic acid may inhibit SCD by as much as 90 percent.

For the new study, Dr Perfield used rats genetically disposed to have a high amount of abdominal fat, and supplemented their diet with sterculic oil at a relatively small dose, comparable to giving three grams to a 250-pound human.

After 13 weeks of supplementation, the Missouri-based scientist found that animals had less abdominal fat and a decreased likelihood of developing diabetes than animals fed only a high fat diet.

Abnormally high belly fat – or abdominal adiposity – has been linked to a range of health problems, including insulin resistance, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other obesity-associated health disorders.

“The oil from this seed is very similar to other vegetable oils,"​ said Dr Perfield. "It shares many of the same chemical properties, which could allow it to be easily substituted with other oils. While eating the seed directly may be possible, it's easier to control the amount of oil if you extract it directly."

The science builds

Dr Perfield added that the data from a second completed study will be presented at the upcoming Experimental Biology meetings in Washington DC in April. Without giving too much away, he noted that, for the second study, they used a different model of obesity/insulin resistance and once again found that sterculic oil was associated with improved metabolic health.

The Mizzou research was funded by the Diabetes Action Research and Education Foundation, MU Food for the 21st Century, and CAFNR.

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