A team of Canadian scientists have discovered that naringenin, a flavonoid found in citrus fruit, and especially grapefruit, makes the liver burn fat instead of storing it after a meal. (This chemical compound also gives grapefruit its bitter taste.)
Potentially, without having to change diets or cut out particular foods, a dose of naringenin could prevent weight gain and even help to lose it.
Two groups of mice were both fed the equivalent of a Western diet to speed up their "metabolic syndrome" – the process which leads to Type 2 diabetes in humans.
The food given to one of the groups was treated with naringenin. The non-naringenin mice became obese and developed the metabolic syndrome which saw their cholesterol rise and their bodies become resistant to insulin.
The mice given naringenin, however, had none of these problems. Any rise in cholesterol was corrected by the naringenin which also 'reprogrammed' the liver to burn up fat rather than store it.
In the long-term the Canadian team behind the tests believe the compound could help fight diabetes because the process also helped balance insulin and glucose levels.
“What was unique about the study was that the effects were independent of caloric intake, meaning the mice ate exactly the same amount of food and the same amount of fat,” explained lead researcher Professor Murray Huff.
"There was no suppression of appetite or decreased food intake, which are often the basis of strategies to reduce weight gain and its metabolic consequences,” he said.
Safe supplement needed
However, Diabetes Research Manager Victoria King warned: “The results of these experiments carried out in mice involve much higher doses of naringenin than those found naturally in grapefruit.
“A concentrated and safe supplement would therefore need to be developed for humans before it could even be shown that these effects seen in mice are reproducible in humans and that they are applicable to the treatment of Type 2 diabetes.
“Simple lifestyle changes such as maintaining a healthy weight, eating a balanced diet and being more physically active can help to reduce your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and can also help people diagnosed with the condition to manage it more effectively."