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A Red-Wine Chemical Cuts the Fat

Study finds a polyphenol changes how the body metabolizes fatty foods

Jacob Gaffney
Posted: April 24, 2012

A new study finds that a chemical in red wine may prevent some of the fatty foods we eat from being converted into fatty tissue. The research, published in the March issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry, found that piceatannol, a polyphenol found in grape skins and red wine, effectively blocks the formation of fat cells in the lab.

In previous research, the polyphenol resveratrol has been linked to lower levels of fat, but its clinical implications are limited. Resveratrol is quickly metabolized by humans and may wash through the body with little noticeable benefit to fat intake. Piceatannol is similar to resveratrol, but with a key difference. Its structure contains an additional hydrogen and oxygen molecule that makes it harder for the body to digest—it sticks around in the body a little longer.

"A number of previous studies indicated that piceatannol has strong antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-tumor activities," said co-author Dr. Kee-Hong Kim, a nutritionist at the department of Food Science at Purdue University. But its interactions with fat tissue remain unexplored.

When the human body consumes fat, those calories are either converted into energy or stored as fatty tissue in the body, depending on several factors. Kim and his team observed that when they recreated this process in the lab, piceatannol prevented the body from converting fat cells into fatty tissue. (Kim and his team sourced the chemical from Monastrell grapes, also known as Mourvèdre.)

Even at smaller doses, piceatannol was an effective fat blocker, producing a 20 percent reduction in fat formation. At higher doses, the formation of fat was nearly non-existent, with 80 percent fewer fat cells formed. And the good news is piceatannol is abundant in nature. "You find piceatannol in berries, grapes and red wine, while the highest piceatannol content can be found in passion fruit," Kim told Wine Spectator.

However, Kim warned against putting piceatannol on a diet plan anytime soon—the research was a lab simulation. "More studies in animals and humans are needed in the future to appreciate the claim that a red-wine compound might be a fat cell zapper," said Kim.

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