A new study suggests mulberries could be key to new treatments for obesity, after finding a natural compound in the fruit activates brown fat, boosting metabolism and aiding weight loss.
Mulberries are the hanging fruit from deciduous trees that belong to the Moraceae family.
Now, researchers from China suggest that rutin - a compound naturally present in mulberries - might also help treat obesity.
Obesity has become a significant health concern in the United States; more than 1 in 3 adults and and 1 in 6 children and adolescents are obese, putting them at greater risk of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and some types of cancer.
While lifestyle changes - such as adopting a healthy diet and increasing physical activity - are considered primary strategies for the treatment of obesity, such changes may not be enough for some individuals, highlighting the need for alternative treatment methods.
Study co-author Wan-Zhu Jin, Ph.D., of the Institute of Zoology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and team set out to investigate the metabolic effects of rutin, with the aim of determining whether the compound might aid weight loss.
Rutin acts as a 'cold mimetic' to activate brown fat
For their study - published in The FASEB Journal - the team added rutin (1 milligram per milliliter) to the drinking water of two groups of mice.
One group of mice was genetically obese, while the other group had diet-induced obesity. Both groups of mice were fed a regular diet throughout the duration of the study.
In both groups of mice, rutin was found to activate brown adipose tissue (BAT), or brown fat, which led to increased energy expenditure, better glucose homeostasis - the balance of insulin and glucagon to maintain glucose levels - and fat reduction.
Brown fat is activated by cold, causing it to burn energy and produce heat. According to the researchers, rutin acts as a "cold mimetic" by activating a specific signaling cascade, which increases the activity of a gene called UCP1 and the number of mitochondria in brown fat.
Additionally, the team found that rutin triggered the formation of brown-like fat cells in subcutaneous adipose tissue - the fat located under the skin - in both mouse models of obesity.
Based on their results, Jin and colleagues believe rutin may offer a novel treatment approach to obesity and other conditions associated with excess weight.
"The beneficial effects of rutin on BAT-mediated metabolic improvement have evoked a substantial interest in the potential treatment for obesity and its related diseases, such as diabetes.
In line with this idea, discovery of more safe and effective BAT activators is desired to deal with obesity and its related diseases."
Wan-Zhu Jin, Ph.D.