A poor diet can lead to a variety of health problems, including type 2 diabetes and heart disease. A new study, however, suggests that blue corn may have the potential to protect against such conditions by treating or even preventing metabolic syndrome.

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Researchers suggest that blue corn may help to combat metabolic syndrome.

Study co-author Rosa Isela Guzman-Geronimoa, of the Basic Sciences Institute at the University of Veracruz in Mexico, and colleagues found that rats with diet-induced metabolic syndrome experienced a significant reduction in abdominal fat gain when fed blue corn extract.

Furthermore, blue corn extract also led to improvements in the rodents' systolic blood pressure, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol - known as "good" cholesterol - and triglycerides.

Guzman-Geronimoa and team recently published their findings in the Journal of Medicinal Food.

Metabolic syndrome is defined as a cluster of risk factors that can increase the chances of developing a number of health conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.

These risk factors include abdominal obesity, a high triglyceride level, low HDL cholesterol, high blood pressure, and high fasting blood sugar. A diagnosis of metabolic syndrome requires the presence of three or more of these risk factors.

An unhealthful diet is a key player in metabolic syndrome, and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute recommend adopting a heart-healthy diet - including fruits, vegetables, fish, poultry, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes - in order to help prevent risk factors for the condition.

In the new study, Guzman-Geronimoa and colleagues suggest that adding blue corn to the diet might be an effective way to prevent metabolic syndrome.

Testing how blue corn affects metabolic syndrome in rats

Grown in Mexico and the Southwestern United States, blue corn has good nutritional value, with research showing that it is high in lysine, iron, and zinc.

Compounds called anthocyanins give the corn its blue color, and past research has suggested that these compounds have antioxidant properties that can help to protect against obesity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.

With this in mind, Guzman-Geronimoa and team set out to investigate whether blue corn might mitigate the effects of a poor diet and help to combat metabolic syndrome.

To reach their findings, the researchers fed mice a diet high in sugar and cholesterol for 12 weeks, in order to induce metabolic syndrome.

After the 12 weeks, the rats were allocated to one of four diet groups for a further 4 weeks: one group was fed a high-sugar diet, one was fed a high-cholesterol diet, one was fed a diet high in cholesterol and sugar, and one group was fed a diet high in cholesterol and sugar, plus blue corn extract.

Blue corn a 'promising' treatment for metabolic syndrome

Compared with groups that did not receive the blue corn extract, the group fed a diet high in sugar and cholesterol that did receive the extract gained significantly less abdominal fat.

Additionally, rats that received the blue corn extract experienced an increase in beneficial HDL cholesterol, as well as reductions in systolic blood pressure, blood triglyceride levels, and total cholesterol levels.

While further studies are needed to determine the potential health benefits of blue corn in humans, the researchers believe that their recent study indicates that blue corn may be a "promising nutraceutical option" for the treatment of metabolic syndrome:

"In the present study, our investigation group has shown that administration of the blue maize extract of the Mixteco race has a beneficial effect on some alterations related to MS [metabolic syndrome] as hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and abdominal fat. It may be considered as a nutritional approach for the prevention and treatment of MS."

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