Tree oil may combat obesity, diabetes, S&T research suggests

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On June 18, 2012

A future weapon in the battle against obesity and diabetes could come in the form of an oil derived from the seeds of wild almond trees, according to researchers at Missouri University of Science and Technology.

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Shreya Ghosh, a Ph.D. student in environmental engineering, explains the research at the 2012 American Society for Microbiology Conference.

The key to the oil’s potential lies in its ability to affect certain microorganisms living in our bellies.

In a study presented today (Monday, June 18, 2012) at the American Society for Microbiology‘s general meeting in San Francisco, Missouri S&T researchers reported that adding sterculic oil to the diets of obese laboratory mice increased their sensitivity to insulin. This was due to the oil’s effect on three types of microorganisms that live in the guts of the mice.

As a result, the researchers saw a “statistically significant improvement in glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity in the obese mice,” says Shreya Ghosh, a Ph.D. student in environmental engineering at Missouri S&T. The sterculic oil had no adverse affects on lean mice fed the same diet.

Sterculic oil is extracted from the seeds of the wild almond tree known as Sterculia foetida.

The research by Ghosh and her advisor, Dr. Daniel Oerther, builds upon previous studies conducted at the University of Missouri-Columbia. In those studies, sterculic oil was found to suppress the bodily enzyme stearoyl-CoA desaturase 1 (SCD1). SCD1 is associated with insulin resistance, a condition that can lead to diabetes and obesity.

Other studies have shown that obese mice deficient in the hormone leptin have a different composition of “gut microbiota” than do lean mice. (Those studies are referenced in a 2011 article in Nature Reviews Microbiology.) Leptin helps regulate metabolism, and a deficiency of the hormone can contribute to obesity, says Oerther, the John and Susan Mathes Chair of Environmental Engineering at Missouri S&T.

In the Missouri S&T study, a diet supplemented by sterculic oil also correlated with lower levels of three types of gut microbiota – Actinobacteria, Bacilli and Erysipelotrichia – in the obese mice. It isn’t clear, however, whether the lower levels of those microbiota led to the improvement of glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity among the obese mice, Oerther says.

To perform her experiments, Ghosh studied 28 male mice – 14 of them obese and 14 normal, and each of them five weeks old at the beginning of the study. She separated the mice into four groups and for nine weeks, fed a standard diet to one group of obese mice and one group of non-obese mice. Over the same period, she fed the same diet, supplemented with 0.5 percent of sterculic oil, to one group of obese mice and one group of non-obese mice. Ghosh recorded the weights, food consumption and glucose levels of the mice during the nine-week period.

After the nine weeks, researchers conducted a DNA analysis of the gut microbiota at King Abdullah Institute of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia. The results confirmed correlations between the diet, improved glucose tolerance and groups of microbes. Even though the mice fed a diet with sterculic oil did not experience weight loss, both Ghosh and Oerther believe their findings could lead to new insights into controlling diabetes and weight gain.

Ghosh’s research poster presentation at the ASM meeting is titled “Responses of Gut Microbiota to Sterculic Oil Supplemented Diet in Lean and Obese Mice.” Her co-authors were Oerther; Dr. James W. Perfield II, assistant professor of food science at the University of Missouri-Columbia; and Dr. Pascal Saikaly, assistant professor of environmental science and engineering at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia.

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6 thoughts on “Tree oil may combat obesity, diabetes, S&T research suggests”

  • Linda Jordan says:

    I am encouraged about your study. I am hoping that maybe this can help in the fight against obesity and diabetes. I am both morbidly obese and a diabetic. I am wondering if the tree oil is available in any supplement that I could begin taking.
    thank-you for your input and your terrific research.

  • Dan Oerther says:

    Great work Andy and S&T communications team. A fantastic study with high impact results. Thanks!

  • varun lobo says:

    That is really impressive. Great work done Shreya Ghosh !!!

  • varun lobo says:

    congratulations Shreya Ghosh.

  • Mary Helen Stoltz says:

    Ms Jordan, first let me offer our sincere thanks for your encouragement, and let me say I admire your bravery to tackle your personal challenge! While I am a licensed, professional engineer, I am not a licensed healthcare provider; thus, it is very important that you discuss medical issues with the appropriate licensed professionals. Nutraceuticals, including extracts from foods, as well as good food choices do appear to have some benefits for weight control and other weight related illnesses. Some useful sources of information vetted by health care providers include information published by the Federal government at move.gov as well as popular shows such as Dr. Oz. Modest consumption of some healthy foods might improve your conditions, and almonds could be one food to consider. Of course, nut allergies are a consideration. Again, my advice would be to consult with a licensed healthcare provider and ask them questions about the benefits of improved eating habits. I hope these ideas encourage you!
    Dan Oerther

  • Amitabha Dey says:

    Shreya Didi, Great work, I wish you all the luck for your work. if possible send me a copy of your published work on this.