A heavy burden: A weight pill?

Eating less and exercising more certainly play important roles in preventing obesity, but research suggests that supplements could play a role as well. For more than a decade, Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar and Distinguished Professor Clifton Baile and his colleagues have been exploring the potential of certain plant-based compounds—phytochemicals—as aids to weight loss. 

Early research into compounds such as resveratrol, found in red wine and known for its anti-aging effects; and genistein, found in coffee, soy, and other beans; revealed that these compounds can cause fat cells in culture to die. In subsequent studies using mice, however, none of the compounds alone proved to be particularly effective.

But because each phytochemical fights fat in a different way—for example, by reducing the blood supply to existing fat cells, mobilizing the fat from those cells, or by preventing the creation of new fat cells—Baile and his colleagues began exploring what happens when they combined such compounds. In a recent study, they found that older female rats given the combination of vitamin D, resveratrol, genistein, and quercetin (present in certain fruits and vegetables) gained less weight than a control group that did not receive the phytochemical cocktail. Weight gain and bone loss tend to occur at the same time in postmenopausal women, and the scientists found that the rats given the compounds also had greater bone density than the animals in the control group.

Baile and his team will need to test the cocktail in humans, of course, but the results so far are promising. “It really is possible to impact adiposity, or fatness, as well as bone health with the right combination of phytochemicals in the right proportions,” he said.