Belly Fat: Could Plant Oil Help?

Abdominal fat is more hazardous to your health than the fat that accumulates in other parts of the body. The reason? "Belly fat is more harmful because it's so close to your vital internal organs," says Jerome Tolbert, MD, of Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City. "This type of fat leads to more insulin resistance, and then to diabetes."

Belly fat also may predispose an individual to heart disease and cancer, says Jonathan Waitman, MD, of New York-Presbyterian/Weill-Cornell Medical Center in New York City. "It's also known as adipose, or visceral tissue, and it puts you at risk for various health conditions."

But, in the future, a plant oil called sterculic oil may be effective at eliminating this type of fat, paving the way to a healthier lifestyle for individuals who are prone to develop it.

James Perfield, assistant professor of food science in the College of Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources at the University of Missouri, found that the oil, which comes from the seeds of the Sterculia foetida tree, may help fight obesity by decreasing belly fat.

"This research paves the way for potential use in humans," Perfield told Medical News Today. "Reducing belly fat is a key to reducing the incidence of serious disease, and this oil could have a future as a nutritional supplement."

For his research, he gave the oil to rats that were genetically prone to have a substantial amount of belly fat. The amount of sterculic oil given to the rats was fairly small, similar to giving three grams to a person who weighed 350 pounds. Over 13 weeks, Perfield tested the animals and discovered that the ones who received the sterculic oil didn't have as much belly fat and were less likely to get diabetes.

But don't rush to check the local pharmacy shelves for a supply of sterculic oil just yet. "It's something that may have some effectiveness in humans some day," Tolbert says. "The key here is to conduct clinical trials in humans to demonstrate that the substance could reduce adipose tissue effectively and safely."

If sterculic oil were to be approved for use in humans, it could have a remarkable effect on preventing diabetes and heart disease, says Tolbert. "Right now we are a long way from saying that it could be marketed. Testing on humans would be the next step."

At this point there's no evidence that sterculic oil is effective at reducing belly fat in humans, adds Waitman. "There may be a kernel of truth there but right now there is no evidence that it is helpful."

"The key to reducing obesity-related medical issues may be a plant oil." 24 March 2011. Medical News Today.