Despite this, researchers warn that the chemicals found in grapes aren't some kind of "weight-loss miracle".
Researchers at Oregon State University exposed human liver and fat cells grown in their lab to extracts of four natural chemicals found in Muscadine grapes, a dark-red variety native to the southeastern United States.
One of the chemicals found in the grapes, called ellagic acid, proved particularly potent and dramatically slowed the growth of existing fat cells and formation of new ones. It also boosted metabolism of fatty acids in liver cells.
“We didn’t find that these compounds would improve body weight,” said Neil Shay, a biochemist and molecular biologist in OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences.
But, he added, by increasing the burning of fat - especially in the liver - they might improve liver function in overweight people.
“If we could develop a dietary strategy for reducing the harmful accumulation of fat in the liver, using common foods like grapes, then that would be good news,” remarked Shay.
The purpose of the study was to highlight that many widely available foods have health benefits, including boosting metabolic function. The goal is not to replace needed medications, said Shay, but to guide people in choosing these foods.
“We are trying to validate the specific contributions of certain foods for health benefits,” he said. “If you’re out food shopping, and if you know a certain kind of fruit is good for a health condition you have, wouldn’t you want to buy that fruit?”
The research was supported by the Institute of Food and Agricultural Science at the University of Florida and Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
It features in the January issue of the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry.