Science

This molecule could help you win the obesity battle

TV Jayan New Delhi | Updated on January 12, 2018

bl29_turmeric

Using turmeric extract curcumin, scientists come up with substance to combat weight gain, cholesterol

A natural substance extracted from turmeric could well add to mankind’s armoury against obesity.

A team of researchers at the Central Drug Research Institute (CDRI) in Lucknow has found that curcumin, an active ingredient in turmeric, can be chemically tweaked to make a molecule that could potentially prevent body-weight gain and also lower cholesterol.

To do this, researchers at CDRI, a constituent laboratory of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, overcame a seriously inherent drawback that curcumin suffers from.

Even though studies in the lab have shown that curcumin has beneficial effects in fighting a wide spectrum of diseases, including cancers, neurodegenerative disorders, liver and kidney diseases and inflammation, clinical settings weren’t as productive.

The hurdles

This is because the human body absorbs very little of curcumin — it becomes unstable and dissolves less in water. As a result, it is either metabolised in the liver or excreted. “Bioavailability is a serious problem,” said PN Rangarajan, professor of biochemistry at the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, who has been studying the molecule for many years.

“There have been attempts to improve bio-availability by developing new formulations such as nano curcumin. But the concern is that when you increase the bio-availability, you may also increase its toxicity,” he said.

The scientists at CDRI now seem to have broken the impasse.

By chemically modifying curcumin, they prepared a new derivative, one whose absorption is several folds higher in a living system than curcumin.

“This curcumin derivative seems to be a very promising molecule,” said T Narender, CDRI chemist, who headed the team that prepared the new curcumin derivative.

The breakthrough

Subsequently, biologists at CDRI, led by Anil Nilkanth Gaikwad, carried out experiments in hamsters to compare the efficacy of the new molecule — what scientists call CDPP — against that of curcumin.

To this end, the scientists grouped the rodents into different groups, and two such groups that are fed a high-fat diet were administered 100 mg per kg of body weight with CDPP and curcumin respectively.

To their surprise, the scientists found the bio-availability was four- to five-fold higher in adipocytes — fat cells around the midriff — in the animals treated with CDPP. “It not only drives out fat from these cells, but also prevents them from differentiating and thus ensures further fat storage doesn’t happen,” says Gaikwad.

More importantly, this curcumin derivative initiates the process of cholesterol removal from the blood, he said. The findings were published online in the journal Metabolism early this week.

Early days

But Gaikwad said it was too early to be excited.

“As we all know, curcumin offers multiple benefits. This means that the molecule goes and binds with many receptors in different organs in the body. Unless we could confine its activity to a single target, it can’t be a potential drug candidate,” he said.

For this, they may have to surmount several more barriers.

Published on May 28, 2017

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