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Obesity is often called an epidemic and it has been recognised as one of the major public health issues in the western world. Obesity is associated with a number of pathogenic states, including chronic, low grade inflammation.

This inflammation is thought to occur as a result of the excess nutrients and energy present in the body, and effects not just the adipose tissue, but also the muscle, brain, liver and pancreas. It is this process that has been implicated as the cause of the metabolic dysfunction and type 2 diabetes that is associated with obesity.

Scientists are always on the lookout for ways to mitigate the serious effects of carrying extra weight and to help people drop the excess kilos. New research has shown that blackcurrants could be next in a long line of miracle weight loss foods.

A group of researchers studied the effects of this polyphenol-rich fruit using an obese mouse model. Male mice were split into two groups, one receiving a high fat, high cholesterol diet, the second being fed the same diet, with the addition of 0.1% blackcurrant extract. After twelve weeks, scientists assessed a number of physical and metabolic factors.

Firstly, the mice on the diet fortified with blackcurrant had a lower bodyfat percentage, and within the fat tissue, the individual adipocytes were smaller than the mice on the control diet.

Macrophages are a specialised type of white blood cell that are associated with obesity-related inflammation. They mop up cellular debris, and their presence is thought to mainly be triggered by the death of adipose or fat cells in pathologically expanding tissue. These macrophages are known to release inflammatory chemical signals which have many serious and negative effects, including changes in cells that promote insulin resistance and other detrimental metabolic changes.

The macrophages present in obesity are known to occur in characteristic arrangements called "crown like structures". This research showed that crown like structures and mRNA molecules indicative of the production of inflammatory chemicals were present in much lower numbers in the group of mice on the blackcurrant diet than in those on the high fat control.

The researchers also looked at gene expression in the mitochondria, which are the sites of energy metabolism in the body, present in largest numbers in skeletal muscle. It was shown that genes for energy expenditure and the formation of new mitochondria were upregulated in the presence of blackcurrant extract.

This initial research is very promising, and suggests that components in blackcurrant extract may be able to decrease the inflammatory response in obesity, potentially by encouraging the body to burn the excess energy through increasing the number and activity of the mitochondria. This discovery has a lot of potential to improve the health of those people who are suffering the negative health effects of obesity, but it also shows that blackcurrant extract, by increasing energy expenditure, has great potential as a weight loss aid. It would not be surprising to see blackcurrant extract popping up as an ingredient in weight loss formulas in the near future.

Benn T, Kim B, Park YK, Wegner CJ, Harness E, Nam TG, Kim DO, Lee JS, Lee JY. Polyphenol-rich blackcurrant extract prevents inflammation in diet-induced obese mice. J Nutr Biochem. 2014 Jun 13.

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