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Roselle for Obesity Management

Recent studies have revealed that the antioxidants present in the roselle plant possess anti-obesity characteristics.

These findings suggest that roselle could serve as a potential food-based alternative to current weight management medications.

New research indicates that the antioxidants in the roselle plant possess anti-obesity properties, offering potential alternatives to current weight management medications. The study, led by Ph.D. candidate Manisha Singh from RMIT University, focused on the phenolic extracts and hydroxycitric acid derived from the robust roselle plant (Hibiscus sabdariffa). These compounds were investigated for their ability to inhibit the formation of fat cells, known as adipocytes, which can occur when the body consumes an excess of fat.

Adipocytes play a crucial role in regulating the body’s energy and sugar levels. However, when there is an excess of energy intake compared to expenditure, it can lead to the enlargement and multiplication of fat cells, ultimately contributing to obesity.

In a novel approach, human stem cells were treated separately with phenolic extracts and hydroxycitric acid before being transformed into fat cells.

While the cells treated with hydroxycitric acid did not exhibit any significant changes in the fat content of the adipocytes, the cells treated with phenolic extracts displayed a remarkable reduction of 95% in fat compared to the control cells.

This research conducted by Manisha Singh represents the first-ever study to utilize human fat cells in assessing the effects of phenolic extracts and hydroxycitric acid derived from the roselle plant.

Professor Benu Adhikari, Singh’s Ph.D. supervisor at RMIT’s Food Research and Innovation Centre, highlighted the potential impact of these findings on approaches to managing obesity.

Currently, obesity management primarily focuses on lifestyle modifications and medication.

Although medications can be effective for managing obesity, they often come with potential drawbacks, such as adverse effects on blood pressure or potential harm to the kidney and liver.

According to Professor Benu Adhikari, the phenolic extracts derived from the roselle plant offer a promising opportunity to develop a health food product that not only hinders the formation of fat cells but also circumvents the negative side effects associated with certain medications.

A natural enzyme inhibitor

Polyphenols are naturally present in various food sources, including vegetables and fruits. When consumed, these antioxidants play a crucial role in neutralizing harmful oxidation processes in our bodies, thus contributing to the prevention of diseases and slowing down the aging process.

The study conducted by Manisha Singh also discovered that polyphenols derived from the roselle plant possess similar properties to some obesity management medications by inhibiting a digestive enzyme known as lipase. Lipase is responsible for breaking down fats into smaller fractions that can be absorbed by the body through the intestine. By inhibiting lipase, the polyphenols prevent the absorption of excess fats, leading to their elimination as waste through the colon.

According to Singh, the plant-derived nature of these polyphenolic compounds and their potential for consumption suggest that there should be fewer or no side effects associated with their use as compared to medications.
Future steps

Professor Benu Adhikari, a renowned food researcher with a background in farming from Nepal, envisions a significant role for the roselle plant in Australia’s health food industry.

Adhikari emphasizes that Australia’s climate is ideal for cultivating roselle, as it is a resilient plant that is resistant to diseases and requires minimal space and water to thrive.

The research team’s next plan involves encapsulating the phenolic extracts derived from roselle for incorporation into health food products. The extracts could be transformed into small beads and used to create a refreshing beverage.

Encapsulation serves two purposes: it extends the shelf life of the phenolic extracts by protecting them from oxidation, and it allows for controlled release and absorption in the body.

Adhikari explains that encapsulation is necessary because phenolic extracts can easily degrade in the stomach if not protected, thus hindering the ability to fully harness their benefits.


Reference: “Impact of phenolic extracts and potassium hydroxycitrate of Hibiscus sabdariffa on adipogenesis: a cellular study” by Manisha Singh, Thilini Thrimawithana, Ravi Shukla, Charles Stephen Brennan and Benu Adhikari, 23 December 2022, International Journal of Food Science & Technology.
DOI: 10.1111/ijfs.16269