LONDON, Ontario — As fruits go, the orange may be among the most underappreciated. Sure, everyone knows they’re chock full of vitamin C and orange juice is indeed a breakfast staple for tens of millions. But, oranges still largely take a back seat to their more popular cousins in the apple and banana. Perhaps now, however, the citrus fruit will finally get the respect it deserves. A new study finds a unique molecule found in oranges may reverse obesity and protect against heart disease and diabetes.
The equivalent of just two-and-a-half glasses or orange juice may be all it takes to reap these rewards, according to the research team at Western University. The molecule is called nobiletin, and it’s found in both sweet oranges and tangerines. Interestingly, the study’s authors have yet to formulate an explanation as to how nobiletin appears to be providing these health benefits.
A group of mice were given a particularly fatty, high-cholesterol diet that should have made them all obese rather quickly. However, they maintained their slim figures after also being given nobiletin regularly. Furthermore, another group of mice who were fed the same fatty diet with no nobiletin gained much more weight, and developed much higher levels of insulin resistance and blood fats.
“We went on to show that we can also intervene with nobiletin,” comments Murray Huff, a professor at Western’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, in a press release. “We‘ve shown that in mice that already have all the negative symptoms of obesity, we can use nobelitin to reverse those symptoms, and even start to regress plaque build-up in the arteries, known as atherosclerosis.”
While researchers still aren’t sure how nobelitin works, they originally theorized that it influences the pathway (AMP Kinase) which plays a key role in fat regulation in the body. AMP Kinase is responsible for “turning on” the body’s mechanisms that burn fat for energy. It also helps block fat manufacturing.
The theory sounded promising, but when a group of mice that had been genetically modified to remove their AMP Kinase were given nobelitin, they still saw the same health benefits. So, that theory clearly needs some tinkering at the very least.
“This result told us that nobiletin is not acting on AMP Kinase, and is bypassing this major regulator of how fat is used in the body,” Huff comments. “What it still leaves us with is the question – how is nobiletin doing this?”
Still, that AMP Kinase experiment led to some meaningful findings; its results indicate that nobiletin won’t interfere with any drugs that act on the AMP Kinase system. For example, many diabetes medications involve the AMP Kinase pathway.
Regardless of the reasons why, it’s clear from this study that nobiletin, and by proxy, oranges, have some seriously untapped potential health benefits. Moving forward, the study’s authors would like to test nobiletin’s effects on human subjects.
“Obesity and its resulting metabolic syndromes are a huge burden to our health care system, and we have very few interventions that have been shown to work effectively,” Huff concludes. “We need to continue this emphasis on the discovery of new therapeutics.”
The study is published in the Journal of Lipid Research.