New research has some good news for women battling extra pounds. The study, conducted by Ohio State University scientists, found that two natural dietary oil supplements can spark healthy weight loss and lower body fat — and the oils even worked in obese postmenopausal women with type 2 diabetes.
So what are these fat-zapping oils? They are simply safflower oil and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a compound naturally found in some meat and dairy products, that has been associated with weight loss in previous studies. Both oils are “good fats” composed primarily of polyunsaturated fatty acids. They are rich sources of linoleic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid that is important for the growth and maintenance of tissues and fat metabolism.
The new study, which is set for publication in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, involved 35 women who were considered obese based on body mass index (BMI) measurements of their weight relative to height. All were postmenopausal but younger than 70 and all had type 2 diabetes, although none needed insulin for treatment.
The women were randomly divided into two groups to determine which oil supplement they took first — this strategy was used because the researchers wanted to see if there were different effects from different dietary oils in the same woman. So, after a 16 week supplementation with one of the oils, there was a four week washout period to allow the first oil supplement to leave the women’s bodies before the next 16 week testing period with the other oil began. The oil supplements were taken as two pills four times each day, at meals and bedtime. The daily dose of either oil was about one and 2/3 teaspoons.
The research volunteers kept diet and activity records for three days in a row at four different times over the course of the study to see if their calorie intake or how much time they spent exercising was influencing the results of the trial. However, the investigators found that activity levels and calorie intake stayed about the same throughout the study.
Despite the fact there was no dieting or exercising, the study found that CLA supplementation significantly decreased the women’s BMI and total body fat. Usually these effects became evident in the last eight weeks of each 16 week period. On average their total body fat decreased by 3.2 percent, reducing the weight of excess fat tissue between 2.3 pounds and 3.5 pounds.
While the safflower oil didn’t change total body fat readings, in some ways this all vegetable “good fat” was the biggest star of the research. It reduced the weight of trunk fat tissue by between 2.6 pounds and 4.2 pounds — an average of more than six percent. What’s more, safflower oil increased lean tissue, or muscle, by about two to three pounds.
To add to the good news, safflower oil was found to reduce fasting blood sugar levels in these diabetic women between 11 and 19 points. “Lowering fasting glucose is important for these women. The overall effect in just 16 weeks wasn’t bringing them back to normal, but safflower oil still improved it significantly,” Martha Belury, professor of human nutrition at Ohio State University and senior author of the study, said in a statement to the media.
The researchers found that ingesting safflower oil increased a hormone called adiponectin. In the press statement, Dr. Belury said adiponectin might have triggered the body’s ability to burn dietary fats. She plans to study this mechanism in upcoming research.
According to Dr. Belury, after menopause women are apt to lose muscle while, at the same time, body fat accumulates around their middles. Now it appears dietary oils can help fight this “spare tire”, even in women who have diabetes.
“I never would have imagined such a finding. This study is the first to show that such a modest amount of a linoleic acid-rich oil may have a profound effect on body composition in women,” Dr. Belury stated. “Making this subtle change in the intake of high-quality dietary fats in an effort to alter body composition is both achievable and affordable to postmenopausal women in the United States who are managing the difficult combination of obesity and diabetes.”
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