Alpinia officinarum: an excess of calories, yet no increase in body fat
Rats that ingest a good amount of the Alpinia officinarum plant cannot get fat, even if you fatten them with high-calorie food. In the spice rack of every supermarket you will find a close relative of this plant. You probably know it as galangal.
Alpinia officinarum is also called lesser galangal. The plant is related to ginger and turmeric, and a close relative of the greater galangal or Alpinia galangal. Both Alpinia officinarum and Alpinia galangal have a long history of medicinal and culinary use.
Alpinia officinarum is a Chinese plant, Alpinia galangal an Indonesian one. Although the composition of both plants is very similar, you often find Alpinia officinarum in traditional Asian medicines, and Alpinia galangal more often as a spice.
Whatever you use them for, the most interesting parts of both plants are the roots. Researchers at Zhejiang Chinese Medical University bought dried roots of Alpinia officinarum and turned them into an alcohol extract. They put the extracts in the food of rats for 6 weeks.
The researchers experimented with 4 groups of rats. The first group received standard food. This was the control group. A second group received feed with extra sugar and fat [HFD]. Those rats, as you might expect, got fatter.
A third group was fed feed with extra sugar and fat consisting of 3 percent extract [AOE], a fourth group was fed sugar and fat rich diet consisting of 5 percent extract.
And look at that. The extract almost completely blocked the increase in fat mass.
The unhealthy feed worsened cholesterol levels, but the Alpinia officinarum extract practically eliminated this deterioration. Click on the figure above for a larger version.
"This study may have important implications because it is the first report that Alpinia officinarum extract has anti-obesity effects and improves the lipid profile in rats fed a hight fat diet", the researchers summarize.
"However, further study is needed to investigate which compounds in Alpinia officinarum extract are responsible for the effects, as well as the molecular mechanisms responsible for the anti-obesity and hypolipidemic activity."
If you calculate what the rats would get if they had been human, then you arrive at astronomical amounts of more than 10 grams per day. Such a dosage is neither safe nor necessary. But we'll talk about that another time.
J Med Food. 2010 Aug;13(4):785-91.
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