EMBARGOED FOR RELEASE: Tuesday, March 23, 5 p.m., Eastern Time
The plant that gave the world tequila contains a substance that seems ideal for use in a new genre of processed foods -- so-called “functional foods” -- with health benefits over and above serving as a source of nutrients, scientists reported here today at the 239th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS). Foods spiked with “fructans” from the agave plant may help protect against osteoporosis by boosting the body’s absorption of calcium and could have other health benefits, they said.
“Fructans are considered functional food ingredients because they affect body processes in ways that result in better health and reduction in the risk of many diseases,” said Mercedes López, Ph.D., who delivered the report. She is with the National Polytechnic Institute, Guanajuato, Mexico. “Experimental studies suggest that fructans may be beneficial in diabetes, obesity, stimulating the immune system of the body, decreasing levels of disease-causing bacteria in the intestine, relieving constipation, and reducing the risk of colon cancer.”
In the new study, López and colleagues set out to determine what effects agave fructans actually have on bone growth. They tested the effects of agave fructans on laboratory mice, used as stand-ins for humans in such research. Mice fed agave fructans absorbed more calcium from food, excreted less calcium in their feces, and showed a 50 per cent increase in levels of a protein associated with the build-up of new bone tissue.