Human Nutrition Research Centre


Bioactive Alginates and Obesity

Because eating is a pleasurable experience and humans tend to over eat if food is available in excess, in particular high energy foods which are often rich in fat. Reducing fat metabolism and uptake is one approach to reducing weight gain. Therefore chemically synthesised inhibitors of the fat digesting enzymes, lipases are currently being used to treat obesity.

At present the major lipase inhibitor available on prescription in the U.K. is orlistat (Xenical) which will reduce fat absorption by up to 30%. However side effects such as oily stools, flatulence and diarrhoea have meant reduced acceptability. Interestingly these side effects can be significantly reduced if the lipase inhibitor is taken with a dietary fibre supplement. Therefore a good solution would be a dietary fibre with lipase inhibitory activity. Alginate, a natural fibre from seaweed has these properties.

We have demonstrated in our lab that alginates have a similar ability to inhibit lipase as orlistat. We therefore aim to screen a bank of alginates (over 20), some of which are already used in the food industry at low levels and other naturally occurring biopolymers to determine the best lipase inhibitor profile using a lab based colorimetric assay. Using the best inhibitors we will demonstrate their ability to inhibit lipase activity in conditions as close as possible to those in the gut, i.e. with other food components etc.

The best candidate/s from the above studies will then be tested (delivered in bread in the first instance) in human volunteers. A group of healthy subjects will be used to determine acceptability of the biopolymer in the food vehicle and to determine the best balance between lipase inhibition and levels of biopolymer intake. Our preliminary studies showed no acceptability problems with alginate levels as high as 10% by weight in bread. Following the studies with the healthy subjects the biopolymer enriched foods will be tested to demonstrate calorific intake reduction in ileostomy patients.

This study has the potential to provide evidence that normal foods supplemented with fibre biopolymers can be used to treat obesity/overweight and allow this to be translated by the food industry into the development of a range of other tasty and affordable food products. Such a range would have the potential to reduce calorific intake, as well as include the health benefits of dietary fibre.