New research examines the effects of caffeine from various sources on weight gain in rats fed a high-fat, high-sugar diet.
Caffeine is a stimulant that has excitatory effects on the body. It is commonly consumed through drinking coffee, as almost 64 percent of Americans enjoy coffee at least once every day. It is also found in chocolate, cola, and some types of tea. One type of tea that contains caffeine is mate tea, which is a traditional South American tea made from the leaves of the Ilex paraguariensis plant. In addition to caffeine, mate tea also contains beneficial antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds.
Since caffeine is so widely consumed, there is a lot of research detailing its potential benefits. It has been shown to potentially enhance cognitive function and increase alertness, however this has not been confirmed. Caffeine has also been thought to be helpful for weight loss and preventing obesity due to its stimulant and appetite-supressing effects. To determine the validity of this, a University of Illinois study published in the Journal of Functional Foods tested the effects of caffeine combined with a high-sugar, high-fat diet in rats.
A total of 48 rats were split into groups where they were given different sources of caffeine for four weeks: synthetic caffeine, isolated caffeine from coffee, isolated caffeine from mate tea, regular mate tea, and decaffeinated mate tea. The amount of caffeine each rat received daily was similar to what a human would receive by drinking four cups of coffee.
All rats received a diet consisting of 40 percent of calories from fat, 15 percent of calories from protein, and 45 percent of calories from carbohydrates, with the majority of carbohydrates coming from sucrose. Researchers measured the weight and body composition of the rats before and after the four weeks, as well as the expression of the fatty acid synthase gene (Fasn) and the lipoprotein lipase gene (Lpl). Fasn creates an enzyme that makes fatty acids from glucose, and Lpl creates an enzyme that breaks down triglycerides.
Rats consuming isolated caffeine from mate tea had a 16 percent reduction in weight gain and a 22 percent reduction in body fat gain when compared to rats consuming decaffeinated mate tea. Similar effects were observed in rats that consumed synthetic caffeine and caffeine isolated from coffee. Moreover, rats consuming any of the three isolated caffeine forms had a 31 to 39 percent decrease in Fasn expression and a 51 to 69 percent decrease in Lpl expression.
The results of this study suggest that caffeine found in mate tea, coffee, or synthetic sources could potentially decrease rates of weight gain in rats fed a high-calorie diet. Additionally, caffeine could decrease the expression of potentially harmful genes that promote fat accumulation. More research is needed to determine whether the same effects are observed in humans.
Written by Avery Bisbee
Zapata, F. J., Rebollo-Hernanz, M., Novakofski, J. E., Nakamura, M. T., & De Mejia, E. G. (2019). Caffeine, but not other phytochemical, in mate tea (Ilex paraguariensis St. Hillaire) attenuates high-fat-high-sucrose-diet-driven lipogenesis and body fat accumulation. Journal of Functional Foods. doi: 10.1016/j.jff.2019.103646
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