Using 4 Billion Years of Nature's Research to Fight Obesity

Douglas Perry

Technology, Cycling, Swimming


Chemical intervention is about unsavory as it sounds, although it is often the only choice science and pharmacologists provide for some ailments. Professor Philip Demokritou, Director of Harvard's Center for Nanotechnology and Nanotoxicology believes that we can learn more from nature and use more nature-inspired and derived materials because we have 4 billion years of free R&D there.


So, it's refreshing to know that scientists from Harvard University in the United States, and Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore, report1 that tiny balls of nano-sized cellulose fibers added to food reduced fat absorption in laboratory and animal experiments.



In the seemingly endless worldwide battle against obesity, this discovery could be an aid as experiments done in a simulated gastrointestinal tract showed that nanocellulose fibers 100 of times thinner than a human hair would cut fat absorption by up to 48 percent. In fact, in animal experiments, rats fed heavy cream containing nanocellulose absorbed 36 percent less fats than rats fed with heavy cream alone.


The Fat Cycle

Typically, digestive enzymes in the gut will break down triglycerides into fatty acids, which are absorbed by the small intestines and converted to fat by the human body.


However, when triglycerides are trapped in nanocellulose fibers - like how cotton balls absorb oil - enzymes involved in breaking down triglycerides for fat absorption are less effective, thus reducing the amount of fatty acids that can be absorbed by the body.



Associate Professor Ng Kee Woei from NTU's School of Materials Science and Engineering says, "We've known for a long time that fibre in the diet has positive health benefits but what we have shown now, is that in animal experiments, at the nanoscale are much more effective at reducing fat absorption than in its bulk form."


Modulation of fat digestion by nanocellulose


In experiments, 1 mg of nanocellulose was added to 100 mg of heavy cream, a ratio of 1:100. Prof Ng thinks that if more nanocellulose was added, it could have absorbed and trapped a larger percentage of fat.


Nanocellulose could be used as food additives or supplements that could help to mitigate fat absorption for certain groups of people, as the concentration can be adjusted for different applications. The scientists look forward to establishing whether this will be safe and effective for people to take.


Cellulose is categorized by the US Food & Drug Administration as a Generally Regardcategorized (GRAS) material as it is found in all plants. Nanocellulose can be easily produced by grinding cellulose into extremely fine powder. In this r study, three types of nanocellulose were compared to commercially available fat-reducing options, and all of them performed much better in the amount of fats they trapped, but more studies are still needed to determine why the three had better performance.



1. Glen M. DeLoid, Ikjot Singh Sohal, Laura R. Lorente, Ramon M. Molina, Georgios Pyrgiotakis, Ana Stevanovic, Ruojie Zhang, David Julian McClements, Nicholas K. Geitner, Douglas W. Bousfield, Kee Woei Ng, Say Chye Joachim Loo, David C. Bell, Joseph Brain, Philip Demokritou. Reducing Intestinal Digestion and Absorption of Fat Using a Nature-Derived Biopolymer: Interference of Triglyceride Hydrolysis by Nanocellulose. ACS Nano, 2018

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