September 23, 2005

Mexico tests weight reduction power of tequila’s agave

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Scientists from Mexico's tequila
producing region say juice extracted from the blue agave plant,
best known when distilled into the fiery spirit, may help
dieters shed pounds and cut cholesterol.

Sadly for the world's growing band of tequila lovers,
agave's possible health benefits are lost when the plant is
distilled into alcohol.

Spiky agave plants have been cultivated on Mexico's arid
central highlands for thousands of years and are woven into the
country's history and mythology. But more than anything the
plant is known for what Spanish invaders called "tequila wine."

Now however, researchers from the University of
Guadalajara, close to the town of Tequila, the cradle of
Mexico's famous alcoholic export, say the plant's powers go
beyond inducing euphoric highs followed by crushing hangovers.

"The structure of agave contains, among other things,
substances known as fructans," Dr. Jorge Segura, who is leading
the investigation, told Reuters on Thursday. "Fructans reduce
cholesterol (and) alter the absorption of fat in the intestine,
at least in animals."

Segura said he was confident his team of 20 researchers
would have similar results during their 18-month study on
humans, launched this week.

Inulin, a type of fructan, is a carbohydrate found in many
plants, including asparagus. Some scientists believe inulin
helps weight loss.

Segura hopes that his research will open new markets for
Mexico's thousands of agave farmers who have watched prices
plummet as supply outstrips demand.

"This will benefit the agave farmers more than anyone," he
said. "Prices have collapsed in recent years."