September 23, 2005

Mexico Tests Slimming Powers of Tequila’s Agave

MEXICO CITY - 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 has 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."