Manisha Singh’s ground-breaking research may change obesity management

Prof. Adhikari, a leading food researcher was a farmer back in Nepal, predicts that roselle will play a bigger role in Australia's health food industry.

RMIT University researchers have published a study that investigates how antioxidant compounds (phenolic extracts) and organic acid (hydroxycitric acid) found in the Hibiscus Sabdariffa could inhibit the formation of fat cells.

This research entitled “Impact of phenolic extracts and potassium hydroxycitrate of Hibiscus sabdariffa on adipogenesis: a cellular study” has been published in the International Journal of Food Science and Technology.

Image: Freeze-dried roselle flowers were used to extract the antioxidant compounds and organic acids (Source: RMIT University)

Manisha Singh, Thilini Thrimawithana, Ravi Shukla, Charles Stephen Brennan and Prof. Benu Adhikari are the co-authors.

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Manisha Singh’s research is the first of its kind to use human fat cells to test the impacts of phenolic extracts and hydroxycitric acid from roselle.

Prof. Benu Adhikari, Singh’s PhD supervisor from RMIT’s Food Research and Innovation Centre, said in a statement that the results of the study could impact how we approach obesity management. 

“The phenolic extracts from the roselle could help create a health food product that is effective in interfering with the formation of fat cells, but also bypass the bad side effects of some medications.” 

Their study assessed the potential of phenolic extracts and potassium hydroxycitrate, obtained from Hibiscus sabdariffa, to inhibit adipogenesis. The phenolic extracts were obtained using organic solvents (methanol, ethanol and ethyl acetate) and water individually. Human adipose-derived stem cells (hADSCs) were selected to study the impact of these extracts on adipogenesis. 

Adipogenesis is a complex physiological process involving the formation of adipocytes and accumulation as adipose tissues. It is one of the contributors for the development of obesity. 

When the human body has an excess of fat intake, fat can be deposited in the cell, which turns them into fat cells called adipocytes. These adipocytes are vital for regulating the body’s energy and sugar levels. However, when energy intake exceeds expenditure, it can cause the fat cells to grow in both size and number, contributing to obesity – a complex and relapsing disorder.

Image: Encapsulating the phenolic extracts of the roselle will help extend its shelf life and control how it gets absorbed in our bodies (Source: RMIT University)

Manisha Singh’s research also found polyphenols in the roselle had similar digestive enzyme-inhibiting properties as some obesity management medications.

“Because these polyphenolic compounds are plant-derived and can be consumed, there should be fewer or no side effects.”

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Prof. Adhikari, a leading food researcher was a farmer back in Nepal, predicts that roselle will play a bigger role in Australia’s health food industry.

“Australia has the perfect climate for farming the roselle. The plant is hardy, disease resistant and it doesn’t need a lot of space or water to grow.”

The team plans to encapsulate the phenolic extracts for use in health food products. They say the extracts could be turned into little beads and used to make a refreshing drink.

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