The use of phytochemicals in the war against obesity – UJ research study

Metabolic Syndrome is a multifactorial and complex disease that is associated with obesity and an increased risk of developing diabetes and hypertension. The consumption of diets with a high fructose content can result in obesity. Non-alcohol liver disease has been identified as a leading non-communicable cause of death. This was the sentiment of Mr Trevor Nyakudya, a senior lecturer from the Department of Human Anatomy and Physiology at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) within the Faculty of Health Sciences.

Mr Trevor Nyakudya delivered a presentation entitled, “Early postnatal administration of oleanolic acid attenuates the development of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in fructose fed adult female Sprague Dawley rats” held in Illinois, Chicago at the McCormick Place in April 2017.

The study was done in collaboration with Associate Professor Erlwanger (University of the Witwatersrand), Professor Mukwevho (North West University), Mr Nkomozepi and Dr Swanepoel (UJ Human Anatomy and Physiology) and focused on the use of the phytochemical oleanolic acid in the early neonatal period could have long-lasting health effects and protect against the development of obesity due to high fructose feeding.

According to Mr Nyakudya links have been shown between early childhood events and subsequent disease or health outcomes in later life. “Current treatment and management options of type 2 diabetes and hypertension involve the use of pharmacological agents which are often expensive and inaccessible for most people. There is also a growing trend worldwide for the use of herbal medicines as preferred treatment options.”

Mr Nyakudya emphasised: “By researching and obtaining scientific data that validates the use of certain ethnomedicinal plants by rural communities, we provide natural and safer alternative prophylactic treatments options for the management of diabetes and hypertension. Especially if these treatments are administered earlier on in life.”

“In this study, using neonatal murine models showed that administration of oleanolic acid, a plant-derived compound from ethnomedicinal plants, to neonatal rat pups could program their metabolism to prevent the development of fructose-induced non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in adulthood,” enlightened Mr Nyakudya.

“These novel findings were well received by the participants drawn from all over the world and generated a lot of debate around the issue of neonatal programming and the development of metabolic dysfunction later in adulthood.”

Attendance of the conference resulted in an extension of the network and international research collaboration in physiology research, especially for the Human Anatomy and Physiology department at UJ.

“The next stage of these experiments involves conducting further molecular assays to determine the specific mechanisms through which oleanolic acid exerts its liver protective effects when administered in the neonatal phase,” added Mr

“We strive to take advantage of the indigenous knowledge systems to provide cheap and safe alternative treatments for health outcomes associated with metabolic syndrome. Hopefully this will go a long way to assist those who rely on ethnomedicinal plants and that have limited access to resources, “concluded Mr Nyakudya

In recognition of the outstanding nature of this doctoral work, the American Physiological Society-Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology section panel published the abstract in a high impact factor international journal, the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology

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