For countless centuries, the native peoples of Mexico and Central America have used the agave plant for food, clothing, rope and many other purposes. Perhaps the best-known use is the production of tequila (made from the blue agave).
But a new – and decidedly healthier – use for agave may be on the horizon.
Agave plants are high in a type of indigestible carbohydrate called fructans. And a new study hints these fructans may be a key to improving bone health. But before we talk about the new study, a little more about fructans…
Prebiotcs – Key to Your Gut Health
You’ve probably heard of probiotics. These are the “friendly” bacteria found in fermented dairy products such as yogurt and kefir. Many people – including me – use them when antibiotics or sickness have thrown our guts out of balance.
Well, these bacteria have to “eat,” too. And what they eat are “prebiotics.” The best known and researched of these prebiotics is inulin… or fructans. Numerous studies have shown that fructans promote the growth of the bacteria that support intestinal health.1
A study published late last year in The Journal of Applied Microbiology showed that agave fructans have this same effect in the test tube.2
And evidence indicates that fructans – including agave fructans – may have other positive effects on digestion.
A New Appetite Killer?
In animal studies, fructans from the chicory plant have helped reduce weight gain and suppress appetite.
When Mexican researchers tested agave fructans on mice, they discovered they had an even greater effect than chicory. And, like chicory, agave fructans promoted lower levels of cholesterol and blood sugar.3
It’s still too soon to say if fructans will produce the same results with people. But the signs are encouraging. And it’s not to soon to say they have a positive effect in another important way.
Good News for Bone Health
As we grow older, we worry more about the strength of our bones. So any easy way to promote greater bone strength is good news. And fructans appear to provide a particularly simple route… thanks to their unique traits.
Just last year, French scientists reported that adding fructans and a protein-like nutrient improved calcium absorption in older women.4
I believe the fructans were the key for several reasons. First, other studies – not using the protein-like nutrient – have shown that fructans effectively increase calcium absorption.5
Second, because we can’t digest them, fructans survive into our colons. There, friendly bacteria ferment them into a type of fatty acid that increases calcium absorbability. And there’s growing proof that we can absorb significant amounts of calcium through the colon.6
Which brings us back to agave…
From Tequila to Stronger Bones
In a report to the American Chemical Society, Mexican researchers showed that agave fructans may well promote bone health as well as other fructans.
In this study, mice fed agave fructans absorbed – and retained – more calcium than those denied the fructans. And they showed a 50% increase in a protein linked to the building of new bone.7
Don’t go running for your bottle of tequila, though. The fermentation process converts agave fructans to alcohol. It’s unfermented agave that helps.
But other sources of fructans are available. Chicory, onions and garlic are all good sources. However, don’t be surprised if agave shows up as a food ingredient soon… It appears science may have found a new – and healthier – use for this intoxicating plant.
Dr. Kenneth Woliner, M.D.
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