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Piceatannol: The Answer to the Obesity Epidemic?

Forgive the hyperbole of the title, but this compound is truly one of the most realistic hopes we have, outside of diet/exercise, of exogenously treating obesity — and it is a naturally occurring compound. Piceatannol is a compound similar in structure to, and a metabolite of, Resveratrol.

Resveratrol is a compound found in grapes, red wine, purple grape juice, peanuts, and some berries that has shown in laboratory trials an ability to function as a vasodilator, a blood-thinner, an anti-oxidant and as an anti-inflammatory agent. Resveratrol has additionally shown an ability to increase lifespans of various animals including those of yeast, worms and fruit flies. Animal studies have also demonstrated that Resveratrol can slow the growth of some types of cancer. The studies looking at Resveratrol’s effects in treating heart disease have been inconclusive with one study finding a deleterious effect when you increase the dosage. There are also reports that it decreases the incidence and severity of various neurodegenerative diseases.

Not random coincidence, in my opinion, is the fact that the word’s civilizations with significant increases in longevity and decreases in cancer and heart disease consume much more resveratrol-rich red wine than the rest of the planet. This has been called the remarkable “French Paradox“.

Once consumed, some of the resveratrol is converted to Piceatannol, which leads us now to the interesting findings from research done at Purdue University. (1,2)

Researchers found that ”Piceatannol actually alters the timing of gene expressions, gene functions, and insulin action during adipogenesis, the process in which early-stage fat cells become mature fat cells.” (1,2) Only mature fat cells can store fat. “In the presence of piceatannol, you can see delay or complete inhibition of adipogenesis.” (1,2)

Piceatannol accomplishes this in part by binding to the “baby” fat’s insulin receptors. With these receptor sites occupied by piceatannol, insulin cannot attach. Without insulin, the genes that promote the growth of baby fat cells (that cannot store fat) to adult fat cells (that can store fat) are never activated.

To put a finer point on it, if this works out in animal and human trials, researchers may have discovered a way to keep people from ever getting fat.

I’ll drink to that!

At least for now, it gives us one more reason to be a diligent consumer of dark red fruits and wines and nutritional supplementation of resveratrol.


  1. Purdue University (2012, April 4). Potential method to control obesity: Red wine, fruit compound could help block fat cell formation.ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 28, 2012, from here.
  2. J. Y. Kwon, S. G. Seo, Y.-S. Heo, S. Yue, J.-X. Cheng, K. W. Lee, K.-H. Kim. Piceatannol, Natural Polyphenolic Stilbene, Inhibits Adipogenesis via Modulation of Mitotic Clonal Expansion and Insulin Receptor-dependent Insulin Signaling in Early Phase of Differentiation. Journal of Biological Chemistry, 2012; 287 (14): 11566
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