The agave plant is the source of a unique kind of soluble fibre that could help the body absorb more calcium. [Photo: Bigstock]

Promising osteoporosis treatment from the agave plant

21 April, 2016

Natural Health News — New evidence suggests that substances from the agave plant – the same one used to make tequila – that enhance absorption of key minerals necessary for bone health.

The findings, which were presented at a recent meeting of the American Chemical Society, showed that agave fructans increase the body’s ability to absorb calcium.

Fructans is a broad category of soluble fibres whose structure can vary from plant to plant. They can be found in many everyday foods including bananas, garlic, onions, chicory root, wheat, leeks, asparagus, artichokes and garlic – have been shown to have numerous health benefits.

Inulin, for example, can potentially improving immune function, lowering your risk for colon cancer, improving calcium and magnesium absorption and lowering your triglyceride and cholesterol levels. While oligofructose may act as a prebiotic, helping increase the number of beneficial probiotic bacteria in your digestive tract.

A unique fibre

The fructans in agave have unique properties that seem to encompass those of both inulin and oligofructose and, for this reason, have been called ‘agavins’.

Fructans, which can’t be digested or absorbed reach the large intestine intact where, the new research shows, they interact with gut bacteria to become short-chain fatty acids. These ‘grab’ available minerals in the gut and help to transport them through the cells.

What you need to know

» Calcium is a bone healthy mineral, but many of us don’t absorb the calcium in our diets well.

» New research into fructans, a type of soluble fibre found in many plant foods, shows that the fructans in the Agave tequilana plant have a unique action in helping the body absorb more calcium and aid the formation of new bone.

» The  new bone formation, say the scientists, took place even in the presence of osteoporosis, suggesting that in the future agave fructans could be a helpful treatment for the disease.

“This way, we have a second chance to take advantage of the nutrients that were no longer available to the body. However, it is very important that people have a healthy intestinal microbiome, because only then it is possible that bacteria ferment fructans to transform them into fatty acids, “says Dr. Lopez.

Indeed, a healthy gut is important for aiding the absorption of a whole range of nutrients.

Regenerating bones

According to Dr. Mercedes López, leader of the project, the combination of agave fructans and healthy gut bacteria actually “promotes the formation of new bone, even with the presence of osteoporosis.”

The researchers discovered these health benefits while studying the effects of agave fructans on laboratory mice. The mice that ate agave fructans absorbed more calcium from their food, excreted less calcium in their faeces, and had 50% higher protein levels associated with new bone growth than the mice that didn’t eat agave fructans.

Though the agave plant is also used to make tequila, drinking tequila won’t provide the same bone benefits as eating fructan-rich foods, because agave fructans turn to alcohol during the tequila-making process.

A future treatment?

Though the researchers believe these results are very optimistic, they say more work still needs to be done to determine how the health benefits of agave fructans compare to other fructans, such as chicory fructans.

The results provide the possibility of developing an alternative in the treatment of osteoporosis, a disease that, according to the latest statistics from the International Osteoporosis Foundation, affects 200 million of people worldwide, which means that one of every five fractures, in people over 50, is related to the disease.