Caffeine may help ward off obesity and other health risks of fat, sugar rich diets, says study

According to the study, caffeine could counteract the ill effects of obesity causing diet by decreasing the accumulation of lipids in fat cells and curbing weight gain

For all the ardent coffee lovers who vouch for its benefits, there is now another reason to stick to your cup of Joe. And for those who want to try a new way of getting their caffeine high, Mate Tea could be the fix. A new study on rats by researchers from the University of Illinois suggests that the inclusion of caffeine in one's diet may help ward off obesity, adding to the growing evidence in support of the idea.

According to the study, caffeine could counteract the ill effects of obesity causing diet by decreasing the accumulation of lipids in fat cells and curbing weight gain. Caffeine from various sources such as from coffee, mate tea, and synthetic variants was used in the study to ascertain their effect on fat metabolism in rats.

"The results of this research could be scaled to humans to understand the roles of mate tea and caffeine as potential strategies to prevent overweight and obesity, as well as the subsequent metabolic disorders associated with these conditions," Elvira Gonzalez de Mejia, a co-author of the study.

A four-week study involving rats

The rats used in the study were given a diet that consisted of 40 percent fat, 45 percent carbohydrate, and 15 percent protein, for four weeks. In addition to this, they were also given measured quantities of caffeine in one of its forms, which was equivalent to the amount that a human would receive if they consumed four cups of coffee a day. Findings at the end of four weeks showed that the rats who consumed caffeine, stored less body fat when compared to rats in other groups that did not ingest the stimulant.


To understand this mechanism, cell culture studies where performed by the researchers, where they exposed the adipose cells, or commonly known as fat cells, from mice to caffeine from different sources. It was found that the accumulation of lipids in adipose cells decreased by 20-41 percent when exposed to caffeine from any of the sources.

The effect of caffeine on gene activity

Next, the scientists tried to understand the genetic activity associated with the metabolism of lipids and obesity by studying the genes related to the process. Fatty acid synthase gene (Fasn), an enzyme associated with the synthesis of fatty acids from glucose; and lipoprotein lipase gene (Lpl), which water-soluble enzyme that helps in breaking down triglycerides, were also studied to understand the process.

Regardless of its source, caffeine aided in the suppression of Fasn and Lpl expression. A reduction of 51-69 percent in the expression of Lpl, and a decrease of 31-39 percent in Fasn expression was found during cell culture studies.

A cappuccino coffee cup is seen at Moko cafe in Warsaw
Representational Picture Reuters

The reduced expression of genes in the liver resulted in the decreased production of triglycerides and low-density lipoprotein in the liver the study found. The decreased expression of Fasn and two other genes in the liver evoked lower production of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and triglycerides in the liver as well, according to the study.

"The consumption of caffeine from mate or from other sources alleviated the negative impact of a high-fat, high-sucrose diet on body composition due to the modulation of certain lipogenic enzymes in both adipose tissue and the liver," de Mejia said, in a statement.

Mate Tea- A beneficial source of caffeine

During the course of the study, the researchers were able to demonstrate the benefits of consuming Mate tea and the positive effects of caffeine found in it. Mate tea, a caffeine-rich infused drink, is used as a stimulant Latin American countries, especially in the southeastern parts. It is rich in amino acids, phytochemicals, and flavonoids. The researchers state that one serving of mate tea contains 65-130 milligrams of caffeine, while a cup of brewed coffee contains 30-300 milligrams of caffeine.

Findings specific to caffeine from mate tea was indicative of its potential. Rats that ingested caffeine from the herbal brew, gained 16 percent less weight and stored 22 percent less body fat when compared to rats that were given decaffeinated mate tea.

Also, the expression of Fasn decreased by 39 percent in fat tissue, and by 37% in the liver, among rats that consumed caffeine from mate tea. "Considering the findings, mate tea and caffeine can be considered anti-obesity agents," added de Mejia.