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Potato Chips And Toxins

Researchers have found that the snack food ingredient olestra speeds up toxin removal from the body.

The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Cincinnati’s medical school, was published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry.

Olestra is a zero-calorie fat substitute found in low-calorie snack foods such as Pringles. Researchers said it could reduce the levels of serum polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in people who had been exposed to PCBs.

High PCB levels have been linked to hypertension and diabetes.

"The findings showed that the rate of PCB disappearance from the participants that ate olestra was markedly faster during the one-year trial than that before the trial,” says principal investigator Ronald Jandacek, PhD, an adjunct professor in the department of pathology and laboratory medicine at UC’s College of Medicine.

Procter & Gamble developed Olestra (brand name Olean) in collaboration with UC. It was introduced in snack foods, including Pringles potato chips, in 1996. Early reports of indigestion issues, however, prompted a product reformulation of the product prior to its market entry.  

"Olestra is a fat that passes through the body and remarkably it has revealed a potential health benefit of removing PCBs. Our early work with animal studies predicted that we would see this effect in people,” Jandacek says of the clinical trial.

The investigators analyzed test results from 28 residents of Anniston, Alabama, all of whom had high PCB levels. In the study, half the participants ate per day 12 Pringle chips made with vegetable oil, and the other half ate 24 Pringles chips made with Olestra.

The results showed that participants who ate the Olestra chips had a PCB decrease rate of 8 percent, compared with those who consumed chips made with vegetable oil. That group had a 1 percent increase.  

"Olestra’s effect on PCB removal is apparently the result of solubilizing fat-soluble compounds like PCBs in the intestine, and the solubilization reduces absorption of these compounds into the body,” says Jandacek.

The trial was supported by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Center for Research Resources and the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, all of the National Institutes of Health.

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