The agave plant that gave the world tequila contains fructans which may help protect against osteoporosis by boosting the body's absorption of calcium and could have other health benefits, as reported by scientists at the 239th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS).  

Experimental studies suggest that fructans may be beneficial in diabetes, obesity, stimulating the immune system of the body, decreasing levels of disease-causing bacteria in the intestine, relieving constipation, and reducing the risk of colon cancer, said Mercedes López, Ph.D. National Polytechnic Institute, Guanajuato, Mexico.

Fructans are non-digestible carbohydrates. They consist of molecules of fructose,sugar found in honey, grapes, and ripe fruits. Rich natural sources include artichokes, Jerusalem artichokes, garlic and onions, and chicory. Fructans do not occur in tequila, however, because they change into alcohol when agave is used to make tequila, López said.

Scientific studies have suggested that fructans stimulate the growth of healthful bacteria in the large intestine in a way that increases the body's absorption of minerals, including the calcium and magnesium important for bone growth.

The results from the study suggest that the supplementation of the standard diet with agave fructans prevented bone loss and improved bone formation, indicating the important role of agave fructans on the maintenance of healthy bone, López said. They can be used in many products for children and infants to help prevent various diseases, and can even be used in ice cream as a sugar substitute.

López said her findings suggest that agave fructans could be used in all of the same foods as chicory fructans. One advantage: Agave grows abundantly in Mexico and other countries with climates that do not favor growth of chicory.

In addition, the scientists cited hints from past research that agave fructans may have greater health benefits. Agave fructans, for instance, seem to stimulate production of greater amounts incretins than the inulin-type fructans from chicory.

Incretins are a group of gastrointestinal hormones that increase in the amount of insulin released by the pancreas. That could be beneficial for individuals with diabetes or high blood sugar levels who are at risk of diabetes, López said. One incretin stimulated by agave fructans is a good satiety enhancer, which would make people feel full on less food.

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