Where it comes from: Sesamin is fibrous matter known as a lignan, which is a chemical compound found in plants. It exists in natural foods such as flaxseed (not flaxseed oil unless the hull remains), wheat bran, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, vegetables, cranberries and whole grains such as oatmeal and barley.
What it'll do for you: "Lignans are metabolized in the human intestine by friendly bacterial flora, and are absorbed and circulated in the bloodstream," explains Sari Greaves, RD and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. "They exert powerful antioxidant effects that can reduce LDL cholesterol (the 'bad' kind), may prevent certain types of cancers (breast and colon) and can contribute to increased brain function." Here's how sesamin may benefit you:
- Stimulates weight loss
A Japanese study found that sesamin increases the activity of several liver enzymes that break down fatty acids. By optimizing the liver's fat-burning capacity, sesamin may promote fat loss and also decrease the body's fat storage capacity. Additionally, sesamin is believed to help preserve lean muscle mass, which is particularly beneficial when dieting (especially those who've cut out carbohydrates), as a restricted diet may cause the body to break down muscle mass for use as fuel.
- May lower cholesterol
A group of mice was separated and randomly assigned to four groups, fed a diet of sesamin, another plant compound (stanol ester), a combination of the two or a control diet. At the beginning and the end of the study, the mice were weighed, observed and blood was taken for analysis. The control group showed an almost three-fold increase in cholesterol levels. Sesamin alone and paired with the stanol ester significantly reduced the cholesterol levels. Other studies have confirmed that the compound raises high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (the "good" kind). However it's unclear if the sesamin consistently has these effects on cholesterol alone or if the other compounds are needed to help as well.
- May protect against cancer
Researchers at the University of Texas found that sesamin inhibits the proliferation of a variety of tumor cells including leukemia, multiple myeloma and cancers of the colon, prostate, breast, pancreas, and lung. It helps kill the toxic cells and suppresses the gene that's crucial to the cells' survival. Sesamin may also be helpful when cancer cells no longer respond to the effects of chemo drugs.
Suggested intake: "Although food sources of plant lignans hold promise as a health enhancing ingredient, little scientific evidence to date has substantiated the effectiveness of extracts (such as sesamin supplements) in burning fat," says Greaves. "Your best bet for burning fat is getting regular exercise and eating a balanced diet . . . but while you're at it, snack on a handful of sesame seeds or add a tablespoons of ground flaxseeds to your breakfast cereal for a natural lignan boost."
Supplement brands such as SesaMAX and SesaThin have 1,000 mg of sesamin and are generally regarded as safe.
Associated risks/scrutiny: While there are some conflicting reports regarding its benefits, very few side effects or negative effects of sesamin have been noted in scientific studies. Some experts have expressed concern that a high amount of sesamin is needed in order to reap some of its health benefits. Sesamin allergies have been reported, though they are rare.
As with other supplements, sesamin is not regulated by the FDA, dosing instructions are not consistent across all brands and effectiveness will vary.