Can Maple Syrup Block Inflammation?

Researchers are finding evidence this sappy treat could have some sweet health benefits. Could this be the next super food? Pass the syrup!

Sugary foods aren’t exactly revered for their health benefits, but maple syrup may be an exception. Researchers say they have found special anti-inflammatory properties inside maple syrup, and this finding could lead to the creation of powerful new medicines for serious diseases, like cancer.

The interest surrounds a specific molecule found in maple syrup—quebecol. It is a compound that seems to occur from the chemical reactions that happen during the heat-intensive syrup-making process. It may not be so hard to believe maple syrup has such beneficial ingredients, though.

Maple syrup naturally contains abundant micronutrients, which are referred to as polyphenols. Doctors now believe polyphenols could have some serious health benefits, possibly protecting the body from numerous health problems, like cancer and cardiovascular disease.1 The quebecol molecule seems like a prospective anti-inflammatory agent, which could be highly effective against arthritis and degenerative diseases, like painful hormone-dependent cancers like breast cancer and colon cancer.

Could Maple Syrup Reduce Inflammation?

When maple syrup is made, these polyphenols convert into maple sap, which releases the quebecol molecule. Researchers at the Université Laval in Quebec City, Québec, decided to synthesize quebecol and its related derivatives to evaluate the potential anti-inflammatory benefits in a controlled setting.

Once they had isolated the quebecol compound, they developed an in vitro model to experiment with it. Daniel Grenier, PhD, a professor at the university’s faculty of dentistry, helped create the experimental model. "We take blood cells called macrophages and put them with bacterial toxins,” Dr. Grenier explained. “Macrophages usually react by triggering an inflammatory response. But if the culture medium contains an anti-inflammatory molecule, this response is blocked."

They found that quebecol indeed helped block 2 important triggers to inflammation, interleukin (IL)-6 and tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α.2 IL-6 and TNF-α are referred to as cytokines, which are essentially proteins that help signal various processes in the body, especially inflammation.

Quebecol appeared to inhibit the secretion of these cytokines. The researchers also tested the molecular precursors of quebecol, including its chemical derivatives, to understand more about how the molecule could do this. They found some derivatives of quebecol were even more effective than the original compound, itself.

According to Normand Voyer, PhD, a chemist with the faculty of science and engineering at Laval University, the most powerful derivative of quebecol actually had a simpler chemical structure, making it much easier to synthesize than quebecol. "This paves the way for a whole new class of anti-inflammatory agents, inspired by quebecol, that could compensate for the low efficacy of certain treatments while reducing the risk of side effects," Dr. Voyer said.

Chemotherapy treatments could benefit from quebecol, in particular. Researchers already have found quebecol to have very similar properties to tamoxifen, an estrogen modulator commonly used in the treatment of hormone-dependent cancers, particularly breast cancer. Tamoxifen can have severe side effects though. Quebecol, on the other hand, appears to be even more effective at treating colon and breast cancer cells, without having those adverse side effects.3

The Many Benefits of Phenolic-Rich Maple Syrup

Maple syrup could have some antibacterial benefits, as well. Back in March, researchers published a study showing evidence that half a dozen naturally occurring polyphenols in maple syrup showed strong antimicrobial activity.

They believe these benefits could be harnessed to increase the effectivity of antibiotics, which can lose their efficacy when bacteria naturally create biofilms to counteract the medicine’s effects. However, the polyphenols in maple syrup can prevent the bacteria from growing the biofilm—by as much as 83% in some cases.4

Polyphenols have abundant antioxidant properties that could be significant preventive factors for a litany of diseases, it seems.1 And phenolic acid isn’t exclusive to maple syrup. Tea leaves, coffee grains, maize flour, red fruits, onions—a variety of foods contain forms of phenolic acids. How efficiently our bodies absorb these nutrients, and how they interact with our bodies once they’re ingested—are questions still being explored, today.

Updated on: 12/30/15
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