UNC Chapel Hill researchers study effects of bottled water on metabolism

  • Posted: Sunday, January 20, 2013 12:54 a.m.
    UPDATED: Sunday, January 20, 2013 1:33 a.m.
Lori Van Horn talks on the phone while spending 24 hours in a sealed room at UNC-Chapel Hill Nutrition Research Institute at the North Carolina Research Campus. Horn is taking part in a clinical study to evaluate the effects of ASEA water on metabolic rates in humans. Photo by Jon C. Lakey, Salisbury Post.
Lori Van Horn talks on the phone while spending 24 hours in a sealed room at UNC-Chapel Hill Nutrition Research Institute at the North Carolina Research Campus. Horn is taking part in a clinical study to evaluate the effects of ASEA water on metabolic rates in humans. Photo by Jon C. Lakey, Salisbury Post.

KANNAPOLIS — Lori Van Horn spent a restful 24 hours Friday inside a room that from the outside looks like a cruise ship cabin.

Van Horn, of Mint Hill, is a participant in a metabolism study being conducted at the UNC-Chapel Hill Nutrition Research Institute, at the North Carolina Research Campus.

Dr. Andrew Swick, associate professor and director of Obesity and Eating Disorders Research at the University of North Carolina Research Institute, is heading the study. Stephen Orena, a lab manager and a research associate in the Swick lab, runs the study.

The study hopes to measure the effect of a commercially available water, ASEA (pronounced ah-see-ah), on a person’s metabolic rate and the amount of fat that is burned. Participants drink two 4-ounce portions of the water — one in the morning and the other before bed.

“Some of our greatest health challenges today stem from obesity and the obesity-related diseases. The metabolic chamber is unique because it allows us to precisely measure how a person’s metabolism is affected by what a person eats, such as the compounds found in ASEA water,” Swick said.

One more tool?

ASEA can be found online, and according to its website, provides health benefits including protecting against free radical damage.

“If it turns out that compounds in ASEA water can increase metabolism, this could provide one more tool for people to use to treat or prevent obesity,” Swick said.

Participants spend two 24-hour periods in the metabolic chamber, separated by a week.

Van Horn wrapped up her final 24-hour period inside the institute’s metabolic chamber on Saturday morning. It was the second 24 hours she’d spent in the room.

“This is pretty unique. There’s not a lot of metabolic chambers in the whole world. This is one of the few in the southeastern part of the United States,” Swick said.

The chamber resembles a hotel room equipped with a bed, sink, toilet, satellite television, DVD player, laptop, intercom system, phone and air-lock chambers used to deliver food, blankets or reading material to study participants.

Quiet time

The participants can do much of everything they did outside, except leave. They can eat, sleep, read, do crafts, watch television, make phone calls and even work remotely via the Internet.

The researchers say most people enjoy their quiet time, and Van Horn agrees.

“So it’s been very relaxing. But you know in my line of work I’m used to moving around and talking to people,” she said.

Van Horn is a nurse and she said not having that interaction, except through the “portholes” and through the intercom, has been rather interesting.

Reseachers pass air through the chamber “that allows us to measure how much CO2 (carbon dioxide) is being produced as a person is digesting their food,” Orena said.

“We monitor activity, food intake. We ask for one blood sample. We measure the amount of calories they are burning, so how much energy they actually need,” Swick said.

Two blood samples and urine samples are collected each day. On the first day, another blood sample is drawn. Before participants enroll, they are asked to report for screening and orientation.


One of the criteria for participants is that they be postmenopausal women.

“Postmenopausal women’s metabolic rate is more stable. It’s not complicated by hormones that could otherwise make it difficult to see a difference,” Orena said.

“We try to control as much as possible. There’s a lot of variability between people and so we try to minimize what that variability is and also look at populations that are interesting and important,” Swick said.

The study is relatively passive, he said.

Participants don’t have to expend a lot of energy. One cause of difficulty for Van Horn was giving up her love of coffee. Participants are asked to abstain from caffeine.

“I’m a two-, three-cup, sometimes maybe four-cup of coffee per day drinker, and so for me that was extremely hard,” she said.

Van Horn was fine without coffee during her last 24-hour period on Jan. 11. She figured after that Saturday when she was free to return home, she’d stop at the first McDonald’s she spotted for coffee.

“I passed right by it,” she said.

She drank a cup of coffee on Jan. 13 and said she, “wasn’t that thrilled with it.” She’s been coffee-free for a week.

“Starbucks and Caribou are wondering where I am,” Van Horn joked.

She’s not sure if she’ll return to her regular coffee habit once she’s finally done with the study.


The question is, could a person’s metabolism increase just by drinking a special type of water?

Swick doesn’t know the answer, just yet.

“The way the study is designed, we don’t know anything until it’s finished. It’s a double-blind study,” Swick said.

ASEA sent researchers two bottles, marked A and B. One bottle is ASEA water and the other is a placebo.

Swick earned a bachelor of science degree in animal science from the University of Florida, followed by a master’s degree in nutrition from the University of Nebraska. In 1987, Swick earned his doctorate.

Orena received his bachelor of science degree in zoology from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and a master’s degree from Harvard. He went on to do drug discovery research in the areas of diabetes and obesity for Pfizer.

The researchers are in the midst of the study and are looking for participants. In order to qualify, a participant must be a healthy, nonsmoker, postmenopausal female, between age 50-65, with a BMI between 25 and 35.

Volunteers will receive a stipend to compensate them for time spent in the research study.

To learn more about the research study and whether you qualify to participate, contact Stephen Orena at 704-250-5041 or stephen_orena@unc.edu.

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