Research: Greens could build muscle

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 13, 2012

KANNAPOLIS — Researchers working for N.C. State University in Kannapolis have shown mustard greens and cabbage could be back-up plants for Popeye’s spinach when it comes to building muscles and increasing physical performance.
Recent studies at the NCSU Plants for Human Health Institute at the N.C. Research Campus show that compounds called brassinosteroids, which are present in mustard greens and other Brassica plants such as cabbage and broccoli, trigger a physiological response in rats similar to anabolic steroids.
Researchers say they hope these plant substances can be used to provide effective, natural and safe alternatives for age- and disease-associated muscle loss or be used to improve endurance and physical performance.
“It’s exciting to see that plants we eat contain these compounds,” Dr. Debora Esposito said in a press release. “In the future, we may be able to breed plants for higher brassinosteroid content and produce functional foods that can treat or prevent diseases and increase physical performance.”
The study’s authors have garnered attention after recently published research and presentations at conferences. Authors are Esposito, a postdoctoral associate at Rutgers University who is hosted at the Plants for Human Health Institute; Dr. Slavko Komarnytsky, a metabolic biologist and assistant professor with the Plants for Human Health Institute; and Dr. Ilya Raskin of Rutgers.
Esposito discussed the team’s findings in June at the Society for In Vitro Biology World Congress, where she earned third place for her presentation. She also presented the research two weeks ago at the International Congress on Natural Products Research in New York City, where she was honored with the American Society of Pharmacognosy Research Award.
The researchers studied rat skeletal muscle cells, exposing them to different amounts of homobrassinolide, a plant steroid. They then measured protein turnover and found that muscle cells respond to brassinosteroids by increasing protein synthesis and decreasing protein degradation in cell culture.
The result was a significant increase in net muscle protein.
The next step was to feed healthy rats a homobrassinolide daily for 24 days. The researchers measured changes in body weight, food consumption and body composition.
The rats that were fed the plant steroid showed an increase in lean body mass over those that were not fed the substance. Results from the study also showed an increase in the number and size of muscle fibers crucial for increased physical performance.
According to the researchers, the findings suggest that therapies using brassinosteroids could offer a viable future approach for repairing damaged muscle.