An unassuming plant and the antioxidants it contains, could be a legitimate health food weight loss supplement, after a landmark trial found it decreased fat absorption.

When human fat cells were treated with polyphenols contained in the flower, they inhabited the production of the chief enzyme that converts dietary fat into stored fat in our cells.

One of the co-authors, a food scientist and former farmer from Nepal, believes that it could replace many of the side-effect-inducing pharmaceutical substances taken to genesis fat loss.

Roselle flower (Hibiscus Sabdariffa), dried and brewed in teas, is a common sight in traditional Chinese medicine shops, which offer a long legacy of other proven plant medications. From cinnamon to fennel seed, there are all kinds of plant materials touted for having health benefits, but often the funding just isn’t available for dedicated scientific research to prove health claims.

Fortunately, Ph.D. candidate Manisha Singh was able to do just that.

She treated human stem cells with the polyphenolic compounds in roselle flowers, which stains it and everything it touches red, before turning them into fat cells called adipocytes. The fat cells treated with the polyphenols absorbed 95% fewer fats than the non-treated ones.

Most cells can become fat cells – all they have to do is receive a biological command to absorb fats, usually through the diet.

“The phenolic extracts from the roselle flowers could help create a health food product that is effective in interfering with the formation of fat cells, but also bypass the bad side effects of some medications,” said Singh’s Ph.D. supervisor Professor Benu Adhikari at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia.

Singh had previously found that roselle extracts contained some of the chemicals present in weight loss medication like Orlistat and Liraglutide. She discovered it inhibited the function of lipase, an enzyme used in the body to break large dietary fats down into smaller ones to be absorbed in the cells.

By inhibiting the lipase enzyme, the fat cannot be absorbed and is passed through the colon as waste. But it was only observed stopping fats from entering the cells and had no effect on fat already inside the cells.

Roselle isn’t difficult to cultivate in bulk, and if it were powdered into a capsule form, it could be the ultimate partner to a healthy diet and exercise for weight loss.