Sesame seeds and the essential oil of the plant are rich in a compound named sesamin. It can be found in other edible plants as well, such as pumpkin seeds, cranberries and several vegetables. Other sources are the bran of several grain types like wheat, oats and barley, it can also be found in products prepared from whole grains and flaxseed but not in flax oil unless it is prepared from the whole seed.
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Sesamin is part of a larger group of compounds found in fibrous plants, named lignans. A very similar substance part of this group is sesamolin.
Sesamin provides numerous health benefits, according to research made on mice and lab rats. It has a positive effect on the heart, being able to balance blood pressure as well as lower cholesterol levels. It can also reduce inflammation, cure liver problems, help in weight loss, as well as increase the conversion of the vital vitamin E. It is suspected to be a strong antioxidant but scientific studies haven't been completed.
Including sesamin in your diet can be very rewarding. It can help reduce weight through two separate mechanisms: it boosts the burn rate of fats and at the same time it prevents the body from storing more fat deposits. In turn, this makes the muscles stronger and larger in size. Consuming sesamin stops the body from eating its own muscles while on a strict diet, thus eliminating one of the worst side-effects.
Sesame seeds are the human food with the highest concentration of lignans, alongside flax, and sesamin is by far the most important compound from the lignan group. This natural product can do wonders when included in human diet. It is known to reduce inflammation and neutralize free radicals, it acts like a very useful fat burner for overweight persons and professional athletes. In addition, it might also modulate the reception of estrogen.
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Many of these benefits have only been observed so far in studies on lab animals like rats but there is a high chance to be identical on humans. Many of the studies have focused on sesamin's effect on cholesterol and it has so far been proven that both the "bad" cholesterol and the overall level of this dangerous fat in the liver are reduced. Some of the results also show an increase in the quantity of "good" (HDL) cholesterol but there is no clear consensus from scientists at this point. According to some opinions, sesamin does have a positive influence on the level of HDL, but only when mixed with other compounds.
Another very interesting benefit provided by sesamin is a boost in the absorption of vitamin E. This works in an indirect way, by preserving the level of γ-tocopherol and γ-tocotrienol by increasing their metabolism and stopping degradation. These are two of the main compounds that are considered to be vitamin E and are quite difficult and expensive to produce. Sesamin can thus be a cheaper alternative that provides an awesome side-effect, besides its normal health virtues.
Sesamin can also act like a super-drug for the heart, since it decreases the level of some very dangerous fats in the blood. Lipids like triglycerides and cholesterol are needed by the human body in small amounts but become killers in increased quantities, which happens more and more often due to unbalanced diets. Sesamin lowers the bad cholesterol but when combined with CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) it also keeps serum triglycerides in check, which can greatly reduce the risk of having a stroke or heart attack.
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It is quite easy to include sesamin in your diet since it can be found in sesame seeds, sesame oil and numerous other products that include them as ingredients. Both white sesame seeds and the black ones are rich in this compound. However, sesamin can also be found as a supplement in pills.
It seems that sesamin could become a weapon against cancer, in the endless search to find a cure for this lethal disease. A study conducted by scientists from the University of Texas has revealed that sesamin is able to delay the growth of several types of tumour cells. These include myeloma, leukemia, colon cancer but also tumours of the internal organs like the lung, prostate, pancreas or breasts. Not only it kills the cells but it also seems to damage their genes, preventing further proliferation. It is a very promising therapy, especially in difficult cases when chemotherapy no longer helps.
Japanese researchers have focused on the effects of sesamin on the liver. They have discovered that this compound boosts the activity of enzymes responsible for processing fats, greatly increasing the liver's ability to burn such substances. This has a few beneficial consequences: it helps in weight loss, prevents further accumulation of fat and protects the muscles from being consumed by the body. This is critical in very radical diets where most types of carbohydrates have been eliminated and muscle mass can be affected.
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Sesamin could also be a potent antioxidant, even if the relevant studies haven't been completed yet. Free radicals are very harmful agents produced by our body in the process of oxygen metabolism. They emanate from the cells and react with any molecules they can find, damaging tissues with very severe consequences. The human body is normally able to contain this problem using its built-in defence mechanisms but it can be overwhelmed by large quantities, which is potentially a very dangerous situation. Free radicals are believed to be the root of many diseases, including cancer, schizophrenia, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease or deafness. However, there are a number of natural compounds that can neutralize free radicals and prevent them from causing damage, grouped under the umbrella name of antioxidants. Preliminary study results indicate that sesamin might not only reduce the number of free radicals but also repair the damage already caused to cells and tissues.
Other studies on animals have concluded that sesamin greatly reduces the risk of heart and cardiovascular diseases in both humans and animals, by providing a better lipid profile. The lipid profile is an index grouping the aggregate levels of total cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein (HDL), low-density lipoprotein (LDL) as well as triglycerides. The profile is determined by tests and then is used by doctors to estimate a person's risk of having a heart attack. Not all cholesterol is bad, LDL is the dangerous one while HDL is considered beneficial. It is already known from completed research that sesamin reduces overall cholesterol and the liver cholesterol. However, there is no definitive verdict on its influence on HDL cholesterol, some scientists believe that sesamin increases its levels, while others dispute this claim and argue that this only happens in combination with other beneficial substances.
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Further animal tests have also revealed a different beneficial effect of sesamin on the heart, namely its ability to reduce tension. High blood pressure (or hypertension) is very dangerous and can lead to serious or even lethal problems: strokes, heart attacks, aneurysm, kidney failure or cancer and many others. Sesamin lowers blood pressure by balancing some secretions: endothelin levels are reduced, while more nitric oxide reaches the endothelial cells located in the umbilical vein.
It is now known that sesamin forms a very powerful mix with linoleic acid that can be used to avoid having a stroke or a heart attack. This is because the mix decreases the index of both LDL cholesterol and triglyceride. It must be said however that LDL and triglyceride are only harmful in large amounts, while a small quantity is actually needed by the human body in order to operate properly.
Two other uses of sesamin are linked with its bioactive phytochemical classification. This makes it a killer of mushrooms and insects, so it can be an ingredient of fungicides and insecticides.
Allergies to sesamin are possible but very unlikely. Studies have noted that no other negative effect has been reported so far. However, the health benefits of this compound require high doses and some researchers are worried that the effects of consuming a large amount haven't been studied yet.