New research shows that an ingredient commonly found in low-fat chips may speed up the removal of toxins in the body, highlighting a promising therapy target as well as an unusual way to detox.

Olestra, a zero-calorie fat substitute found in snacks like Pringles chips, was shown to help reduce levels of serum polychlorinated byphenyls (PCBs) — a set of toxins associated with an increased risk of hypertension and diabetes. "Olestra is a fat that passes through the body and remarkably it has revealed a potential health benefit of removing PCBs,” Dr. Ronald Jandacek, a researcher at the University of Cincinnati and lead author of the new study, said in a press release.

Published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, the study followed 28 participants with high levels of PCBs for a year. Each day, participants consumed either 12 servings of chips made with vegetable oil or 24 servings of chips made with olestra. The serving sizes varied with each volunteer’s individual calorie intake.

At the end of the trial, the detoxifying effect of olestra was clear. Participants who consumed olestra chips decreased their PCB levels by eight percent. For those who ate chips with vegetable oil, the figure was one percent.

“Our early work with animal studies predicted that we would see this effect in people,” Jandacek explained. "The findings showed that the rate of PCB disappearance from the participants that ate olestra was markedly faster during the one-year trial than that before the trial.”

PCBs, Diabetes, and Hypertension

Hypertension and diabetes currently affect 67 and 25.8 million Americans respectively, with incidence and complications on the rise in many states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Together, the conditions cost the nation well over $300 billion in health care services, medications, and lost labor.

While olestra was shown to reduce certain factors of diabetes and hypertension risk, it remains to be seen whether regular consumption actually prevents these conditions. “[Our findings] supports a larger intervention trial that may also determine whether reduction in PCBs will reduce the risk of hypertension and diabetes,” Jandacek and colleagues wrote in their conclusion.

Source: Jandacek RJ, Heubi JE, Buckley DD, et al. Reduction of the body burden of PCBs and DDE by dietary intervention in a randomized trial. Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry. 2014.