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Does a preservative increase your risk of gaining weight?
Researchers at the internationally renowned Harvard University found in their investigation that so-called propionate, a preservative widely used in baked goods, animal feed and artificial flavorings, appears to increase the levels of various hormones that are associated with a risk of obesity and diabetes.
In the current investigation by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health has found that a commonly used preservative increases the risk of obesity. The results of the study were published in the English-language journal "Science Translational Medicine".
Propionate can trigger a cascade of metabolic events
The new study, which combined data from a randomized placebo-controlled study in humans and mice, indicated that propionate can trigger a cascade of metabolic events that lead to insulin resistance and hyperinsulinemia. The results also showed that chronic exposure to propionate in mice led to weight gain and insulin resistance, the researchers report.
More than 400 million people suffer from diabetes
"If we understand how food ingredients affect the body's metabolism at the molecular and cellular levels, we can develop simple but effective measures to combat the two epidemics of obesity and diabetes," says study author Professor Gökhan S. Hotamışlıgil from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in a press release.
Worldwide, more than 400 million people suffer from diabetes. The rate of diabetes incidence is expected to increase by 40 percent by 2040 despite extensive efforts to curb the disease. The rising rates of diabetes and obesity over the past 50 years suggest that environmental and nutritional factors are affecting the growth of this epidemic. The researchers thought that components of the diet, including ingredients used to prepare or preserve food, could be an important factor, but these molecules have so far been little studied.
What is propionate?
For the current study, the researchers focused on propionate, a naturally occurring short-chain fatty acid that prevents mold from forming on food. They first administered this short-chain fatty acid to mice and found that it activated the sympathetic nervous system quickly, leading to an increase in hormones, including glucagon, norepinephrine and the newly discovered gluconeogenic hormone FABP4. This hormone, in turn, caused the mice to produce more glucose from their liver cells, which led to hyperglycemia, a defining feature of diabetes.
Further experiments on humans have been carried out
In addition, the researchers found that long-term treatment of mice with a dose of propionate equal to the amount typically consumed by humans resulted in significant weight gain and insulin resistance in the animals.
To find out whether the results from mice can be transferred to humans, the researchers conducted a double-blind, placebo-controlled study with 14 healthy participants. These were randomly divided into two groups: one group received a meal containing one gram of propionate as an additive, and the other group received a meal containing a placebo. Blood samples were then taken before the meal, within 15 minutes after eating the meal and thereafter every 30 minutes for a period of four hours.
What did the intake of propionate do in humans?
The researchers found that people who consumed the meal with propionate experienced a significant increase in norepinephrine and an increase in glucagon and FABP4 shortly after eating the meal. The results suggest that propionate can act as a type of metabolic disorder that may increase the risk of diabetes and obesity in humans. While propionate is generally recognized as safe by the United States Food and Drug Administration, the new evidence warrants further investigation into propionate and possible alternatives that could be used in food preparation.
Ingredients in food need to be better examined
“The dramatic increase in the frequency of obesity and diabetes over the past 50 years suggests that environmental and nutritional factors need to be considered. One factor that requires attention is the ingredients in normal foods. We are exposed to hundreds of these substances every day, and most have not been tested in detail for their potential long-term metabolic interactions, ”explains Professor Amir Tirosh, a research associate at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. (as)