In a new study, researchers found that a popular food ingredient may increase levels of hormones linked to risk of obesity and diabetes.
The food ingredient is called propionate and widely used in baked goods, animal feeds, and artificial flavorings.
The research was led by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Previous research has shown that environmental and dietary factors contribute to the growth of obesity and diabetes.
Some dietary components used for the preparation or preservation of food may bring health risks, but there is little research examining the effects.
In the study, the team focused on propionate, which is a naturally occurring short-chain fatty acid that helps prevents mold from forming on foods.
They conducted experiments in humans and animals to test the health effects of the food ingredients.
On mice, they found that the ingredient could lead to a surge in hormones that produce more glucose from their liver cells. This caused diabetes symptoms.
They then tested 14 healthy participants in two groups. One group received a meal that contained one gram of propionate as an additive and the other group was given a meal that contained a placebo.
They found that people who ate the meal containing propionate had strong increases in hormones soon after eating the meal.
It shows that propionate may act as a “metabolic disruptor” and may increase the risk for diabetes and obesity in humans.
The researchers suggest that the food ingredient could trigger a cascade of metabolic events that leads to insulin resistance and excessive levels of insulin.
Long-term intake of the ingredients may lead to weight gain and insulin resistance.
According to the researchers, the new finding may help develop simple but effective ways to tackle obesity and diabetes.
They also suggest that currently propionate is recognized as safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Future work needs to see if there are potential alternatives that could be used in food preparation.
One author of the study is Gökhan S. Hotamisligil, James Stevens Simmons Professor of Genetics and Metabolism.
The study is published in Science Translational Medicine.
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