Food ingredient propionate is widely used in baked goods, animal feeds, and artificial flavorings.
It is a naturally occurring short-chain fatty acid that helps prevents mold from forming on foods.
In a study from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, researchers found that this ingredient could increase hormones linked to risk of obesity and diabetes.
The study is published in Science Translational Medicine. One author is Gökhan S. Hotamisligil, James Stevens Simmons Professor of Genetics and Metabolism.
Previous studies have found that environmental and dietary factors contribute to the growth of obesity and diabetes.
Some dietary components used for food preparation or preservation may bring health risks, but there is little research examining the effects.
In this study, the team examined propionate and conducted experiments on humans and animals to test the health effects of the food ingredients.
On mice, they found that the ingredient could cause a surge in hormones that produce more glucose from their liver cells. This caused diabetes symptoms.
They then tested 14 healthy people 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.
The researchers 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 team says 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.
The new finding may help develop simple but effective ways to tackle obesity and diabetes.
Future work needs to see if there are potential alternatives that could be used in food preparation.
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