Nav: Home

Could a popular food ingredient raise the risk for diabetes and obesity?

April 24, 2019

Consumption of propionate, a food ingredient that's widely used in baked goods, animal feeds, and artificial flavorings, appears to increase levels of several hormones that are associated with risk of obesity and diabetes, according to new research led by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in collaboration with researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital and Sheba Medical Center in Israel.

The study, which combined data from a randomized placebo-controlled trial in humans and mouse studies, indicated that propionate can trigger a cascade of metabolic events that leads to insulin resistance and hyperinsulinemia--a condition marked by excessive levels of insulin. The findings also showed that in mice, chronic exposure to propionate resulted in weight gain and insulin resistance.

The study will be published online in Science Translational Medicine on April 24, 2019.

"Understanding how ingredients in food affect the body's metabolism at the molecular and cellular level could help us develop simple but effective measures to tackle the dual epidemics of obesity and diabetes," said Gökhan S. Hotam??l?gil, James Stevens Simmons Professor of Genetics and Metabolism and Director of the Sabri Ülker Center for Metabolic Research at Harvard Chan School.

More than 400 million people worldwide suffer from diabetes, and the rate of diabetes incidence is projected to increase 40% by 2040 despite extensive efforts to curb the disease. The surging rates of diabetes, as well as obesity, in the last 50 years indicate that environmental and dietary factors must be influencing the growth of this epidemic. Researchers have suggested that dietary components including ingredients used for preparation or preservation of food may be a contributing factor, but there is little research evaluating these molecules.

For this study, the researchers focused on propionate, a naturally occurring short-chain fatty acid that helps prevents mold from forming on foods. They first administered this short chain fatty acid to mice and found that it rapidly activated the sympathetic nervous system, which led to a surge in hormones, including glucagon, norepinephrine, and a newly discovered gluconeogenic hormone called fatty acid-binding protein 4 (FABP4). This in turn led the mice to produce more glucose from their liver cells, leading to hyperglycemia--a defining trait of diabetes. Moreover, the researchers found that chronic treatment of mice with a dose of propionate that was equivalent to the amount typically consumed by humans led to significant weight gain in the mice, as well as insulin resistance.

To determine how the findings in mice may translate to humans, the researchers established a double-blinded placebo-controlled study that included 14 healthy participants. The participants were randomized into 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. Blood samples were collected before the meal, within 15 minutes of eating the meal, and every 30 minutes thereafter for four hours.

The researchers found that people who consumed the meal containing propionate had significant increases in norepinephrine as well as increases in glucagon and FABP4 soon after eating the meal. The findings indicate that propionate may act as a "metabolic disruptor" that potentially increases the risk for diabetes and obesity in humans. The researchers noted that while propionate is generally recognized as safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, these new findings warrant further investigation into propionate and potential alternatives that could be used in food preparation.

"The dramatic increase in the incidence of obesity and diabetes over the past 50 years suggests the involvement of contributing environmental and dietary factors. One such factor that warrants attention is the ingredients in common foods. We are exposed to hundreds of these chemicals on a daily basis, and most have not been tested in detail for their potential long-term metabolic effects," said Amir Tirosh, associate professor of medicine at Tel-Aviv University's Sackler School of Medicine, director of the Division of Endocrinology at Sheba Medical Center in Israel, and research fellow at Harvard Chan School.
-end-
Other Harvard Chan School authors included Ediz Calay, Gurol Tuncman, Kathryn Claiborn, Karen Inouye, Kosei Eguchi, and Michael Alcala.

Funding for this study came from National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases grant K08 DK097145, as well as the Nutrition Obesity Research Center at Harvard grant P30-DK040561, the Cardiovascular, Diabetes and Metabolic Disorder Research Center of the Brigham Research Institute, and the Israeli Ministry of Health Research and Fellowship Fund.

"The short-chain fatty acid propionate increases glucagon and FABP4 production, impairing insulin action in mice and humans," Amir Tirosh, Ediz Calay, Gurol Tuncman, Kathryn Claiborn, Karen Inouye, Kosei Eguchi, Michael Alcala, Moran Rathaus, Kenneth Hollander, Idit Ron, Rinat Livne, Yoriko Heianza, Lu Qi, Iris Shai, Rajesh Garg, Gökhan S. Hotam??l?gil, Science Translational Medicine, online April 24, 2019, doi: 10.1126/scisignal.aav5938

Visit the Harvard Chan School website for the latest news, press releases, and multimedia offerings.

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Related Diabetes Articles:

Genetic profile may predict type 2 diabetes risk among women with gestational diabetes
Women who go on to develop type 2 diabetes after having gestational, or pregnancy-related, diabetes are more likely to have particular genetic profiles, suggests an analysis by researchers at the National Institutes of Health and other institutions.
Maternal gestational diabetes linked to diabetes in children
Children and youth of mothers who had gestational diabetes during pregnancy are at increased risk of diabetes themselves, according to new research published in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal).
Two diabetes medications don't slow progression of type 2 diabetes in youth
In youth with impaired glucose tolerance or recent-onset type 2 diabetes, neither initial treatment with long-acting insulin followed by the drug metformin, nor metformin alone preserved the body's ability to make insulin, according to results published online June 25 in Diabetes Care.
People with diabetes visit the dentist less frequently despite link between diabetes, oral health
Adults with diabetes are less likely to visit the dentist than people with prediabetes or without diabetes, finds a new study led by researchers at NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing and East Carolina University's Brody School of Medicine.
Diabetes, but not diabetes drug, linked to poor pregnancy outcomes
New research indicates that pregnant women with pre-gestational diabetes who take metformin are at a higher risk for adverse pregnancy outcomes -- such as major birth defects and pregnancy loss -- than the general population, but their increased risk is not due to metformin but diabetes.
New oral diabetes drug shows promise in phase 3 trial for patients with type 1 diabetes
A University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus study finds sotagliflozin helps control glucose and reduces the need for insulin in patients with type 1 diabetes.
Can continuous glucose monitoring improve diabetes control in patients with type 1 diabetes who inject insulin
Two studies in the Jan. 24/31 issue of JAMA find that use of a sensor implanted under the skin that continuously monitors glucose levels resulted in improved levels in patients with type 1 diabetes who inject insulin multiple times a day, compared to conventional treatment.
Complications of type 2 diabetes affect quality of life, care can lead to diabetes burnout
T2D Lifestyle, a national survey by Health Union of more than 400 individuals experiencing type 2 diabetes (T2D), reveals that patients not only struggle with commonly understood complications, but also numerous lesser known ones that people do not associate with diabetes.
A better way to predict diabetes
An international team of researchers has discovered a simple, accurate new way to predict which women with gestational diabetes will develop type 2 diabetes after delivery.
The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology: Older Americans with diabetes living longer without disability, US study shows
Older Americans with diabetes born in the 1940s are living longer and with less disability performing day to day tasks than those born 10 years earlier, according to new research published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology journal.
More Diabetes News and Diabetes Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Teaching For Better Humans 2.0
More than test scores or good grades–what do kids need for the future? This hour, TED speakers explore how to help children grow into better humans, both during and after this time of crisis. Guests include educators Richard Culatta and Liz Kleinrock, psychologist Thomas Curran, and writer Jacqueline Woodson.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#556 The Power of Friendship
It's 2020 and times are tough. Maybe some of us are learning about social distancing the hard way. Maybe we just are all a little anxious. No matter what, we could probably use a friend. But what is a friend, exactly? And why do we need them so much? This week host Bethany Brookshire speaks with Lydia Denworth, author of the new book "Friendship: The Evolution, Biology, and Extraordinary Power of Life's Fundamental Bond". This episode is hosted by Bethany Brookshire, science writer from Science News.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Space
One of the most consistent questions we get at the show is from parents who want to know which episodes are kid-friendly and which aren't. So today, we're releasing a separate feed, Radiolab for Kids. To kick it off, we're rerunning an all-time favorite episode: Space. In the 60's, space exploration was an American obsession. This hour, we chart the path from romance to increasing cynicism. We begin with Ann Druyan, widow of Carl Sagan, with a story about the Voyager expedition, true love, and a golden record that travels through space. And astrophysicist Neil de Grasse Tyson explains the Coepernican Principle, and just how insignificant we are. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.