Junk food cravings may be a thing of the past. Researchers from Imperial College London and the University of Glasgow recently discovered that a powdered food supplement known as inulin-propionate ester significantly reduced a person’s appetite for high-calorie foods.
The study involved 20 men who were asked to drink a milkshake containing either inulin-propionate ester or a different fiber called inulin. While undergoing an MRI scan, the participants were shown pictures of several low-calorie foods like vegetables and fish, as well as junk foods like pizza and chocolate.
When looking at high-calorie foods, the group that drank the milkshake with the inulin-propionate ester had very little activity in the brain regions linked to food cravings. The volunteers were also asked to rate the appeal of the foods in the pictures. The ones who consumed the inulin-propionate ester found the high-calorie foods much less enticing.
“This study shows that altering how the gut works can change not only appetite in general, but also change how the brain responds when they see high-calorie foods and how appealing they find the foods to be,” said Imperial College researcher Tony Goldstone.
Scientists have found bacteria in the gut that release a substance called propionate when someone eats the fiber inulin. Propionate sends a message that triggers the brain to reduce appetite. Inulin-propionate ester, a specific type of the fiber, seems to increase this response.
A second part of the experiment asked participants to take and eat as much pasta with tomato sauce as they could handle. The volunteers who had consumed an inulin-propionate ester shake beforehand ate 10 percent less pasta than the ones who drank the beverage with only inulin.
In addition to appetite reduction, inulin-propionate ester may even help shed unwanted pounds. In 2013, the team of researchers enlisted the help of several people considered to be overweight. One group consumed food enriched with inulin-propionate ester powder, while the second only ate food with added inulin. Over a six-month period, the first group lost more weight.
Professor Gary Frost at the Department of Medicine at Imperial believes the most recent study finally links the inulin-propionate ester food supplement to food cravings.
“Our previous findings showed that people who ate this ingredient gained less weight – but we did not know why. This study is filling in a missing bit of the jigsaw – and shows that this supplement can decrease activity in brain areas associated with food reward at the same time as reducing the amount of food they eat.”
According to Frost, the amount of inulin-propionate ester participants consumed was 10 grams, which increased propionate production by 2.5 times. To get that same boost from inulin fiber alone, a person would have to consume at least 60 grams a day, nearly four times the average daily amount.
The study findings, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, also noted that some people naturally produce more propionate than others do, explaining why some people seem to gain weight faster. However, inulin-propionate ester is likely not the only trigger for appetite.
In 2014, a different study showed certain substances produced by bacteria in the gut can lower food cravings. Using rats and mice, researchers found E. coli started producing certain proteins that affect brain signals related to appetite regulation. The proteins were released roughly 20 minutes after the specimens ate, coinciding with the approximate time it takes for a person to feel full.
Worldwide obesity rates are climbing at an alarming pace. Unless a solution is found, experts predict serious health consequences for the years ahead. This study, funded by the National Institute for Health Research and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, demonstrates how changing the gut microbiome with inulin-propionate ester may help individuals reduce cravings for junk food and live a healthier lifestyle.
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