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Propionate, a common food ingredient, may increase diabetes and obesity risk: Study

Written by on October 22, 2019

(Natural News) Whenever people eat pastries or foods with artificial flavoring, they end up ingesting a hormone-disrupting chemical called propionate. A new study warned that this toxic food ingredient can trigger a series of unfavorable metabolic events that can make a person more vulnerable to diabetes and obesity.

A common food preservative, propionate is not only present in artificial flavorings and baked goods, it can also be found in animal feeds.

Researchers from Israel and the U.S.presented their findings in an article published in the journal Science Translational Medicine. Their two-part study consisted of in vivo investigations using different mouse models and a randomized placebo-controlled trial in humans.

Their results suggest that propionate can elevate the levels of certain hormones linked to hallmarks of the metabolic syndrome. These hallmarks include insulin resistance and dangerously high levels of insulin (hyperinsulinemia) and blood sugar (hyperglycemia).

The researchers also found that chronic exposure to the toxic ingredient not only induces insulin resistance in mice, it also causes gradual weight gain.

Giving propionate to rats makes them gain weight and show signs of diabetes

Diabetes affects hundreds of millions of people around the world. Despite their earnest efforts to combat the disease, experts fear that its incidence rate will surge to 40 percent by 2040.

Obesity is also becoming prevalent at an alarming rate. The continuous rise in the number of obesity and diabetes cases suggests that dietary and environmental factors play a significant role in their epidemicity.

For instance, ingredients that are often added to foods for preparation or for preservation may be contributing to the prevalence of these diseases. However, these potentially harmful molecules have received little attention thus far.

For their study, the researchers concentrated on propionate. This short-chain fatty acid appears in nature and has the ability to protect foods from molds.

When the researchers fed propionate to mice at a dose equivalent to that used to preserve food, the short-chain fatty acid activated the rodents’ sympathetic nervous system.

As a result, the levels of hormones like glucagon and fatty acid-binding protein 4 (FABP4) increased. The former raises blood glucose levels, while the latter is involved in the development of insulin resistance.

Mice constantly fed propionate eventually developed hyperglycemia, a symptom of diabetes. They also became insulin-resistant and gained weight.

The supposedly “safe” food ingredient is a potential endocrine disruptor

Next, the researchers examined the effect of propionate consumption in humans. They set up a double-blind, placebo-controlled study and randomly assigned participants to either a placebo group or a propionate group.

The propionate group ate a meal with one gram of the food ingredient. Meanwhile, their counterparts received food containing a placebo with no intended effects.

The researchers took blood samples from each participant before eating, within 15 minutes of consuming the food, and every 30 minutes afterward for four hours.

Blood test results showed that participants who ate the propionate-laced meal had higher levels of glucagon, FABP4, and norepinephrine. The increase led to insulin resistance and compensatory hyperinsulinemia.

The researchers concluded that propionate disrupts the levels of metabolic hormones and can increase a person’s risk of obesity and diabetes.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) currently considers propionate a safe food ingredient. But the researchers believe it is high time the FDA reconsiders this.

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