PhotoWith risks for obesity and diabetes frequently making their way into the news cycle, a new study found a popular food ingredient that could affect metabolism.

According to researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, propionate -- an ingredient commonly found in artificial flavorings, baked goods, and animal feeds -- affects hormone levels that could increase risk for obesity and diabetes.

“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 researcher Gökhan S. Hotamışlıgil.

Diet plays a role

To see how propionate affects the metabolism, the researchers injected the ingredient into mice and observed their hormone levels.

Once injected into the mice, the researchers noticed an uptick in several hormones critical to balancing the metabolism. Before long, the mice were insulin resistant and hyperglycemic -- two factors that play a role in the development of diabetes. The researchers gave the mice regular injections of propionate to mimic the amount humans would regularly consume, which ultimately led to a rapid weight gain in the test subjects.

The second part of the experiment included human participants, who were examined to see how propionate affected their metabolisms. Fourteen participants were divided into two groups: one of which received a meal with propionate added in and another that received a placebo of the ingredient.

Based on an analysis of the participants’ blood samples, the hormone levels were very similar to the mice’s following their propionate injections, proving that the ingredient can play a role in the development of obesity and diabetes.

The researchers hope that both consumers and lawmakers take these findings seriously, as the food we’re consuming can come with rather serious health side effects.

“The dramatic increase in the incidence of obesity and diabetes over the past 50 years suggests the involvement of contributing environmental and dietary factors,” said researcher Amir Tirosh. “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.”

Fighting risks

Recent studies have explored both the risks associated with obesity and diabetes, as well as how to effectively fight those risks.

Researchers have found that eating eggs could help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, while positive personality traits could also play a role in staving off a diabetes diagnosis.

Obesity also raises the risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease, and it can be more likely to occur when access to food is limited. In terms of fighting obesity, researchers have found that green tea can be an effective addition to consumers’ diets.

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