WASHINGTON, April 24 (Xinhua) -- A new study has shown that a common food ingredient may increase levels of several hormones that are linked with risk of obesity and diabetes.
The study, published on Wednesday in the journal Science Translational Medicine, showed that propionate, a naturally occurring short-chain fatty acid that helps prevent mold from forming on foods, can trigger insulin resistance and a condition marked by excessive level of insulin.
In mice, chronic exposure to the chemical also resulted in weight gain, according to the study.
Previously, researchers suggested that dietary components used for preparation or preservation of food may be a contributing factor to diabetes, but the relationship at molecular level is still unclear.
"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 Gokhan Hotamisligil, professor of genetics and metabolism at Harvard University.
Harvard researchers and those from Brigham and Women's Hospital and Sheba Medical Center in Israel administered this short chain fatty acid to mice and found that it rapidly activated the sympathetic nervous system, leading to a surge in hormones.
Those hormones led the mice to produce more glucose from their liver cells, a major trait of diabetes, according to the study.
They also established a double-blinded study that included 14 healthy participants. One group had a meal containing one gram of propionate and the other group given a placebo.
Then they found that propionate consumers had significant increase in hormones, indicating that propionate is a "metabolic disruptor" that may increase risk for diabetes and obesity in humans.
While the propionate is generally considered safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, these new findings mean that further investigation into propionate is warranted, the researchers noted.