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Chemical in baked goods, flavorings may increase obesity, diabetes risk

The chemical propionate -- widely used in animal feed, artificial flavorings and baked goods -- may cause increased insulin production and resistance, researchers say.

By Tauren Dyson
Chemical in baked goods, flavorings may increase obesity, diabetes risk
Eating foods with propionate can lead to excess insulin and insulin resistance. File Photo by kboyd/Pixabay

April 25 (UPI) -- An ingredient widely used in animal feed, artificial flavorings and baked goods may cause a spike in hormones that can raise the risk of diabetes and obesity, a new study says.

Eating foods with propionate can increase substances in the human body that create excessive insulin and insulin resistance, according to a study published Wednesday in Science Translational Medicine.

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"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," Gokhan S. Hotamışlıgil, a researcher at Harvard Chan School and study author, said in a news release.

After feeding propionate to mice, the researchers observed significant weight gain and a rise in glucose, which led to hyperglycemia in the animals.

Then the researchers tested propionate on humans. They fed one group of people a meal that contained one gram of propionate, while the other group ate a meal with a placebo.

People in the first group had significant increases in norepinephrine, along with FABP4 and glucagon. These results suggest that propionate could lead to both obesity and diabetes.

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While the researchers point out that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration calls propionate a safe substance, they think their study should spur reevaluation of its use 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," said Amir Tirosh, a researcher at Tel-Aviv University and study author.

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