Many people have heard that eating fiber is good for your health and helps to prevent weight gain. One of the reasons for this, as we have blogged about before, is thought to be related to the short chained fatty acids (SCFAs) that are produced by the microbiome from fiber. In mouse models, mice that receive a fecal transplant containing a microbiome with a high capacity for generating SCFAs show reduced weight gain. The SCFAs appear to induce the production of certain hormones associated with appetite control. The problem with human interventions of fiber-based diets is that an unpalatable amount of fiber is normally required, and very little of it is eventually converted into SCFAs. Scientists from England recently tried to tackle this problem by introducing one type of SCFA, propionate, into the colons of obese humans to investigate its effects on weight gain. The results of their study were published in the journal Gut.
The researchers chemically modified propionate so that after it was eaten it would only be released in the colon. They then performed a double blind trial with 60 obese participants that took either the propionate or a placebo every day for 24 weeks. The scientists discovered that, as hypothesized, ingesting the propionate increased the production of the appetite control hormones in the colon. In addition, people who took the propionate tended to have a suppressed appetite and ate less overall food than their placebo counterparts. Overall, the propionate prevented weight gain in the individuals who ingested it compared to the placebo group.
Recent advances in microbiome research have shown hormones produced by the gut are critical to managing hunger and food intake, and that research has allowed these scientists to create a new drug that stimulates the microbiome into producing those hormones. In addition, the scientists show a new method of drug delivery to the colon which may have applications for other therapies. At the AMI, we hope that their research continues to be as fruitful as it is promising.