Compound may help prevent diabetes in fast-food fans

Sunday, 31 July, 2005

Chemists with the US Department of Agriculture report they have identified a form of soluble cellulose that, if added to high-fat food items, appears to slow down fat absorption to a healthier rate and reduce the likelihood of developing insulin resistance, a precursor to type 2 diabetes. The preliminary animal study was described at the 229th national meeting of the American Chemical Society.

Called HPMC (hydroxypropylmethycellulose), the cellulose-derivative has been used for half a century as an additive in many foods and drugs, mostly to provide texture, but the researchers believe this is the first study to demonstrate its potential as a functional food ingredient. HPMC, which is tasteless and odourless, could one day be added to hamburgers, pizza, hot dogs and other high-fat foods as a novel line of defence against diabetes.

If the findings prove true in human studies, it could benefit young people, who tend to be frequent consumers of high-fat fast foods. Although HPMC isn't likely to prevent obesity, the compound may reduce the chances that obese people will develop diabetes and its deadly complications, particularly heart disease, the researchers note.

Over a four-week period, the research team fed a group of hamsters a high-fat diet - about 38% of calories derived from fat - similar to the fat content of typical American fast-food diets. Results were then compared to a group of animals that were fed a low-fat (11% fat-derived calories) diet. As expected, the animals fed the high-fat diets developed insulin resistance, but the animals fed the low-fat diet did not. But when soluble cellulose in the form of HPMC was substituted for the insoluble fibre normally found in the high-fat diets and then fed to another group of test animals over the same period, it prevented insulin resistance, according to the researchers.

Using special analytical techniques, the investigative team also studied metabolic changes in the test animals at the genetic level. They found significant differences in gene expression, as measured by messenger RNA changes, between animals that became insulin resistant and those that did not, they say.

HPMC, which is manufactured by Dow Chemical Company, is used in many common food products such as fillings, sauces and glazes, where it usually functions as a texture modifier. Although it constitutes from 0.5 to 1.5% of the total ingredients found in individual servings of most of these food products, the researchers say that it will likely be added in higher proportions if used in food as a diabetes fighter.

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