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A widely used food preservative to inhibit mold growth could increase obesity rates and diabetes, a recent study by Israeli and American researchers has published.
More than 400 million adults suffer from diabetes Worldwide, the number is expected to increase to over 640 million by 2040. To explain the increase, external factors such as nutrition and the environment are increasingly taken into account.
The joint study – conducted by researchers from Israel's Sheba Medical Center at Tel HaShomer, Harvards T.H. The Chan School of Public Health and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston investigated the effect of propionate, a food preservative used to extend the life of bakery products by inhibiting the growth of mold.
When the researchers administered propionate to mice, they discovered that it triggered a chain reaction that resulted in a hormonal increase that produced more glucose and eventually hyperglycemia, a hallmark of diabetes.
When researchers administered an equal amount of propionate to mice in a portion of food, the mice gained weight and developed insulin resistance.
The researchers then conducted a double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 14 healthy people. Those taking propionate showed higher levels of certain hormones, including glucagon, which raises blood glucose levels.
The results published in the Science Translational Medical Journal indicate that propionate plays a role in the metabolic process and could possibly contribute to the increase in obesity and diabetes.
"The dramatic increase in the incidence of obesity and diabetes over the past 50 years can not be attributed to genetic alterations factors," said Dr. Amir Tirosh, director of the Institute of Endocrinology at Sheba Medical Center, and one of the authors of the study
"One such factor requiring attention is the widespread use of chemicals in the processing, preservation and packaging of foodstuffs.We are exposed to hundreds of these chemicals on a daily basis, and most have never been tested for their long-term metabolic effects.
While propionate was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, the researchers added their findings suggesting that alternative methods of preserving food should be evaluated.
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