If new animal research pans out, a common food additive could one day make cheeseburgers and pizza less likely to promote diabetes.
The compound, known as HPMC, is a form of fiber known as soluble cellulose that is currently used as a thickener in a range of processed foods, such as sauces and glazes. In experiments with hamsters, scientists found that when they added HPMC to the animals’ high-fat diets, it prevented them from developing insulin resistance.Insulin resistance is a precursor to type 2 diabetes, in which the body loses its sensitivity to the hormone insulin, which helps move sugar from the blood and into cells to be used for energy. This causes blood sugar levels to remain chronically high, which over time can lead to complications such as heart disease, kidney failure and nerve damage.If the new findings can be translated to humans, HPMC could become part of the recipe for fast-food hamburgers, pizza and other all-American favorites, said lead study author Dr. Wallace H. Yokoyama, a researcher with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service in Albany, California.He presented the findings Tuesday at the 229th national meeting of the American Chemical Society in San Diego.In an interview with Reuters Health, Yokoyama explained that when it comes to the link between fat intake and insulin resistance, the problem seems to rest with ingesting large amounts of saturated fat quickly — as in downing a fast-food meal, for instance.”The body may not be able to handle all that fat,” he said.Though it’s unclear how HPMC may thwart insulin resistance, it may work by slowing down the absorption of dietary fats.Bringing fat metabolism into better balance, according to Yokoyama and his colleagues, may prevent cellular damage that could lead to insulin resistance and diabetes. The fat metabolic process produces molecules called oxygen free radicals, which can damage body cells and, over time, promote disease.In their experiments, the researchers fed a group of hamsters a high-fat diet over 4 weeks. In the high-fat diet, 38 percent of daily calories came from fat – a figure, Yokoyama noted, that is “very typical of the American diet.”The animals on this diet tended to develop insulin resistance, while those on a low-fat diet did not. However, when the researchers replaced the insoluble fiber in the high-fat diet with HPMC and administered it to another group of hamsters, the animals did not develop insulin resistance.What’s more, Yokoyama and his colleagues found differences in gene activity between the animals on the high-fat only diet and those on the HPMC-added diet. The two groups showed different expression patterns in genes related to the metabolism of fat, blood sugar and insulin.Because HPMC is tasteless and odorless, it’s likely that it could readily be added to cheeseburgers and pizza as a diabetes defense, according to Yokoyama.But even if that day comes, it would not be a license to eat all the fast food a stomach desires. The calories would still be calories, Yokoyama explained, and overindulging would still pack on the pounds. (Source: American Chemical Society: Reuters Health: March 2005.)