12 January - 20 June 2016

The short-chain fatty acid acetate reduces appetite via a central homeostatic mechanism

21 May 14

What affects human appetite, and the roles that various chemicals play in its suppression, has been an active area of research for many years. A recent study published in Nature Communications has moved away from looking at the role played by hormones, and instead focused on the effects of consuming fibre.

The study in question considered the effects of inulin, a form of dietary fibre found in chicory and sugar beets that is often added into cereal bars. The researchers discovered that when inulin is digested in the gut, it releases the so-called 'anti-appetite' molecule acetate. Using PET (positron emission tomography) scans on mice given inulin in their diets, the acetate was tracked through the body from the colon and eventually to the hypothalamus region of the brain. As this region is believed to control hunger, the findings suggest that acetate may have a direct role in central appetite regulation. This hypothesis was lent further support by the observation that mice that were fed a high fat diet supplemented with inulin ate less and gained less weight than mice fed a high fat diet supplemented with cellulose (which is a poorly fermentable fibre). This appetite-suppressant effect was also seen when mice were injected with acetate directly into the brain.

The study authors note that a modern Western diet includes only 10-20g of fibre per day, whereas a Palaeolithic diet would have included more than 100g per day. Not only, however, would our palaeolithic ancestors have consumed more fibre, but it is also thought that this fibre would have been highly fermentable, unlike our current fibre intake. As quoted in Science Daily the lead author, Professor Gary Frost, stated "The major challenge is to develop an approach that will deliver the amount of acetate needed to suppress appetite but in a form that is acceptable and safe for humans...Another option is to focus on the fibre and manipulate it so that it produces more acetate than normal and less fibre is needed to have the same effect, providing a more palatable and comfortable option than massively increasing the amount of fibre in our diet".[New Scientist, Telegraph]

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