Common hydrocolloid could help prevent diabetes

Related tags Insulin resistance Nutrition

The cellulose derivative HPMC, used for years to add texture to
foods and in drug delivery, could become a new functional food
ingredient, researchers said yesterday, as it appears to slow down
fat absorption from foods, writes Dominique Patton.

HPMC, or hydroxypropylmethylcellulose, also prevented animals fed a high-fat diet from developing insulin resistance, a precursor to type 2 diabetes, chemists from the US Department of Agriculture reported at an American Chemical Society meeting.

The study is thought to be the first to demonstrate the hydrocolloid's potential as a functional food ingredient.

The researchers suggest that the tasteless, odourless compound could be added to fatty foods like hamburgers and pizzas to reduce the risk of diabetes in young junk food fans or obese people, although it is unlikely to actually prevent obesity.

"Obviously, the less fat you eat, the better off you are. But if you're going to eat high fat foods, then adding HPMC to it might help limit the damage,"​ said Wallace H. Yokoyama from the USDA Agricultural Research Service.

For four weeks Yokoyama's team fed a group of hamsters a high-fat diet, with about 38 per cent of calories coming 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 diet (11 per cent fat-derived calories).

As expected, the animals fed the high-fat diets developed insulin resistance, but the animals fed the low-fat diet did not.

But when the soluble cellulose 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, reported the researchers during the Dietary Supplements symposium yesterday (abstract AGFD 103).

The team also studied metabolic changes in the test animals and found significant differences in gene expression, measured by messenger RNA changes, between animals that became insulin resistant and those that did not.

Although the exact mechanism by which HPMC works is unclear, Yokoyama believes that it acts as a fat regulator. The compound appears to slow down the absorption of fats - either in the stomach, small intestine, or both - preventing high fat levels from overwhelming the digestive system, he said.

The compound also seems to encourage the transport of fat into the adipose tissue where it is normally stored, he added. During a fast-food binge, fats are taken into the body too quickly and tend to be rapidly shunted to non-adipose tissues such as the liver, heart and pancreas, where they can do extensive damage to cells. Pancreatic damage can lead to diabetes.

HPMC, manufactured by firms including Dow Chemical and ISP, is used in many common food products such as fillings, sauces and glazes, as well as soft gel capsules and drug coatings. It is approved under European food law.

Although it makes up only 0.5 to 1.5 per cent of the total ingredients found in individual food servings, around 5 grams would be needed to have effects on insulin resistance.

Higher amounts are not expected to cause adverse effects but further studies are needed to determine effective doses.

If human studies confirm the current findings, the compound could find its way into functional foods within one to two years, Yokoyama predicted.

Irish biotech company Alltracel is currently researching a microdispersed oxidised form of cellulose, derived from cotton fibre, for its potential to lower cholesterol when added to foods.

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