Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Food Additive Prevents Weight Gain

A food additive designed to make people feel fuller is effective at preventing weight gain in overweight volunteers.

The additive, known as inulin-propionate ester (IPE), combines inulin, a naturally occurring fibre, with propionate, a by-product of fibre fermentation by intestinal bacteria. Propionate stimulates the gut to release hormones that reduce hunger, and IPE delivers much larger quantities of propionate than people can acquire with a normal diet.

Dr Alexander Viardot of Sydney’s Garvan Institute of Medical Research and St Vincent’s Hospital undertook the study while at Imperial College, London. The findings are published in Gut.

Twenty volunteers were given either IPE or inulin and were allowed to eat as much as they liked from a buffet. Those given IPE ate 14% less and had higher concentrations of appetite-reducing hormones in their blood.

Sixty overweight volunteers then took part in a 24-week study in which half were given IPE as a powder to add to their food and half were given inulin. Fewer of those given IPE gained significant weight.

After 24 weeks the IPE group also had less fat in their abdomens and livers compared with the inulin group.

“This small proof-of-principle study shows encouraging signs that supplementing one’s diet with the ingredient we’ve developed prevents weight gain in overweight people,” said Prof Gary Frost, who led the study at Imperial College. “You need to eat it regularly to have an effect. We’re exploring what kinds of foods it could be added to, but something like bread or fruit smoothies might work well.”

Viardot is optimistic about the prospect of using engineered supplements such as IPE. “We all know about healthy diets, but that does not always translate into compliance,” he said. “People are often better at taking supplements than at eating healthy foods.”