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How does dietary fibre digestion help in weight loss?
It has been recognised for some time that increased intake of dietary fibre can help in weight loss, however the mechanism has remained poorly understood. A new study from research teams in the UK and Spain may have solved the mystery. The study shows that when fibre is fermented by the microbes in the colon a molecule called acetate is released. Acetate is then transported to the brain where it acts as an appetite suppressor. The study is published in the journal Nature Communications.

Obesity has become one of the most serious public health issues facing westernised societies. This new study provides proof of the mechanism behind the effectiveness of including more fibre in our diets to help suppress appetite and thus avoid over-eating. Fruit and vegetables are high in dietary but usually at low levels in processed food. When we digest fibre, it is fermented by microbes in our colon resulting in production of acetate as a waste product.

In the current study, the research team used a form of dietary fibre called inulin which is found, for example, in chicory and sugar beets and is also added to some cereal bars. They used a mouse model, which were fed a high fat diet either with or without added inulin. The mice who had inulin added to their diet ate less and gained less weight than mice with no inulin in their diet. The mice with the inulin-containing diet also had a high level of acetate in their guts.

The researchers used inulin labelled with 13C and traced the 13C-labelled acetate derived from this fibre throughout the body using PET-CT scanning. The labelled acetate was observed to cross the blood-brain barrier. It targeted the hypothalamus region of the brain, which is involved in control of hunger and appetite. The researchers further investigated acetate metabolism in the hypothalamus with a new cutting-edge scanning method called High Resolution Magic Angle Spinning (HR-MAS). Study co-author Professor Sebastian Cerdán explained: "From this we could clearly see that the acetate accumulates in the hypothalamus after fibre has been digested. The acetate then triggers a series of chemical events in the hypothalamus leading to the firing of pro-opiomelanocortin (POMPC) neurons, which are known to supress appetite."

Lead author on the study, Professor Gary Frost explained the implications of these findings for approaching obesity, diet and over-eating: "The average diet in Europe today contains about 15 g of fibre per day…..In stone-age times we ate about 100g per day but now we favour low-fibre ready-made meals over vegetables, pulses and other sources of fibre. Unfortunately our digestive system has not yet evolved to deal with this modern diet and this mismatch contributes to the current obesity epidemic. Our research has shown that the release of acetate is central to how fibre supresses our appetite and this could help scientists to tackle overeating."

This study is the first to show that acetate from dietary fibre affects appetite responses in the brain. Similar effects on amount of food consumed and weight gain in mice were obtained if acetate was directly injected into the bloodstream, colon or brain. Professor Frost explained the challenges inherent in applying these findings to tackling obesity and over-eating: "The major challenge is to develop an approach that will deliver the amount of acetate needed to supress appetite but in a form that is acceptable and safe for humans. Acetate is only active for a short amount of time in the body so if we focussed on a purely acetate-based product we would need to find a way to drip-feed it and mimic its slow release in the gut. 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. Developing these approaches will be difficult but it's a good challenge to have and we're looking forward to researching possible ways of using acetate to address health issues around weight gain."

Professor David Lomas, Chair of the MRC's Population and Systems Medicine Board, added: "It's becoming increasingly clear that the interaction between the gut and the brain plays a key role in controlling how much food we eat. Being able to influence this relationship, for example using acetate to suppress appetite, may in future lead to new, non-surgical treatments for obesity."


G. Frost et al. (2014). The short-chain fatty acid acetate reduces appetite via a central homeostatic mechanism, Nature Communications (2014), doi: 10.1038/n-comms4611

Press release: Imperial College London; available from
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Fiber foods are really helpful to control the cholesterol level and reduce the excessive body weight. Fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains, and pulses are the best sources of the fiber foods. Use most of these foods in your routine diet to control your cholesterol level, burn your fat, and lose your excessive weight.
Adam Prowse Personal Trainer,
539 High Street, Maitland,
New South Wales 2320, Australia
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