Di­etary pro­teins the whey to go in war against obe­sity

Re­search team has shown how whey pro­teins can re­duce body weight gain

The Irish Times - Business - - BUSINESS TECHNOLOGY - In­no­va­tionPro­fileTea­gasc Barry McCall

Re­search into the im­pact of whey on peo­ple’s di­ets could play a ma­jor role in the bat­tle against the global obe­sity epi­demic. The re­search team, led by Kan­ishka Ni­laweera and Paul Cot­ter of Teagasc, has ex­am­ined how di­etary whey pro­teins can re­duce body weight gain and the team’s work could lead to the de­vel­op­ment of new food prod­ucts that can con­trib­ute to pre­vent­ing or even cur­ing the de­vel­op­ment of obe­sity.

The preva­lence of obe­sity world­wide has dou­bled since 1980, ac­cord­ing to the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion. In this coun­try, Healthy Ire­land 2015 re­vealed that 60 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion aged 15 years and over are now either over­weight or obese. Obe­sity in­creases the risk of de­vel­op­ment of sev­eral clin­i­cal con­di­tions such as di­a­betes and can­cer and the de­vel­op­ment of suit­able in­ter­ven­tions to cure or pre­vent it is seen as a key pri­or­ity.

The Teagasc re­search, which also re­ceived fund­ing from Science Foun­da­tion Ire­land, fo­cused on the well-es­tab­lished role of the in­tes­tine in body-weight reg­u­la­tion. This played to the strengths of Ni­laweera and Cot­ter. “I did my PhD on obe­sity at the Univer­sity of Aberdeen,” says Ni­laweera. “I looked at how the body re­sponds to what we eat and I started look­ing at the ef­fects of whey pro­tein when I joined Teagasc in 2009.”

Cot­ter spe­cialised in the study of the mi­cro­biota at UCD be­fore join­ing Teagasc, also in 2009. He re­mains a prin­ci­pal in­ves­ti­ga­tor at the UCD-based APC Mi­cro­biome Institute which spe­cialises in re­search into the gas­troin­testi­nal bac­te­rial com­mu­nity. Each of th­ese in­sti­tu­tions, the Univer­sity of Aberdeen, UCC, and the APC Mi­cro­biome Institute, has been in­volved with Teagasc in the re­search.

The in­tes­tine plays a spe­cific role in the pro­duc­tion of sati­ety hor­mones – the chem­i­cals which tell us whether we are full or hun­gry – as well as in nu­tri­ent trans­porta­tion. With­out the mi­crobes that live nat­u­rally in the gut many of the nu­tri­ents we con­sume would sim­ply pass through the body with­out be­ing ab­sorbed. This has an im­por­tant in­flu­ence on weight reg­u­la­tion.

In­deed, re­search us­ing germ-free mice, mice with no mi­crobes in their gut, has shown they put on less weight even when con­sum­ing more food than mice with nor­mal amounts of gut mi­crobes.

Diet in­flu­ence

The Teagasc re­search looked at how changes to one com­po­nent – diet – could in­flu­ence the out­come of the in­ter­ac­tion be­tween nu­tri­ents, in­tes­tine and gut mi­cro­biota in terms of body-weight reg­u­la­tion.

“Whey prod­ucts have been used by ath­letes and oth­ers for a long time,” says Ni­laweera. “I started work­ing with Paul in 2012 on how whey pro­teins af­fect body com­po­si­tion.”

Chang­ing con­sumer pat­ters also had an in­flu­ence. “Pro­tein prod­ucts were mainly used in sport but have been in­creas­ingly mov­ing into the su­per­mar­kets as part of con­sumer weight-man­age­ment prod­ucts,” says Cot­ter. “Many of them used whey and we de­cided to look at that. Whey is made up of many dif­fer­ent pro­teins and we wanted to look at ones which work best.”

They also looked at a po­ten­tial in­ter­ac­tion be­tween the whey pro­teins and car­bo­hy­drates. An ex­per­i­ment was de­signed to as­sess whether whey pro­teins could in­flu­ence key in­testi­nal com­po­nents in­volved in nu­tri­ent ab­sorp­tion and if there is an in­ter­ac­tion be­tween whey pro­teins and su­crose that can mod­ify the in­testi­nal com­po­nents which reg­u­late body weight.

Mice were fed a diet with whey pro­tein iso­late (WPI) with either high or low su­crose for 17 weeks while an­other group of mice, the con­trol group, re­ceived the same di­ets but with casein in­stead of WPI.

An­i­mals given WPI had re­duced weight gain and fat mass re­gard­less of the su­crose con­tent. Very sig­nif­i­cantly, the com­po­si­tion of the gut mi­cro­biota was al­tered, where cer­tain mi­crobes linked to the de­vel­op­ment of obe­sity were found to be re­duced in num­bers. In ad­di­tion, there was an in­ter­ac­tion be­tween su­crose con­tent and WPI, whereby low­er­ing the su­crose con­tent in the WPI diet in­creased en­ergy ex­pen­di­ture, thereby fur­ther re­duc­ing weight gain and fat mass.

The re­sults sug­gested that WPI af­fects in­testi­nal mech­a­nisms con­trol­ling nu­tri­ent ab­sorp­tion, nu­tri­ent trans­porters and the gut mi­cro­biota, and that by mod­i­fy­ing the su­crose con­tent in the WPI diet, there is a fur­ther in­de­pen­dent ef­fect on fat mass.

Cru­cially, the re­sults also sug­gest that tak­ing whey pro­tein as part of a nor­mal diet might help peo­ple gain less weight than they would oth­er­wise and help in the bat­tle against obe­sity.

The ef­fect can be am­pli­fied by tak­ing out the su­crose, as Cot­ter ex­plains. “Man­u­fac­tur­ers use su­gar in prod­ucts to im­prove their sen­sory pro­file. Ar­ti­fi­cial sweet­en­ers may of­fer a so­lu­tion but there is re­search to in­di­cate th­ese may be un­healthy in the long term. How­ever, ste­via shows prom­ise as a sweet­ener and could be a good al­ter­na­tive.”

Ni­laweera and Cot­ter would like to hear from man­u­fac­tur­ers in­ter­ested in de­vel­op­ing prod­ucts based on their re­search. Ni­laweera says: “We are in­ter­ested in hear­ing from food com­pa­nies who might be in­ter­ested in look­ing at the po­ten­tial com­mer­cial ap­pli­ca­tions of our re­search.”

The re­sults sug­gest that tak­ing whey pro­tein as part of a nor­mal diet might help peo­ple gain less weight than they would oth­er­wise

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