A 'diet pill' capable of suppressing hunger may be instrumental to fighting the current obesity epidemic.
Researchers at Imperial College have discovered an 'anti-appetite' molecule called acetate that tells the body to stop eating.
Acetate is produced by the gut when fibre-rich foods such as fruit, vegetables and pulses are consumed.
But, due to the lack of fibre in the typical modern diet (blame processed foods), less acetate is being produced and so many are missing those important fullness cues.
As a result, scientists have suggested creating a pill derived by acetate to aid weight loss.
Lead author of the study Professor Gary Frost, from the Department of Medicine at Imperial College London, said:
“The average diet in Europe today contains about 15g 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 suppresses our appetite and this could help scientists to tackle overeating.”
At present one-quarter of adults in England are obese and, at current rates, that figure is only set to increase.
Professor Frost added: “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. 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.”
The study was published in the journal Nature Communications.