Is a high-protein diet the key to achieving a healthy weight?

November 9, 2016 Providence Health Team

It may be that a chemical often found in your digestive system can help you feel as if you’re not hungry and should stop eating. Repeated doses of the chemical may also help take off weight.

“Fat-busting pill one step closer,” declares the headline in the U.K. Sun, describing a new study that found doses of a chemical called phenylalanine, which occurs as the body breaks down protein-rich foods, reduced food consumption and caused weight loss in rats and mice.

In fact, British researchers say, their study could lead to the developments of diets and medicines to fight obesity.

Protein works on standard and obese rodents

When you eat protein-rich foods, such as beef, fish, milk and eggs, your body creates phenylalanine. Scientists from Imperial College London wondered if it influenced the hormones that influence your appetite.

They gave a set of rats and mice a single dose of phenylalanine, and they gave another set of obese rats and mice multiple doses. The first set of rodents ate less, and the second set lost weight.

The researchers say giving doses of the chemical increased the level of a hormone called GLP-1, which tells our bodies when we’ve eaten enough. At the same time, it decreased the level of ghrelin, which tells our bodies when we’re hungry. The chemical apparently interacted with a calcium-sensing receptor (CaSR) that triggered changes in the hormone levels.

"Our work is the first to demonstrate that activating CaSR can suppress appetite," said lead author Mariana Norton. "It highlights the potential use of phenylalanine or other molecules which stimulate CaSR – like drugs or food components – to prevent or treat obesity."

If you’re interested in learning more about protein-rich foods, studies on high-protein diets and the best types of protein, this fact sheet from the National Library of Medicine can help.

The obesity epidemic

A person is considered obese when he or she has a body mass index greater than or equal to 30. The body mass index is calculated by dividing a person’s weight by his height. A person who is 5 feet 5 inches tall and weighs 180 pounds, for example, has a body mass index of 30 and would be considered obese.

Obesity is a public health problem, especially in highly developed countries like the United States and the United Kingdom. Worldwide, according to the World Health Organization, 600 million people are obese – a figure that has more than doubled since 1980.

In 2007-08, WHO says, 33.8 percent of Americans 20 and older were considered obese.

WHO says overweight and obese people are at greater risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some kinds of cancer.

Talk to your health care provider about achieving or maintaining a healthy weight. You can find a Providence provider in our multistate directory.

To learn more

The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute has a body mass index calculator that lets you plug in your height and weight.

WHO’s fact sheet on obesity and being overweight provides a series of definitions and statistics by age group.

An article describing the British study, with the headline “Researchers may have found how high-protein diets cause weight loss,” was published online by the Society for Endocrinology. It was presented at the society’s conference in Brighton, England.

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