ISLAMABAD: A high-protein diet can help to keep you feeling fuller for longer, helping to fight obesity. A new study uncovers the mechanisms involved and offers hope of a safer, more easy alternative.

More than a third of adults in the United States are classed as obese. And with obesity comes an increased risk of a range of potentially life-threatening conditions. Therefore, finding ways to reverse this epidemic is paramount.

High-protein diets are known to keep you feeling fuller for longer. In some people, this can lead to reduced overall calorie intake and weight loss.

However, diets focused on a heavy protein load can be difficult to maintain and often carry their own health risks. Some of these risks include constipation due to a lack of dietary fiber, increased heart disease risk (with higher red meat consumption), and reduced kidney function for people already at risk of kidney problems.

A protein-free, high-protein diet
Because of the dangers and difficulties of a high-protein diet, researchers are keen to understand how they work with the hope of replicating their effects.

Mariana Norton, one of the researchers from the current study, explains, "Diets high in protein are known to encourage weight loss but adhering to them can be difficult.

Identifying the mechanisms that sense the protein may allow us to use drugs or functional foods to hijack appetite regulation and treat obesity."

In effect, the aim is to keep the beneficial effects of protein without the protein.
To this end, Prof. Kevin Murphy and his colleagues — from Imperial College London in the United Kingdom — focused on phenylalanine. They chose this compound because previous studies had shown that it can reduce appetite. It appears to manage this feat by triggering the release of appetite-related hormones in the gut.
How does a high-protein diet aid weight loss? Study sheds light
Researchers shed light on how high-protein diets might help to fight obesity.

During digestion, proteins are broken down into amino acids, and one of these is phenylalanine. It is classed as an essential amino acid because our bodies cannot manufacture it, and therefore need to consume it.

In the gut, phenylalanine is detected by calcium-sensing receptors. Activation of these receptors stimulates the release of glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) in the brainstem. GLP-1 helps to improve glucose tolerance, among other tasks.

Although researchers believe that phenylalanine helps to influence appetite through GLP-1, the exact mechanisms have not been uncovered. There seems to be more involved than just one hormone pathway. The current study takes a fresh look.