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Short-chain fatty acids from dietary fibre help combat obesity and diabetes

19 June 2014

Short-chain fatty acids stimulate the burning of fat and can be used to treat and prevent obesity and diabetes.This has been shown by research conducted by molecular biologist Gijs den Besten at UMCG, who will be awarded his PhD by the University of Groningen on 23 June. The results of his research support the idea of using short-chain fatty acids to help prevent and treat obesity and diabetes.

Changes in eating habits and a general lack of exercise are causing a rise in the number of people with obesity and diabetes. Although earlier research has shown that dietary fibre can have a positive effect on factors such as energy intake, body weight and insulin sensitivity, the underlying mechanism was still unknown. For his PhD project Den Besten investigated how short-chain fatty acids might be involved.

Burning more fats

The bacteria in the gut transform dietary fibre in foods such as wholemeal bread, fruit and vegetables into short-chain fatty acids. Den Besten used mice to study the mechanism of action of dietary fibre in the form of guar gum and of individual short-chain fatty acids. His research showed that the positive effect of dietary fibre is strongly associated with the absorption of short-chain fatty acids. These positive effects are seen mainly in the liver and in fat tissue. Short-chain fatty acids encourage these tissues to start burning fat rather than producing it, which means that the body stores less fat.

Treatment and prevention

Short-chain fatty acids thus help to prevent obesity and diabetes. His research also shows that short-chain fatty acids not only have a preventive effect but may also help people who already have obesity and diabetes. The results of Den Besten’s research indicate that the addition of short-chain fatty acids to the diet has great potential in the prevention or treatment of obesity and diabetes. For this reason he recommends that a clinical trial be conducted to investigate this further.

Curriculum vitae

Gijs den Besten (Zeist, 1986) studied molecular biology and biotechnology at the University of Groningen. He conducted his PhD research at the UMCG under the supervision of Prof. Dirk Jan Reijngoud, professor of laboratory medicine, and Prof. Barbara Bakker, professor of medical systems biology. His thesis is entitled ‘Elucidating the mechanisms of actions of short-chain fatty acids’. Den Besten conducted his research at the UMCG’s department of Gastroenterology and Hepatology. His research received financial support from the Netherlands Consortium for System Biology. After receiving his PhD, Den Besten will be working as a clinical research associate at GlaxoSmithKline.

Last modified:15 September 2017 3.34 p.m.
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