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How Fatty Foods Curb Hunger

Posted On : October 20, 2008



Fatty foods may not be the healthiest diet choice, but those rich in unsaturated fats – such as avocados, nuts and olive oil – have been found to play a pivotal role in sending this important message to your brain: stop eating, you’re full.

A new study by UC Irvine pharmacologists shows that these fats trigger production of a compound in the small intestine that curbs hunger pangs. This discovery, the researchers say, points toward new approaches to treating obesity and other eating disorders. Daniele Piomelli, the Louise Turner
Arnold Chair in Neurosciences, and his colleagues have studied how a fat-derived compound called oleoylethanolamide regulates hunger and body weight. In their current work, which appears in the Oct. 8 issue of Cell Metabolism, they found that an unsaturated fatty acid called oleic acid stimulates production of OEA, which in turn decreases appetite.

Oleic acid is transformed into OEA by cells in the upper region of the small intestine. OEA then finds itsway to nerve endings that carry the hunger-curbing message to the brain. There, it activates a brain circuit that increases feelings of fullness. In previous studies, Piomelli found that increasing OEA levels can reduce appetite, produce weight loss and lower blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Piomelli believes OEA could be used in a variety of drugs because it is a key to the way the body naturally handles fatty foods and regulates eating and body weight. “We are excited to find that OEA activates cell receptors that already have been the focus of successful drug development,” he said. “This gives us hope for a new class of anti-obesity drugs based on the savvy use of natural appetitecontrolling mechanisms.”

Nearly 30 percent of Americans are obese, according to the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention, which has declared obesity an epidemic disease. The occurrence of obesity has risen by almost 60 percent since 1991, and it greatly increases the risk of premature death, diabetes, heart disease, stroke and some cancers.

Piomelli’s study colleagues include Jin Fu and Giuseppe Astarita of UCI; Gary Schwartz and Xiaosong Li of Yeshiva University; and Silvana Gaetani, Patrizia Campolongo and Vincenzo Cuomo of the University of Rome. The National Institutes of Health, New York Obesity Research Center, the Skirball Institute of Biomolecular Medicine and the Italian Ministry of Research supported the study.


Eating almonds significantly decreased levels of two biomarkers for oxidative stress in a group of 27 male and female volunteers with elevated cholesterol. The study was conducted by scientists funded by the Agricultural Research Service, the Almond Board of California, and the Canada Research Chair Endowment.

Coauthor Jeffrey Blumberg is director of the Antioxidants Research Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (HNRCA) at Tufts University in Boston, Mass. He and colleagues reported the findings from this study in the Journal of Nutrition. HNRCA scientists analyzed blood and urine samples from the subjects who had consumed three different dietary treatments, consisting of the same amount of calories each, for one month. The study was a cross-over, randomized clinical trial, so eachsubject received each treatment in random order.

Treatments consisted of a “full dose” of almonds, defined as 73 grams daily (about 2.5 ounces), a “halfdose” of almonds plus a half-dose of muffins, and a full-dose of muffins as a control. The subjects consumed a low-fat background diet and were counseled on strategies to maintain weight and to consistently follow their usual exercise routines throughout each test phase.

The researchers wanted to investigate possible antioxidant effects from eating almonds. The team found that when the volunteers ate the full dose of almonds, their concentration of two biomarkers of oxidative stress– plasma malondialdehyde (MDA) and urinary isoprostanes–were significantly lowered. MDA decreased by nearly 19 percent compared to the start of the study in the full-dose almond group. Isoprostane decreased by 27 percent in both the almond groups when compared to the control period, suggesting a possible threshold effect for that biomarker. While this study helps to show the antioxidant benefit of eating almonds, further research is needed to shed light on the individual contributions of vitamin E and polyphenolic constituents, such as flavonoids, found in almonds and other tree nuts. The study did not demonstrate a minimum amount of dietary almonds that would result in a biological effect.

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