The Dow Chemical Company

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A widely used food ingredient from The Dow Chemical Company, Methocel hydroxypropyl methylcellulose (HPMC), has shown promise as a dietary supplement that “may reduce the chances that obese people will develop diabetes and its deadly complications,” according to recent research conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

USDA researchers have been studying the dietary causes of insulin resistance, a precursor to Type 2 diabetes. During their work, conducted with hamsters, researchers added Methocel to a high-fat diet that had previously caused insulin resistance in the animals. The researchers have reported that when the Methocel, a soluble fiber, was added to the animals’ high-fat diet, insulin resistance was prevented.

USDA researchers are not certain of the exact mechanism at work when Methocel is added, but they believe the HPMC acts as a fat regulator. The compound appears to slow down the absorption of fats, either in the stomach or the small intestine or both, preventing high fat levels from overwhelming the system and entering tissues of the pancreas, causing cell damage which leads to insulin resistance.

While the USDA researchers are quick to add that additional research is needed, including human studies, they are optimistic that the practice of adding HPMC to high-fat food products could begin within a year or two. They report that HPMC is a well-known food ingredient that has been used for more than 50 years in food applications where it is primarily used to provide moisture retention, binding action and textural properties to food products. They don’t anticipate any challenges at the somewhat higher amounts estimated for applications as a supplement to regulate fat utilization.

Don Coffey, general manager of Food Ingredients at Dow, commented, “We’re funding our own R&D efforts and are very interested in staying involved in the ongoing research with the USDA and others. We have a unique joint development agreement in place with the USDA which we expect to result in verification of these and possibly additional health benefits. For more than 50 years, we’ve been finding new uses for Methocel in food products, from soups and sauces to salad dressings, baked goods, veggie burgers and a variety of other prepared foods. A variety of Methocel products have found use as carbohydrate and fat substitutes in some applications. The thought that Methocel may be useful in helping to prevent a widespread and growing disease like diabetes is really exciting.”

USDA researchers presented their findings earlier this year at the Dietary Supplement Symposium as part of the Annual Meeting of the American Chemical Society in San Diego.

About Methocel Food Gums

Methocel food gums are a family of water-soluble gums made from natural cellulose, the most abundant, renewable carbohydrate found in nature. They are high-purity powders with no caloric value, and are virtually colorless, odorless, and tasteless in food formulations.

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