Scientists at Birmingham University have developed an aqueous solution that gels into a solid structure in the stomach to curb a person’s appetite.
The solution is formulated using a pH-sensitive hydrocolloid. Hydrocolloids are naturally occurring polymers, like starch in bread, and are commonly consumed as part of our everyday diet.
For this work, the researchers used a specific type of hydrocolloid, commonly found in a range of foods and eaten by millions of people every day.
Once this solution has been consumed, it is designed to respond to or take advantage of the stomach’s acidic environment and turn itself into a gel. The strength of this gel has been engineered so that it is firm enough to provide a prolonged sense of fullness, usually associated with the consumption of solid foods rather than liquid-like products such as thickened drinks.
The scientific team explained that this is why, while this gel structure ‘sits’ in the stomach, it suppresses appetite, making a person feel full for longer and reducing the likelihood of snacking.
The approach is designed to reinforce the habit of eating three square meals a day.
The scientists claim that their approach is different to most scientific efforts to date, which usually look at how to produce healthier equivalents of unhealthy foods by reducing their fat, sugar and salt content.
The scientists have designed other mechanisms into the technology to get the gel structure to progressively weaken after a certain time of exposure to the stomach’s acidic environment and eventually break down and pass through the digestive tract. This is important as it will allow for the desire to eat to return in time for the normal consumption of lunch or dinner.
‘The solution we designed takes advantage of the body’s natural process of digestion to structure itself into a gel,’ said Fotis Spyropoulos, one of the scientists working on the solution in the university’s School of Chemical Engineering.
‘We are now working on a key element of the formulation – how to get it to release energy slowly. This is a crucial part of our work since people would feel unhappy having a full stomach but no reward from it in terms of energy.’
Phil Cox, another member of the scientific team, said: ‘One way of tackling the rising levels of morbid obesity is to control consumers’ energy intake from foods. The problem is that foods have become softer, easily digestible and less satiating, meaning that individuals feel hungry more quickly and want to eat again, often between meals.’
The researchers hope that their solution could one day be incorporated into a breakfast drink or a type of porridge, so a person could benefit from feeling full but still able to eat three meals a day.