London: Researchers have finally unearthed the principle behind the mechanism that causes weight loss in people following the controversial high protein low-carbs Atkins diet.
They found that eating a high-protein diet could boost the release of a hunger-suppressing hormone.
The research suggests that a diet rich in protein may be a good way to lose weight and keep it off.
Mice fed a protein-heavy diet produced higher levels of an appetite-regulating protein called peptide YY (PYY), which has been linked to reduced appetite in human studies.
What's more, the high-protein mice put on less fat than mice on a low-protein regime.
The discovery boosts the theory that eating more protein might help to reduce appetite and lead to sustained weight loss, says Rachel Batterham of University College London, who led the research, published in the journal Cell Metabolism1.
"All the evidence suggests that it will be beneficial," Batterham says.
The discovery may also shed light on how the Atkins diet, which ditches carbohydrates in favour of protein and saturated fats, might work.
Studies have shown that people on this diet can loose weight, though it is unclear why.
Batterham thinks that she may have the answer: "People on the Atkins diet don't feel as hungry and that's how it works."
However, she cautions, that doesn't mean the Atkins diet is a good idea.
"No medical person is going to tell you to have all that saturated fat in your diet and no carbohydrates,” she says.
In its early stages, the regime causes a condition called ketosis, in which the liver, deprived of glycogen from carbohydrates, switches to its starvation mode and begins to metabolise fatty compounds.
"The problem is that it makes you feel terrible," Batterham says.
She now plans to organise a long-term study of the effects of a high-protein diet in humans, which might feature foods including lean meat, soy, tofu and egg.