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Why Atkins Works: Peptide YY

Updated on September 9, 2006

In short: There's a new insight into why high-protein diets work, and it doesn't involve ketosis (the process by which the body burns fat in the absence of carbohydrates). High-protein diets induce a higher release of peptide YY, a hormone that reduces hunger.

Hunger down, PYY up, with high-protein diets

It looks like ketosis is only part of the picture. The low-carb conventional wisdom up to this point has been that, in the absence of carbohydrates (glucose in the blood, glycogen in the liver and muscles), the body undergoes a process called ketosis, where fats are digested, and their byproducts, ketone bodies, reduce hunger ... and give you horrible halitosis.

For some adherents to this regime (almost no carbs allowed--even a little will kick the body out of ketosis), it's been a price worth paying.

However, it looks like there might be another mechanism at work in high-protein diets. Research led by Rachel Batterham at University College, London, has discovered that high-protein diets raise the level of peptide YY (PYY), a naturally-occurring protein, released into the bloodstream. PYY reduces hunger.

The research team's recent article in the journal Cell Metabolism details their method of study. A group of fasting volunteers broke their fast with 1 of 3 different diets: high-carb, high-fat or high-protein (but somehow each meal was more or less comparable to the test subjects, at least according to their evaluations).

The result? The high-protein diet evoked the highest levels of peptide YY. Subsequent research on mice duplicated the same results. High-carb diets produced the lowest levels of PYY release.

The same phenomenon occurred among normal-weight and obese test subjects, although obese subjects had lower levels of PYY than their normal-weight counterparts. Charts E & F (above) shows an obese person need to be on a high-protein diet to exhibit the same PYY release as a normal-weight person on a high-carb diet.

Dr Batterham is quick to state that she doesn't advocate the Atkins Diet, one that's been criticized for emphasizing high saturated-fat meats over fruits and vegetables.


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    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 6 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Interesting study. All I know is that when I eat meals with more protein I seem to stay satisfied longer regarding hunger. High carb meals...just the opposite effect happens. I guess there is just no one right diet that suits everyone!

    • TheFont profile image

      TheFont 7 years ago from Australia

      Hi there,

      I read in new scientist the other day that increasing your protein intake shortens life span. It seems that they used to think reducing calories increased longevity, these days they just think that reducing protein is the answer! By the way I linked to your hub from my hub using the keyword Atkins. Hope this helps you. Great hub.

    • diet-angel profile image

      diet-angel 9 years ago

      Great Hub - THumbs Up

      I never knew why yet when I got the exact atkins diet plan for free at :

      It helped a lot !