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All those skinny actresses in commercials gushing at the thought of eating yogurt instead of desserts actually may have a point.

New Vanderbilt University research shows mice could eat a high fat diet but, if given a probiotic compound like those found in yogurt, not gain weight.

The concept is promising but still a long way from human trials, said Vanderbilt's Dr. William Schaffner, and there's no reason to believe running out to buy yogurt or health-food-store probiotics will help.

"That's much too simple a concept, but I like yogurt myself, so I'm pleased to hear my mother's notions that it's good for your health might be right," said Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine who was not an author for the research.

The experiment, funded with a 2007 Institutes of Health Director's New Innovator Award, began with the theory that probiotics could be used to deliver chronic-disease-fighting drugs to the gut.

Senior investigator Dr. Sean Davies, assistant professor of pharmacology, selected E. coli Nissle 1917 for his experiment. Discovered a century ago, it's traditionally used as a probiotic treatment for diarrhea.

His team genetically modified the E. coli to produce a lipid compound called NAPE, which converts in the small intestine to a compound that reduces food intake. They fed mice a high-fat diet and put the NAPE in their drinking water for eight weeks. The mice who drank it ate less and had lower body fat, insulin resistance and fatty liver compared to the control group.

The direct effects lasted four weeks after the mice started drinking untreated water, and they still weighed less than the control mice 12 weeks later.

The findings are published in the August issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

Reach Heidi Hall at 615-726-5977 or on Twitter @HeidiHallTN.

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