Dietary protein restriction (PR) is emerging as an alternative approach to treat obesity and glucose intolerance since it increases plasma fibroblast growth factor 21 (FGF-21) levels. Also, dietary methionine restriction (MR) is known to mimic the metabolic effects of PR by increasing FGF-21 and inducing beneficial effects. Therefore, we tested in New Zealand Obese (NZO) mice, a model of polygenic obesity and type 2 diabetes, whether a moderate PR or a MR protects against diabetes. Moreover, we investigated whether a decreased methionine intake caused by vegetarian and vegan diets modulates plasma FGF-21 in humans.

NZO mice were placed on high-fat diets that provided protein at control (18 gm%), low levels (4 gm%), or on high-fat diets (protein, 18 gm%) that provided methionine at control (0.86 gm%) or low levels (0.17 gm%) for up to 9 weeks. Changes in glucose homeostasis and energy expenditure were assessed. Among humans, plasma FGF-21 levels were investigated by comparing vegetarians and vegans to omnivores, and the effect of short-term vegetarian diet on FGF-21 induction was evaluated.

PR prevented the onset of hyperglycemia only when protein was substituted by fat. When protein was substituted by carbohydrates, mice developed hyperglycemia two weeks later than the control, despite elevated plasma FGF-21 levels and increased energy expenditure. MR elevated plasma FGF-21 levels and prevented the onset of hyperglycemia. Human plasma FGF-21 levels were higher in vegans and vegetarians compared to omnivores. Interestingly, already a short-term switch to a vegetarian diet increased plasma FGF-21 in omnivores.

Thus, restriction of dietary protein and methionine elevates plasma FGF-21 levels, which protect from hyperglycemia, an effect compromised by high dietary carbohydrates in NZO mice. Patients at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes may benefit from dietary changes in favor of methionine restriction, via increased circulating levels of FGF-21, without protein and calorie restriction.


T. Castaño-Martinez: None. W. Jonas: None. D. Weber: None. C. Weikert: None. T. Laeger: None.


Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft

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