Sugar substitutes found to change blood sugar levels

August 24, 2022
Sugar substitutes found to change blood sugar levels

Contrary to popular belief, non-nutritive sweeteners such as aspartame and stevia can affect the human body – by altering blood glucose levels as well as glucose tolerance. Non-nutritive sweeteners can provide a touch of sweetness but without the calories and consequences from sugar; however, the sugar substitutes are not inert as previously thought, said researchers from the Weizmann Institute of Science and the German National Cancer Center (DKFZ).

In a study, the research team zeroed in on a cohort of 120 adults who strictly avoided consumption of non-nutritive sweeteners in their everyday lives. Those identified were separated into six groups: two controls and four who ingested either aspartame, saccharin, stevia, or sucralose, well below the daily allowances given by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

“In subjects consuming the non-nutritive sweeteners, we could identify very distinct changes in the composition and function of gut microbes, and the molecules they secrete into peripheral blood. This seemed to suggest that gut microbes in the human body are rather responsive to each of these sweeteners,” said immunologist and microbiome researcher Eran Elinav at the Weizmann Institute of Science and the DKFZ.

Changes in the human microbiome highly correlated with the alterations noted in glycaemic responses. Saccharin and sucralose, in particular, were also noted to significantly impact glucose tolerance in healthy participants.

The results equally stunned the researchers who had transferred microbial samples from the human participants to germ-free mice i.e., mice that have been raised in completely sterile conditions and have no microbiome of their own.

“[…] the recipient mice developed glycaemic alterations that very significantly mirrored those of the donor individuals. In contrast, the [control] responders’ microbiomes were mostly unable to elicit such glycaemic responses,” Elinav recounted. “These results suggest that the microbiome changes in response to human consumption of non-nutritive sweetener may, at times, induce glycaemic changes in consumers in a highly personalised manner.”

The effects of the sweeteners are believed to vary from person to person because of the incredibly unique composition of the human microbiome.

“We need to raise awareness of the fact that non-nutritive sweeteners are not inert to the human body as we originally believed [and] continue searching for solutions to our sweet tooth craving, while avoiding sugar, which is clearly most harmful to our metabolic health,” Elinav concluded.

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