Sugar substitutes may promote weight gain and diabetes

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It is well known that diets high in sugar presage the development of metabolic syndrome and diabetes.  Have you ever wondered whether artificial sugar substitutes are better for you than sugar?  A recent article in the journal Nature may shed some light on this…..

“A team led by Eran Elinav of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, fed mice various sweeteners — saccharin, sucralose and aspartame — and found that after 11 weeks, the animals displayed glucose intolerance, a marker of propensity for metabolic disorders.

To simulate the real-world situation of people with varying risks of these diseases, the team fed some mice a normal diet, and some a high-fat diet, and spiked their water either with glucose alone, or with glucose and one of the sweeteners, saccharin. The mice fed saccharin developed a marked glucose intolerance compared to those fed only glucose. But when the animals were given antibiotics to kill their gut bacteria, glucose intolerance was prevented. And when the researchers transplanted faeces from the glucose-intolerant saccharin-fed mice into the guts of mice bred to have sterile intestines, those mice also became glucose intolerant, indicating that saccharin was causing the microbiome to become unhealthy.”

In order to determine if these findings might apply to humans, Elinav studied a small group of humans:

“His team recruited seven lean and healthy volunteers, who did not normally use artificial sweeteners, for a small prospective study. The recruits consumed the maximum acceptable daily dose of artificial sweeteners for a week. Four became glucose intolerant, and their gut microbiomes shifted towards a balance already known to be associated with susceptibility to metabolic diseases, but the other three seemed to be resistant to saccharin’s effects.”

The fact that all participants did not experience the same effect, underscores the fact that we respond to dietary interventions in our own unique ways.

The most fascinating part of the article is the fact that our gut bacteria (the microbiome) plays such a key role in the process.  Research on the human microbiome and its widespread effects is starting to explode.

You may find the above article at:     http://www.nature.com/news/sugar-substitutes-linked-to-obesity-1.15938

Bruce Gollub MD

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